REVIEW: Clown Down: Living Alone
Clown Down: Living Alone [The Sea Isle, 2003]
Three words? focused, sparing, clowny
Bands, like all living things, must adapt to stay alive. But the battle to stay relevant is an uphill climb - the pathway is littered with carcasses and beautiful last breaths: Promise Ring's Wood/Water, Ben Folds Five's The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Pavement's Terror Twilight. After their space-travel-via-shoegazing self-titled debut, Clown Down take a more attentive and decidedly minimalist approach on their follow-up, Living Alone.
The technological restraint works beautifully on more straightforward rock songs like "Nowhere Else" and gives the more adventurous, OK Computer-like "Living Alone" an eerie, claustrophobic feel. Where this lo-fi scheme fails the band is on the atmospheric "Where the Temperature is Colder," empty of the urgency and beauty that a string section or synths could have brought. The often-uninspired vocals are also problematic, with Stephen Van Dyck's voice falling somewhere between Kevin Shields and Davey von Bohlen: not bad but certainly not extraordinary.
The real surprise on Living Alone is the amount of focus Clown Down demonstrate. The band distills the promise they showed on their meandering debut into fine-tuned square-peg indie rock. The keyboard and head-cold bassline of the strangely funky "Carpetbagging," the relentless drumsticks of "Camera" and the muted-and-lovely "Out Tonight" are the sounds of a confident band confidently sidestepping categorization. With confidence!
Stylistic inconsistency is not always to a musician's benefit, but, on Living Alone, variety is Clown Down's biggest asset. And while the less-is-more aesthetic prevents every song from feeling epic, none of them feel irrelevant.