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Todd Clouser | Man With No Country

album review by John Powell

Todd Clouser | Man With No Country

Some musicians place the art above the music, resulting in either a profound question mark that’s worth considering, or losing all sense of musicality in search of the weird. Todd Clouser’s bizarre embrace of the abnormal illustrates the first path, and on Man With No Country, he has something poetic and a bit self-destructive.

He, in many ways, reminds me of Tom Waits- who some people adore. I can’t get behind Waits, although I respect his artistry. Todd Clouser is the same way. His instrumentation relishes dissonance, noise, and jazz concoctions. I find his methods entertaining without feeling too content with the amount of cache or charisma.

On the other hand, on further listening, Todd’s guitar playing is excellent. In fact, much of Man With No Country comes off like Colossal Head by Los Lobos, a succinct cocktail of blues and jazz ticked with rock.

The title track is a great example. Todd’s band turns out Pearl Jam style grooves and his lyrics and melody are whimsical. “I’m going to take a train,” he sings, “I’m going to ride the wave.” The horns and drum pattern add much. This is one of Todd’s rare releases with vocals, and that’s a clue to the performance: heart, but not too much skill. The vocals are hidden in the mix and he’s a mumbler, but it’s honest, so the pluses and minus cancel out.

“How to Trust a Lover” is the best vocal performance on the album. “As for reasons/ beg for nothing/ I need an ocean of constant motion.” I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but Todd doesn’t apologize for any of his musical choices.

“Pocket Full of Bones” is a great rock song. The drums, guitar, and bass all thrash and trash and make it all sound easy to be so restrained with so much distortion. The slower “Kaylee” takes a different approach, using some synth patterns and piano. The lyrics tell a story, and it’s the album’s best songwriting. Alongside that is the Nick Cave-esque “Eyes For You”, which is eerie, beautiful, and the album’s best song.

The weakest part of this album is actually Todd’s voice. It’s not terrible, but with someone gifted with real chops singing these songs, the band and the musicianship would shine. What works is that Todd takes the fringes of jazz and rock and fuses many genres together through many sparks and hot metal. He’s not sketching a picture. He’s body painting on a sidewalk.

Fans of the slightly weird and artistic provoking will really gel with Man With No Country, and Todd is an artist to watch, as he seems to enjoy experimenting, and probably will not make the same album twice.

Bottom line: Lots of great moments on this jazz/blues/rock fuzz bubble, with some nicks and jabs that equal out to a decent album of rock songs.


 

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