2 March 2011
A year ago today, I put out on my label Brassland what I think is one of the best records I’ve ever had anything to do with, a strange & mysterious song cycle called The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton by a group called Clogs. It’s not indie rock though that’s where a large part of its audience comes from; yet it’s also not precious or pretentious enough to be considered art song. It’s more sophisticated than folk music, but folk is clearly a major ingredient.
The best references are probably Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle, Joanna Newsom’s Ys, Igor Stravninsky’s Rites of Spring or Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs project. It’s vernacular music channeled through an ultra-modern mind. And there’s eerie bits of backstory to it, although I guess it might better be considered postscript. Inspired by composer Padma Newsome’s stay at the Italian estate of Lady Susana Walton, its release date was timed strangely close to her death on March 21st of last year. I wish I knew if she heard it before she passed.
Though Clogs are often mistakenly referred to as a side project of The National, they actually preceded that band by some time, and have built up a nice profile of their own. The first time I met Antony (of Antony & the Johnsons) & Ed Droste from Grizzly Bear, each seemed taken aback by the very fact that I’d worked with the group. (In a good way!) Matt Berninger of The National and Sufjan Stevens think enough of them both appear on the new record. (Matt’s contribution appears below; you can download Sufjan’s contribution for free.)
The financial lives of musicians being what they are, of course, the Clogs project has taken an unfortunate backseat to their more rocking and more naturally populist brethren. But next week Clogs are playing in New York. A few months later they’re playing Barbican Center in London. You should go.
Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis