After spending numerous romantic nights alone with Clearlake’s second full-length, 2003’s Cedars, I realized that the experience of absorbing Cedars is nearly identical to the process of taking in XTC’s Skylarking. The indiscriminating ear might catch the occasional standout track and skip over songs that tend to loiter a bit. But when examined more meticulously, both records are solid blocks of sound. The individual tracks flow into one another so that none stand out from the rest, but each retains enough identity to promote emotions as separate pieces.
Coming after that nearly perfect album and before the band’s third LP, Amber, scheduled to hit stores this fall, the Brighton quartet released this EP, a collection of B-sides and remixes. And what better way to position this record than to model it after “Wonder if the Snow Will Settle,” the “Dear God” of Cedars?
The title track, a barely touched remix of the third track on Cedars, sets a beautiful tone. Clearlake’s sound is unmistakably British: full of deep layers and dreamy qualities, a gentle touch contributing still to songs that would rather call themselves rock. Even after the soft military-style drumming of the EP’s opener, the remix of “I Want to Live in a Dream” (off the 2001 debut Lido) finds itself in a strangely smooth transition, despite its Christmas-like “No Surprises” quality.
What really solidifies Clearlake’s reputation as a quality band, though, is its ability to master versatility. In developing a seven-track EP whose songs have no theme in genre, the band has lost the “sound block” of Cedars. But even with a lack of flow between songs, the whole thing just works. Each track transitions to a new genre, from layered Britpop to singer-songwriter melancholy, from rock into an instrumental and back into layered Britpop, ending on a hypnotic guitar pattern.
Holding the band’s work together is vocalist Jason Pegg, whose rich, throaty expression resembles a solid combination of Ian McCulloch, Morrissey and Chris Martin. Blatant coherence or no, these songs remain tightly kept when pulled together with a voice like Pegg’s. Though this record may serve to keep fans happy until Amber’s release, it would be a shame to see it lost in Clearlake’s small but well-maintained library. Wonder If the Snow Will Settle is certainly strong enough to share time with the band’s full-length albums.