Save The Clocktower is a three piece band from Chicago, who just released their brand new LP “Carousel”. And while a couple years back they did self-release a self-titled debut album, for many this album could be seen as their official coming out party. Comprised of a drummer (electronic/samples/organic), keyboardist, and guitarist their sound is actually not one of minimalism in any way – in fact their being a 3-piece might catch first time listeners off guard.
Save The Clocktower, and ‘Carousel’, are interesting for a couple reasons. One, they seemingly jump around between genres and sonic-philosophies from song to song in a substantial manner. To clarify with simplicity – there is no manner in which one could easily classify their music. Indie electro pop-rock, or neo chill-wave, are descriptions that could be applied to their sound – but then again the vagueness of those definitions is self-evident. However, upon repeated listening, the sporadic song-to-song movements on the music genre spectrum becomes less and less noticeable. Part of that may lie in the fact that the traditional genre lines of contemporary music are continually blurred nowadays, that it isn’t distinctive to the modern listener for musicians to jump those lines. But also, it is because Save The Clocktower decides to be consistent in other aspects of their music so as to allow the songs to definitely relate to each other, and to allow for the album to flow in a cohesive manner for the listener.
The energy level for their songs seem to relatively remain about the same, in the long run. They don’t let the vigor of any song (or the BPMs for that matter) rise to, and then remain in, an overtly celebratory mood – nor do they ever let the bottom drop out and present anything decidedly sluggish or sedated. When the beats are a little more frisky, they offer a sonic balance in the form of voice-effects or periphery sonics that add that dash of “chill”. And when they reign in the cadence of a song, a strong backbone or vocal vitality usually offers us balance.
The opener “Drip”, is a great dynamic toe-tapping electro-pop song. It’s not quite chill-wave, nor is it an “untzy” dance number. There exists good movement of energy as the song progresses, and when they do dive into the more energetic parts there are samples and synth lines offering us a pleasant mellow counterpart. But it’s when one encounters the second song on the album, “You Got Me”, that the listener is shown the broad-based side of the band. Moving from complex electro-pop we find ourselves with a song that at first could almost be confused with a late 90’s alternative rock song, as the focus shifts to assertive electric guitar and upfront and organic drums. Eventually as more psychedelic highlights emerge, both with synths and vocals, the song becomes slightly more dulcet. But through the unexpected contrast of the first two songs much can be revealed about ‘Carousel’ and it’s creators.
Maybe the best song on the album, “The One Thing”, is a great example of their chill-wave synthesis at its finest. Beginning with somehow-evocative nintendo-esque keyboard sounds a terrific neo-80’s rhythm section materializes, in which the magnetic drum+synth bass combination is adroitly amalgamated with entertaining sounds moving in and out of the sonic borderline. But what really makes the song is the vocoder-effected vocals (like that MillionYoung uses), which both just sounds cool, but even more importantly is used musically in a very catchy way – one that will have your ears asking for another listen.
Heavy vocal effects are used in the majority of this album’s songs. But not on all; in “Taped Noise”, another of the album’s highlights, we find ourselves with a song that walks the line between chill-wave and new-wave that really displays a pleasant relationship between the beat and the vocals/other sounds. For “Headphones”, the albums closer, they step away from focusing on vocal effects (although they are present), and instead focus psychedelic energy into the other aspects of the song in a very productive way. It’s calmer, which is fitting for an ending song, but is probably the best example of psychedelic intentions on the entire LP.
Not every song hit the mark though. In “Far Apart” we find a more standard approach to mellow and relaxed psychedelic sounds, but the result just isn’t as intriguing. In “Take Me There” and “Your Pain” we find more subdued electro pop numbers that comes off slightly un-directed and monotonous throughout, lacking the energy fluctuation used well in other tracks, as well as employing slightly ill advised vocal effecting (relevant to other tracks).
That being said, overall ‘Carousel’ is clearly a worth while album and Save The Clocktower has proven themselves as a budding band deserving attention. For a young and unsigned 3-piece Chicago band, this band has presented us with a very unique and noteworthy collection of balanced chill-wave electro rock songs that germinate from a variety of musical genres. It is an album very much of this time, of our generation, and should be capable of winning over many listeners. Now the only question this author has is – how will it translate live?
(to be determined….)