With each successive release, Clogs move further away from the neoclassicism of Thom's Night Out (Brassland, 2001) towards a unique blend of contemporary chamber music, indigenous folk music, trance-like minimalism and idiosyncratic song structure. But Lantern represents a number of firsts for the group.
Previous albums including Lullaby for Sue (Brassland, 2003) and Stick Music (Brassland, 2004) were largely composed by violinist/violist Padma Newsome; with the exception of two tracks, Lantern is "composed and developed by Clogs." Clogs have always been collaborative in nature, but Lantern takes that to a new level. It's difficult to know how much of the material comes from the printed page as opposed to group improvisation. "Canon" revolves around a hypnotically repetitive riff from guitarist Bryce Dessner and a tribal drum rhythm from Thomas Kozumplik, but Newsome's melodica and Rachael Elliott's bassoon feel more extemporized, although with an unerring eye towards evolving form.
Lantern represents the first time Dessnera charter member of indie group The Nationalhas used electric guitar with Clogs. But electric guitar is not the only texture to expands the overall complexion of the group, although it does allow for the more aggressively chaotic "The Song of the Cricket," an episodic piece that builds to an anarchistic peak before settling into a humorous coda where Elliott's bassoon and Newsome's viola play whimsical counterpoint. Lantern finds everyone expanding their sonic palettes. Newsome adds piano, melodica and mandola to the mix, Elliott doubles on melodica, and Kozumplik's percussion array expands to include steel drumsused to great effect on the polyrhythmic "2:3:5," where Dressner builds a minimalist pattern that gives Newsome space to develop his most purely textural playing of the set.
The gentle "Tides of the Washington Bridge" evolves from Newsome's introductory mandola solo to a duet with Dessner's classical guitar, a trio featuring Elliott's surprisingly delicate bassoon and, ultimately, a quartet where Kozumplik's percussion provides more color than rhythm.
Lantern features some of Clogs' most song-form material to date. The title track begins as a gentle neoclassical chamber piece, combining electric guitar, bassoon, steel drums and viola, but finds its way to a bittersweet folk space featuring Newsome's fragile voice. Clogs' unorthodox instrumentation and open-mindedness, which refuses to box the members of the group into traditional roles, has always set them apart. Elliott's bassoon is as likely to provide an upper register counterpoint to Newsome's violin as it is a percussive bottom end, allowing Kozumplik to transcend traditional rhythmic confines.
In many ways, Clogs have defined an entirely new musical space now populated by groups like Belle Orchestra, with whom Clogs recently toured. Most surprising about this new amalgamated landscapecombining the intellect of contemporary classical music with an accessible alternative rock and folk energyis just how well-received it's been by younger audiences like those at a recent Montreal performance. Proof that not all younger listeners are driven by the behemoth-like marketing machine of the larger music industry, and that there is a new audience for intrepid music committed to creating new conventions.
Personnel: Bryce Dessner: guitars, ukulele; Rachael Elliott: bassoon, melodica; Thomas Kozumplik: percussion; Padma Newsome: violin, viola, voice, piano, mandola, melodica; Aaron Dessner: bass (3); Luca Tarantino: baroque guitar (1).