Even though the members of Clipd Beaks have been in sunny California for several years now, their music has never escaped the glacial pace of life in their native Minnesota. Like their neighbors in northern California, Sleep and Om, their records are more suggestive of landscapes of slowly shifting snow than sunny beaches and palm trees, as if they wanted to blur the blues and yellows and greens into a great mass of grey. Clipd Beaks is sometimes wrongfully associated with more angular bands like This Heat or HEALTH, but at the core of its sound is a regular, slowly pulsing hum that continuously builds and dissipates. It is noisy, sure, but with none of the aggressiveness or chaos of HEALTH. Think of the subtly transfixing noise of a TV turned to static or a detuned radio.
To Realize, the second Clipd Beaks full-length, is a case in point of this hypnotic quality. The songs are all built on the same slow process of tension and release. Each one is enveloped in the same mystical doomsday-is-near layer of drone. Each one creates an abyss that gazes back at the listener. The songs are all quite distinctive, but after each one ends, the next guides us through the same path to the same conclusion. Nic Barbein’s vocals and lyrics add to this terrifying space. He sings in a monotone drawl, as if he is trying to remember the words as he goes along. The lyrics have a haunting, shamanic quality to them. Consider the opening lines of the album: “Curling in the fire, some photographs of you / This will be the year that your prophecies come true.”
The album as a whole feels like a picaresque, with each song adding to its overall progress while retaining theoretical independence. There is no doubt that this release is to be taken as an album, front to back and in one sitting. But some songs do pull more weight than others. “Visions,” with its clattering drums and vocals that constantly reach toward the heavens, provides some needed variety after the opening three tracks. “Atoms” is a massive mid-album number that only gets bigger and noisier over its seven minutes. In “Jamn,” the droning is relegated to the horns, which are dissonant and melodic by turns. “Shot on a Horse” is the shortest track and the closer, and it sums up the album’s tone succinctly. Through a haze of static, Barbein repeatedly intones, “I wait for the moment to come.”
Though the album is essentially a bleak one, there are moments of one-against-the-world optimism. In “Blood,” Barbein promises, “I Won’t give my blood away for no one,” and in “Visions,” he advises, “Try to believe in desperate moments.” The end may be near, but Clipd Beaks will survive, and they will attest to their presence with these chanting, droning, beautiful melodies.