Editors / Clor
The Back Room / Clor
2005 / 2005
B- / C+
alking down La Rambla in Barcelona, past the cruel stalls selling caged animals, past the ancient florists, past the first cluster of tourist restaurants, there are a group of art stalls, caricaturists, 10-minute portrait artists, and local painters selling their wares. Many of them are very talented, and charge dozens or even hundreds of Euros for their work, but almost all are too in thrall to the rich heritage of Catalan art, and mimic too closely the works of Miro or Tapies to ever find their own space enough to make an indelible mark on the culture. Even with the most talented ones, you wonder why they bother.
The 80s revival, which is not a revival so much as an elitist refraction, continues apace in the music industry. Last Monday (in the UK) saw two much talked about purveyors of 80s nostalgia release debut albums on the same day.
At first glance Editors don’t even appear to be a part of this 80s thing though—it would seem that they’re harking back to 2002 instead, specifically Interpol’s doom-laden, Joy Division-indebted debut album Turn On The Bright Lights. So well is the already second-hand aesthetic aped that The Back Room could be a new album by the New Yorkers (the artwork is even vaguely redolent of …Bright Lights, only darker, more monochrome), but the beds that Editors weep into at night are in England’s midlands, and their gloom is even more freshly xeroxed.
The similarity Editors bear to Interpol is undeniable, but perhaps owes more to chronological than musical proximity. Prolonged exposure to the depressed, philanthropic chorus of the fantastic “Munich,” the low-key morbidity of “Camera,” and the delicate shadows of “Fall” suggests Editors are actually keener on Echo & The Bunnymen (specifically the muscular moroseness of Heaven Up Here), while the hint of keyboard based diversion that creeps into the album’s second half suggests they prefer New Order to Joy Division (but only just).
“Lights” starts the album abruptly, innocuously-named frontman Tom Smith doing his best Ian McCulloch impression whilst his band play a tight, broodily propulsive tune that could very easily be taken straight from Crocodiles, brevity and all. Smith’s voice uses the same deep, slow, tremulous register that Daniel Kessler borrowed from Ian Curtis and got so much abuse for, a trend which continues across all eleven songs. Occasionally (though never quite for an entire song) his own larynx gets a look in and he slips into less mannered territory, but for the most part it’s dramatic, affected North Western misery all the way.
They’re good at what they do, but what they’re doing is painting-by-numbers from someone else’s book. For now the kids lapping up Bloc Party and the like will love this too, but if Editors are going to have any lasting power they’re going to need to find their own voice.
(The limited edition version of The Back Room contains a bonus disc with half a dozen b-sides from earlier singles, all of which are good, and two or three or which could easily have been on the album proper, particularly “Let Your Good Heart Guide You Home” and “You Are Fading”.)
Surfing another part of the 80s wave are Brixton’s Clor, signed to Regal, the “eccentric” little sister of Capitol records—it’s the label that brought us The Beta Band among others, and Clor are their new idiosyncratic pop hope. The press releases accompanying Clor’s singles thus far have made mention of Can and Brian Eno, but listening to the actual album reveals very little of Eno’s glacial abstraction or Can’s free-spirited exploration. Instead Clor’s music is a tightly-wound, hyper-produced take on post-punk with a big emphasis on catchy pop hooks, busy and angular—wait, what? What the fuck does a critic mean when they use the term angular? No one ever explains. Let me.
In Clor’s case “angular” (as I use it) means jerking, juddering but directly linear rhythms and “sharp” guitar which a synaesthete would see as diagonal lines bending at acute angles as chords change, intersecting with the rhythm and combining to make the music seem like a piece of tightly controlled clockwork machinery. Meaning a super controlled, vaguely inhuman, highly detailed music. Tiny squelches of sound occupy the periphery of Clor’s songs, which revel in taking unexpected turns so much that the surprising quickly becomes passé. They’ve been described as weird and probably thought it was a compliment, but perhaps the oddest thing about them is that they’re made up of members of Roots Manuva’s live band, although there’s no denying that next to the likes of Keane and James Blunt they do seem bizarre.
Clor’s singer and main-man Barry Dobbin unfortunately posses the kind of high, straining voice that grates to the point of making you want to punch him on the nose, and when combined with the incessant business of the band’s undoubtedly clever and accomplished music it makes this eponymous debut feel like an effort to listen to. “Hearts On Fire” skilfully mutates into a galloping techno breakdown, while early single “Love & Pain” is undeniably catchy in a motorik-influenza manner, but the lyrics to “Dangerzone” and “Good Stuff” are nowhere near as clever or simply profound as they think they are (it’s not surprising that they’re touring with Stephen Malkmus later in the year).
In a sprint finish Editors just outdo Clor, the forced misery easier to take than the forced kookiness, and probably possessed of more longevity too. But both bands need to find space between now and their next albums if they’re to become as good as they’re meant to be.