Clock Opera first garnered attention as the brainchild of maestro Guy Connelly, who sculpts ‘pocket symphonies with a mechanical, repetitious feel’. Now they’ve expanded to a regular four piece band, augmented by Andy West (bass, guitar, synths), Che Albrighton (drums, samples) and Dan Armstrong (samples, synths , keys and backing vocals). Their debut, Ways To Forget (out May 23rd) maps out their evolution from left-field madcap pop experimentalists to a more orthodox band approach. Connelly, as well as being the go-to remixer for everyone from Metronomy to Marina & The Diamonds, has been lauded as the practitioner of ‘chop pop’. A cut and paste aesthetic that splices sounds and samples, using them to furnish infectious hooks. One song, Man Made, applies this approach to the words too, concerning a Siberian beauty pageant; Burroughsian invention in sound and lyrical vision.
Except this ain’t no Diamond Dogs. And Ways To Forget’s sonic experimentation feels like lacing along the seams of formulaic straight lines. Connelly’s tremulous voice also bears all the hallmarks of post-millenial Big Music. Chris Martin, Guy Garvey and Win Butler all seem to be invoked like a holy trinity, often in the space of one song. The bricolage ingenuity that, Four Tet-like, made layers of guitars sound like harp glissandos are present but seem bolted on. From opener Once And For All onwards, a kind of template is set; bleep-ridden, percolating synth intros shift gears into ‘auto-anthem‘ mode, propelled by the kind of band dynamics that grace stadia. A quest for matches-aloft musical elation relegates Connelly’s collagist sensibilities to the sidelines.
Early tracks like Alouette or Let Go The Life Boats sustained a psych-folk ambience that is mere scene-setting here. Sometimes it works beautifully. White Noise, an older track from 2009 itself, begins life as a future sea shanty, staking a claim for Connelly as a kind of 21st century Van Dyke Parks, before kicking into a Vampire Weekend stride. ‘We can go where we want, make up rules,’ he sings on Move To The Mountain and when Clock Opera take heed of this manifesto , Ways To Forget soars. On the album’s latter stages they loosen up, wield their influences more imaginatively and position themselves as genuine contenders. The febrile synth-rock of A Piece Of String zigzags with a proggy mania. If The Lost Buoys veers dangerously close to Coldplay, it resembles them at their most expansive and majestic.
Even better is Belongings which allows Connelly’s ambitions to breathe, liberated from the strictures of band conventions. The result is mellifluous dream pop; a beguiling synthesis of piano trills, power ballad crescendos and celestial, treated vocals. It manages to remind you of the climaxes of both Journey’s Faithfully and The Associates’ Party Fears Two. Here Clock Opera strike the balance of their modus operandi; kaleidoscopic studio trickery with a far-reaching, populist grasp. By the time of closer, Fail Better, pole-vaulting ambition and euphoria have become fused into something genuinely rousing. The album blazes out on a trail of sky-strafing synths recalling The Cure in their pop prime. It leaves the album on a resounding high, suggesting Clock Opera may well become the art-rock colossus their debut tantalisingly shows glimpses of.