Nine Black Alps – Candy for the Clowns

Candy for the ClownsIn 2005, Nine Black Alps released Everything Is - a noxious, distorted breath of polluted air within a dirge of radio-friendly Smiths-esque indie rock of the mid-2000s. Arctic Monkeys were about to break and a new wave of post-punk was ready to takeover indie charts in both the US and the UK. Instead of riding this press-backed wave straight into the welcoming arms of a heavily winkle-pickered audience, Nine Black Alps released a homage to underground punk of late 80s America.

Nearly a decade, two albums and two record label changes later, the band plan to release their forth studio album; Candy for the Clowns. The album poses an interesting prospect, not least of all because it implies a revisiting of a younger and slightly less skeptical time of my musical fandom.

Opening track “Novokaine” doesn't disappoint. A thick and drone-y main riff is followed by a writhing verse that snarls and twists its way into an unashamedly anthemic chorus. Lyrics like, “Stay with me my exorcism” give validity to front man Sam Forrest's dark and angst-ridden vocal delivery, and seem to point towards a troubled few years for the singer and no-doubt the rest of the band. The opener ends with a mangled guitar solo torn straight from the pages of Bleach era Nirvana, as well as one more reminder of that cleverly crafted chorus. Follow this track, second single “Supermarket Clothes” and mid-album melodic offering “Morning After” provide relief from the Sonic Youth influenced grunge that fills most of this record. The latter contains the most memorable vocal melodies on the album and shows just how great Forrest can be when it comes writing a great pop hook.

The rest of the album, however, is a little too restrained and over produced. Guitars, drums and vocals are all highly polished. The songs contain no trace of chaos, or punk vigour that would elevate them above the prosaic, radio-friendly guitar rock of their contemporaries. It doesn't seem to be what was intended when the songs were written and finalised in the practice room, and this is my main aggravation with the record. This orderly sound makes tracks like “Destroy Me” and “Something Else” pretty forgettable. Candy for the Clowns's formality is definitely not helped by lyrical laziness on Forrest's part within songs like "Clown". Rhyming the song's title with “down” definitely constitutes a rock cliché, which I thought Nine Black Alps would be astute enough to completely avoid.

All in all, Candy for the Clowns is a mixed bag. The record dots between the original and the trite, but contains commendable songwriting.

Release: 21st April 2014, Hatch Records

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