At the risk of sounding narrow minded or simple, I like records with vocals. It’s not so much that I have a problem with instrumentals, but I find that sometimes, it’s easier to enjoy a piece of work that expresses lyrical expression as well as instrumental. Most electronic music eschews vocals altogether, and while they don’t necessarily need them, at times, they can add a new dimension and color to an otherwise, sometimes, incomplete spectrum. While I enjoyed this year’s offerings by The Books and Four Tet, I couldn’t help but think that they could have been made a lot more impressive with the addition of a singer or two on a handful of tracks. Forgive me if this is such a terrible thing to suggest.
That’s why an artist like Clue to Kalo (nee Mark Mitchell) comes off as much more varied and eclectic than some of his IDM contemporaries. He’s not so much a DJ or producer so much as he is a songsmith. Each of the tracks on his new record, One Way, It’s Every Way, displays a wide range of sounds and combinations thereof, sounding ultimately like a much more upbeat and complex version of The Books, or a more sunshine soaked version of Patrick Wolf. The Aussie songwriter may not be considered a true “electronic” artist because of his concentration on songwriting over beats or loops, but that he doesn’t fit easily into one genre makes him all the more challenging.
The gentlest of acoustic guitar string plucks begin “The Younger the Old” as the Aussie comes closest to sounding like Ben Lee, though the guitars transform into clicking samples soon enough, making way for the “electronic” side of Clue to Kalo to shine. “Seconds When It’s Minutes” makes a more prominent transition into sample-based electronica, though Mitchell still comes off sounding more like his vocal-oriented peers in Caribou or The Russian Futurists. Mitchell plays off his own lyrical wordplay in “Come to Mean Natural Law,” opening with the line “Let me tell you something/there’s no beat of the drum…but you hear the hum,” as his psychedelic tunefulness floats along, beatless, almost independent of samples, relying on gossamer waves of gentle guitar and organ. As the song progresses, it speeds up and becomes a more fast-paced and frantic song in the vein of The Postal Service, and in both forms, the song is an immense achievement.
As the first two tracks merely teased at what Clue to Kalo is capable of, while the third more than delivered, the rest of the album opens the gates for a truly gorgeous and kaleidoscopic album of pure pop joy. “The Just is Enough” sounds like Ed Harcourt in outer space, “As Tommy Fixes Fights” is an ambient pop number turned jazzy ballad, then there’s “Your Palsy Protect You,” which finds the meeting place between Spiritualized and The Byrds.
Though a lot of credit can be given to Mitchell for his psychedelic electro-vision, he did get a little help from his friends, 9 in fact, all of whom contributed some musical performance or another. And maybe that’s what makes this record sound like so much more than just one guy’s bedroom electronica experiment. Though it may be more practical to self-record and produce, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to invite your friends along for the experience. What could have been an intimate affair instead became a quirky and strange party record.
Manitoba – Up in Flames
The Books – Thought for Food
Postal Service – Give Up
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.