Albums: Black and Living Together
Label: Trepanation Recordings
Release Date: 27/11/2020
Clawing’s members are listed as C. Davis, J. McLeod, T. Platt, M. Finney, A. Gaines and A. Cook. I’d love to tell you more about them but the detail is deliberately quite scarce. What I can say for definite is that M. Finney is the spoken word artist who peppers this album with it’s thematic poetry, and that all the members have history in the kind of noise, drone, industrial, avant-garde and experimental projects that combine and build on the innovative work of the likes of Throbbing Gristle, Merzbow and La Monte Young. Their 2018 debut Spectral Estate is a harrowing and nightmarish record of dark noise and disturbing poetry, and to follow this up the group have produced two homogeneous records which each soundtrack distinctive themes and provide a unique balance of tones.
The first album, Black, consists of four tracks which veer from harsh industrial noise to more meditative drones and psychedelic glitches, all of which are occasionally punctuated by the short but powerful spoken word pieces. Thematically the album appears to be inspired by the madness of Spanish painter Goya, who in his later days descended into mental instability and painted his disturbingly misanthropic ‘black paintings’ on the walls of his villa (the name of which is borrowed for the title of the final track).
The first three tracks have a relative consistency to them in terms of timbre: dark and moody but also quite abrasive. The drones that make up the foundations of this album echo and reverberate in a terrifying manner, always threatening to throttle you with their intense grip. In every track there is a tiny hint of melody that, more often than not, gets deliberately drowned out by slices of feedback and distortion before any kind of tune can be assembled. The spoken word parts are minimal with a firm but haunting resonance to them. Although these tracks are definitely not easy listening, there is a strong use of space and volume in these compositions that gives them a tenable atmosphere.
The sounds here are mostly artificial electronics but on occasion there are some acoustic sounds, such as on the opening track So Soft where the sound of crunching footsteps through rubble pervades throughout the piece, growing more distorted and otherworldly as it goes on. Without God has what could be a reversed piano effect towards the end, and No Fluttering has some heavily stretched out glacial guitar sounds throughout.
While these first three tracks all have a well-crafted balance to them, the final track Quinta Del Sordo goes into full on Pulse Demon mode, with little in the way of ambience to counteract the punishing acidic noise. It stretches for 12 unwaveringly vicious minutes before the spoken word finally appears to eloquently bring together the theme of this torturous concoction.
Throughout the entirety of Black, Clawing almost intuitively craft their dark, evil and terrifying textures, but each track offers a variation on the style which adds a true level of intrigue to this album. It’s the kind of record which really elevates noise music beyond the simple anarchist principles of its origins and into the realms of expressive and narrative art.
The second album, Living Together, is similar in terms of the sounds Clawing use, but it’s theme of a failing and dying relationship, purveyed from a more personal perspective, gives the album a very different feel to it. The group creates a much less chaotic environment than Black, and it shows a more measured, contemplative and emotive side to Clawing.
Of course it’s still noise music, so don’t expect anything too gentle on your eardrums. The sounds are much less alien and distorted, but still have a very visceral quality to them. There is a clearer use of guitars on this album too, and as such the melodic nature of the album, whilst still somewhat abstract, is far less opaque. The first two tracks Bridges, Rivers and Brought You Flowers form themselves around percussive and springy guitar chops streaked onto canvases of droning reverb and static. The sombre spoken word parts ensure that the dreamy ambience of the music is placed squarely in the frame of an emotional crisis, Finney’s voice balancing a thin line between a whisper and a snarl.
In The Evening kicks off with some actual drums, although the impact of the marching snare is soon swallowed up by the increasingly creepy bells and strings, and the radio static tearing through the fabric of the track. It crumbles in on itself slowly and by the end we’re left only with the jolting sounds of the high-pitched bells, isolated and frightened. Out Of Reach begins in a meditative drone before a set of atonal guitar chords strum gently into existence and the inevitable wail of static starts to invade, this time swirling around the top of the aural space, flicking from left to right obnoxiously.
Sunday Morning is perhaps the only mildly disappointing track; it doesn’t really add anything to the sonic palette of the album, and it does become slightly tiresome when the music is so insistent. However the final track, Joni Mitchell, does breathe some new sounds into the album with a distorted watery vocal and a crippling mass of bass-driven drones, as well as a solitary wind-like phase-shifted feedback that finishes the album in stark fashion. Lyrically the tracks are a couplet, reminiscing about seemingly innocuous moments, whilst also expressing both the tragic and hopeless feelings of a traumatic sequence of events.
What makes these albums so compelling, as well as so challenging, is that they don’t feel like the kind of noise albums to be put on as background ambience. There is a story and a drama to these records that needs to be continually progressed meaning that, in an ideal world, constant attention ought to be given to the harsh soundscapes that Clawing craft. That doesn’t mean the albums can’t be enjoyed in a more relaxed and less focussed manner, they certainly can be, but this thematic nature provides another dimension for their consumption beyond the usual negative ambience of many noise albums. These are both highly enjoyable noise albums, and although I found Black’s cold, bleak spirit a little more to my personal taste, both records are well worth exploring for their extraordinary depth of sound and emotion
Listen to the pre-released tracks and pre-order the albums below: