By: Todd Goldstein
“I’m the first to confess, I get used to being unhappy,” sings Clearlake frontman Jason Pegg, launching into “Widescreen,” the final anthem on Amber, his band’s third batch of murky, mile-high Brit-pop. The song provides appropriately foreboding closure for the album, in which Clearlake expand their palette, pushing their distinctly limey sound (immaculate melodies; guitars the size of double-decker buses; confident, Albarn-ian vocals) into contradictory ends of the emotional spectrum: Pegg’s unhappy, but he’s growing numb and searching for alternatives. With Amber, he finally tries to smile through the existential pain, but, in grand style, fails to muster a grin.
While Clearlake songs themselves are rather straightforward — catchy and accomplished, but rarely more than that — there’s a distinct tone to Amber’s production and execution that persuades American ears to receive Clearlake as something more than a ColdplayKeaneTravisMuse. The chugging opener “No Kinda Life” benefits from a hazy remove, Pegg’s clear, assured tenor tantalizingly distant in the mix as the song constantly threatens to explode but never actually hits its inevitable peak. Clearlake’s encyclopedic grasp of Brit-pop dictates dramatics, but their clear obsession with American indie rock puts a lid on the whole thing, restraining the band’s dynamic shifts and filling out the sonic space with feedback.
Above all else, Clearlake are top-notch musicians, and their conviction is infectious. “Far Away” channels the Zombies by way of Ride, creating an exhilarating contrast between liquid harmonies and a frantic, propulsive snare, and prominent Kinks influence shows on “Finally Free,” which blows away the fog for a post-breakup rave-up, all tambourine and cowbell.
Amber arrives Jan. 24 via Domino.