With his debut album, No Now, London singer, songwriter, and producer Clarence Clarity did something very few artists have done; he introduced himself to the world with a sound that is truly unlike any other artist. His uniquely glitchy, maximalist, surreal brand of alternative R&B set himself apart from everybody else, and was a big part of what made No Now one of the best pop albums of the 21st century. It was quite the act to follow up, so it’s no wonder it was three years before he released a follow-up.
THINK: PEACE is an interesting follow-up for people who have been following Clarence since his debut record. Not only is this new record almost half the length of No Now, but the majority of the tracks had been released to the public before being released in the context of the record. Some of the tracks have even been released for nearly two years before the release of THINK: PEACE. Almost all of the tracks have been adjusted to flow with the rest of the record, so the album doesn’t suffer from sounding like a compilation. But for someone who had been listening to some of these songs for a while, THINK: PEACE doesn’t sound quite as fresh as it could’ve been coming into it blind.
Clarence Clarity’s most accessible effort yet
The material on THINK: PEACE itself, disregarding context, is a great showcase of the best aspects of Clarence’s talent as a producer and songwriter, but taken in a whole new direction. No Now may be a pop album, but it could never be considered accessible. The production took no prisoners in it’s glitchiness, unpredictability, and ruthless experimentation. At some points, like on “Bloodbarf” or “With No Fear”, it’s more of a deconstruction of pop.
With THINK: PEACE, Clarence really embraces his poppier side on a lot of these tracks. The majority of the poppier tracks are so immaculately written and structured, especially with the choruses. He always was a master of writing killer hooks, so this could be seen as a natural transition. However, he managed the tricky task of leaning on his poppier side while still providing the insane production that made No Now so mind-blowing.
Yet another challenge was changing up songs people have known for a while; but that was also met. “Vapid Feels Are Vapid” was one of the best pop songs of 2016, and this new album version still maintain the infectiousness of the single. “SAME?” is actually an improvement on the single; the original featured Clarence’s maximalist production turned up to 11 which made it claustrophobic. The album version cut the fat, giving the strength of the hook (especially in the final chorus) the ability to shine. No songs were really ruined by the changes made for the record.
For those who enjoyed Clarence’s previous music for its more experimental elements, while this will probably not top his debut, his avant-garde edge is still present. His more outlandish musical moments especially show up in the transitions. The second half of “Fold ‘Em/Silver Lake Reservoir” is an absolutely beautiful transition to the album’s slow jam, “Tru(e) Love”. It’s a refreshingly serene break from the busyness of Clarence’s normal style. Even “Tru(e) Love” breaks into a mind-bending sonic detour that echoes experimental producer Arca at times with the types of synth tones used. But the most impactful left hook is probably the closer, “2016”. It starts off as this slow, haunting piece featuring Clarence’s vocals sounding the most mournful they have ever sounded. The energetic break right in the middle only makes the return to this same, slow mantra even more of an emotional ending. Overall, while THINK: PEACE doesn’t see Clarence Clarity pushing the envelope as much as on his debut record, when he does it’s in fresh, new ways.
More personal Lyrics, but at what cost?
Really, the only shift in direction that is a detriment to the record are the lyrics. The most notable things about Clarence’s music on No Now were his unique style of production and his songwriting, but one of the more underappreciated aspects were the lyrics. If you take the time to pay attention the lyrics, you’ll find some head-scratching, but intriguing stuff. They are often very esoteric, but paint very odd, vivid pictures. Themes of religion, sex, and technology are covered throughout the album, and even more taboo topics aren’t shied away from (just take a look at the lyrics of “Buck-Toothed Particle Smashers”). It was just as boundary pushing lyrically as it was instrumentally.
This is where THINK: PEACE differs the most. THINK: PEACE, from the looks of the lyrics, reads as a breakup album. It is a nice seeing Clarence come through with lyrics that are more personal and vulnerable. It’s also much easier to actually hear the lyrics on THINK: PEACE; Clarence’s vocals are not sonically manipulated or buried by the dense production on this record. However, it seems that as his lyrics got more personal, they became less interesting and creative. It’s an understandable side effect, it’s hard to be open emotionally when hiding behind a lot of hard-to-decipher imagery. Listening through the record, the lyrics are one of the last things that pique interest. The madness and eccentricity of the music these lyrics are buried in isn’t exactly helping; it isn’t really the kind of music that pairs well with more personal, sombre lyrics.
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