Yet another British indie band that's cooler than you. Proof that four great synth-spiked songs can make seven not-so-great ones go down a lot easier.
Calling a new British indie-pop band "overhyped" is redundant these days, just as it was at the height of the Britpop movement a decade ago. The London-based Clor, which includes members of UK indie rapper Roots Manuva's live band, is only the latest to be hailed as the greatest. Actually, their self-titled debut came out in July 2005, but a 2006 American release -- complete with NME-quoting promo materials -- seems inevitable.
So, is Clor worth looking beyond all the "Single of the Week" stuff? Well, yeah. Using the current "new Britpop" movement as a starting point (Clor has toured with Maximo Park and Field Music) and adding synth and geek-rock to the mix, Clor is the kind of record that has you thinking "I love this! My new favorite band!," then has you thinking, "I can't stand this! Man they're annoying!," then has you somewhere in the middle by the end.
The first handful of songs is gloriously catchy, a pesky little mini-tribute to the '80s and all Clor's cool contemporaries. Main men Barry Dobbin and Luke Smith know as well as Fad Gadget and The Human League Mark I did that a mean ol' analog synth can anchor a song more solidly than anything with four strings and a neck. "Good Stuff" takes a churning synth-bass and adds "My Sharona" guitars and a melody that, as sung by Dobbins, is so British it should be taken with tea. "Outlines" demonstrates that the only thing better than a great chorus is two great choruses, its manic tension recalling Wire both pre- and post-'80s comeback.
"Love + Pain" keeps the hooks coming, in a more herky-jerky, Futureheads way. The synths and chattering drum machines are continuously trying to elbow the guitars and live drums out of the mix, but Clor's is definitely a more-the-merrier kind of party. And how often does a song's wordless bridge get stuck in your head like a piece of bubblegum on a park bench? With lines like, "You found a way / Into my thought machine", "Hearts on Fire" demonstrates that Clor's lyrics can be just as strangely sharp as its music, and throws some near-industrial clanging in at the end, just for fun.
Stop right there and you have a classic EP. Keep going and you're initially let down, down, down -- even though you know the album can't be expected to keep up the pace of that brilliant opening salvo. Maybe taking a bit too much inspiration from Devo, Clor devolve into a slightly-better-than-average Brit indie group. Ballad "Gifted" could be about half the bands on Q magazine's Top 50 Albums of 2004, while "Magic Touch" leaves the drum machine set on "Crappy Albums Prince Made in the '90s".
Give Clor's second half a second chance, though, and you'll realize that "Dangerzone" packs a nice Duran Duran / Human League punch (is that an oxymoron?), and the Gary Numan tribute "Garden of Love" is almost as good as the first four songs. "Goodbye" ends the album on a wisp of whimsy, like a James Iha Smashing Pumpkins b-side. But one of the better ones.
Even when it runs out of creative juice, Clor gets by on energy and production alone until the juices get flowing again. At its best, it captures all the fun of vintage synthpop and new wave, with very little of the cheese.