Clearance // Carte Blanche Plus One
Public House Sound Recordings
Recommended Track: Carte Blanche
Before I say anything about their new single, I want to give Clearance MAD PROPS for continuing to send us music even though we have essentially called them a Pavement cover band not once but twice. This is noteworthy because it demonstrates the band’s confidence in their musical vision, a trait that is both admirable and also very apparent on Carte Blanche Plus One, by far the strongest and most fully formed of all Clearance’s singles thus far.
Carte Blanche was recorded at Chicago’s Public House recording space, which invites a band to record a single in a month and then releases end result on their website in digital format. Whether or not the time constraint was a factor, there’s absolutely nothing extraneous or overdone on Carte Blanche. Everything is interesting and tightly wrought in both form and execution. The songs are tuneful and well-constructed, the guitars roughed up just enough to sound pleasingly atonal without becoming overtly, boringly lo-fi, the lyrics wordy and thoughtful. There’s a moody sense of place in these songs. The vibe is emphatically cooler and less comfortable overall than what we’ve become accustomed to, and purposefully so–this is a band that understands that some emotions can not be expressed with two major chords.
That said, both songs on Carte Blanche Plus One are far more accessible than the 90s indie rock they’re modeled on, much of which was ponderous and could require some serious patience to get through. Despite the occasional devolvement into post-punk histrionics, especially on b-side “Misdirection Prize/TV Exhaust”, both tracks on Carte Blanche are as melodically engaging as any garage pop song. One might even consider them complex compared to the simplistic, repeated chord progressions of garage and psych music, something which Clearance call out in the jangly title track: “Don’t you know the beach crowd’s such a bore/Got two chords for mass appeal.” Well, they’re not exactly wrong.
Is Carte Blanche any different musically than Greensleeves or Dixie Motel Two-Step? The short answer is no, but the listener is and that makes all the difference. Unlike the reviewers before me, I’ve never been a big Pavement fan so it’s impossible for me to know whether or not, as Devon said, Clearance have both crossed and pissed on the line between influence and mimickry. I am, however, a huge fan of the Fall, which is who Pavement ripped off in the first place—just ask Mark E. Smith if you don’t believe me–and I think Clearance sounds a bit like Slates-era Fall on this single, all shaken up and ripped open and in danger of breaking apart at a moment’s notice yet at the same time completely locked down and in step. And unlike the reviewers before me, I don’t find this imitation irritating or pedantic because, really, does it even matter who Clearance sounds like? They sound as much like the Fall as they do Pavement as they do Sonic Youth as they do Polvo as they do a million other bands, all of whom we can agree are both GOOD and SIMILAR. So if Clearance comes across like any of those bands, why isn’t that a mark in their favor?
If nothing else, Clearance sounds like no one else in the current music scene, and that’s more than fine with me. I love the torn edges, the melancholy delight in a turn of phrase (“Pay no mind to what you feel/Darling don’t you dwell upon the exit sign/and know that time is gonna wound the heals,”) the heady and brutal feeling of a life barely being held together through sheer willpower. This is an experience I recognize, relate to, and long to hear reflected in underground music, played by a band with the musicianship and the balls to deliver it. The kind of music that wants to be listened to rather than loved, strikes me as more honest and real and relevant than another teen pop song about nothing fished out from the shallow end of the kiddie pool. Of course, Carte Blanche is only two songs long, and it remains to be seen whether or not Clearance can sustain and grow their musical vision over the course of an LP, but if you’re ready for your underground music to start sounding alienating and interesting, Carte Blanche Plus One is the best starting point I’ve heard in a long time.