Clare and the Reasons’ new LP, KR-51 , is proof that beautiful music, accompanied by stunning vocals and first-rate musicianship, can still be very dull. In what appears to be a forced attempt to evolve beyond Francophile charm pop, Clare and the Reasons got experimental, dissonant, bare, and ultimately uninteresting. The Brooklyn foursome’s previous LP, Arrow, a sugary baroque pop gem with hints of experimentalism and jazz (combined with the contemporary critical success of more brooding, ornate pop music) may have compelled the band to reach to more sophisticated heights. The problem is that they were already there.
While the first seconds of each track on KR-51 are promising and stimulating, the lack of follow-through and direction ultimately kill the songs before they end. The album starts strong with “The Lake”, a successfully dramatic stab at freak folk; “Make Them Laugh”, which rides on Muldaur Manchon’s sometimes breathy, sometimes full vocals, soft drumming, and plucky acoustics; and “Westward”, a naturally evolving, filmic track filled with childish charm, whimsy, and lively transitions. After those three tunes, it’s all unfulfilled promises.
The bad on KR-51 is that identity is traded for experimentation, a bold but unsuccessful swap. With Clare and the Reasons’ literate, dramatic flair, the resulting effect is that of an orchestra trading in sheet music for a jam session. “Bass Face” is an annoying, directionless attempt at toying with space and repetition. “This Too Shall Pass” is a baroque fluff piece with dissonant banjos and sweeping cellos, which only amount to a foundationless overproduction. “Step in the Gold”, which begins delightfully fragile, eventually falls off the cliff as a mere Grizzly Bear knockoff. In other words, songs meander and are left to suffer in limbo. The next time Clare and the Reasons finally offer a transition of merit is on the melancholic, rising “Colder”, which also eventually ambles on for two minutes too long and dies of boredom.
The good news for Clare and the Reasons is that when KR-51 is your worst, things ain’t all that bad. The music is still filled with beatific parts, French cinematic energy, and Muldaur Manchon’s elastically ethereal vocals. Perhaps focusing too much on production this time around, connecting the parts was lost in transition.
Essential Tracks: “The Lake”