Graphic design typically isn’t the best characteristic by which to measure an album, but for California art punks Clipd Beaks, it at least gives a slight glimpse into what kind of madness lies therein. The garish neon art adorning debut EP Preyers was an accurate visual depiction of its frantic, chaotic nature. And the artfully defaced skin mag clipping on their outstanding first full-length Hoarse Lords paralleled that album’s juxtaposition of hideous distortion and scintillating grooves. Second album To Realize, however, doesn’t bear the same kind of unsettling, scratchy abstraction, but rather a simple photograph revealing a rural landscape threatened by ominous stormclouds, yet blessed with the hopeful vision of a rainbow.
It’s not a coincidence that To Realize is the first Clipd Beaks release to bear a simple photograph on its cover, unobstructed by magic marker or photoshop vomit. To Realize is also the least noise-ridden and hyperactive release from the manic trio, but rather a more tempered, if still sometimes discordant, set of spacious psychedelic rock. Where once the sputtering industrial noise of contemporaries like HEALTH would have been the closest point of reference, here Clipd Beaks share more in common with the likes of Deerhunter or Liars, dealing in accessibly weird compositions that covertly smuggle melody beneath their woozy exterior.
To Realize makes a languorous stumble out of the front gate, swathed in noxious, opaque gases as the trippy dirge of “Strangler” slowly unfolds. It’s a sinister kind of introduction, much less bombastic or visceral than the band’s previous hyperactive bursts, still strange but alluring with its subtly melodic chants. “Blood” is more hypnotically rhythmic, rolling along a one-note bassline and a steady, plodding beat before a bright and melodic swell of guitar punches through its haze. With “Broke Life,” Clipd Beaks amass a greater sonic power, still retaining the druggy slog of the previous tracks while projecting a more destructive racket. By the time the relatively aggressive “Atoms” rolls around, enough pressure has been released that its shouts and squalls don’t come as nearly the shock that they otherwise might. The path to getting there is subtle and gradual, with Clipd Beaks at their most highly disciplined and measured.
Though To Realize isn’t a drastic departure from its predecessor in terms of its adherence to atypical melodic approach or near-chaotic structures. It is, however, a more subdued effort, in the sense that each song builds and coalesces at a slower pace, crystallizing section by section before falling apart at an equally restrained speed. Like the intimidating swell of clouds on its cover, To Realize is a dark and chilling piece of work, but allows enough breathing room and clarity to give a glimpse of a rainbow every now and then.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.