4 October, 2018 / London, England, United Kingdom
Deluxe Pain

Anybody who’s been a fan of Clarence Clarity up to this point probably knows that the lead-up to this album has been somewhat… tumultuous, to say the least.

In 2015, Adam Crisp released his full-length debut under the Clarence Clarity moniker, NO NOW, which will go down as one of my favourite albums of the decade. On NO NOW, Clarity crafts these intricate, maximal, and often gorgeous pop and alternative R&B songs, and then proceeds to reverse engineer them into jarring, obstinate pieces that are bound to leave a newcomer confused and perhaps angry at a seeming disregard for conventional gratifying song structures.

This may not sound like the greatest selling point, but the way that NO NOW opens itself up to the listener if they power through all of the cacophony and take the time to unpack the ideas presented to them is nothing short of stunning to me. From the enveloping singles like “Buck-Toothed Particle Smashers” to the dreary “Off My Grid” to the gospel-tinged “Cancer™ in the Water”, most everything here scratches itches for me that other artists can’t reach. I think that fans of artists like SOPHIE and Iglooghost could really have a field day letting lost in these jagged, unrelenting soundscapes.

A year or so after NO NOW, Clarity revealed the tentative title of his sophomore record: LEAVE EARTH. This alone was enough information to leave many a fan watering at the mouth, and several hints were teased out over the coming months, including screenshots of iTunes libraries and cryptic tweets.

But not long after this, we got the news that LEAVE EARTH was being completely stripped and reworked, apparently in favour of what Clarity described as “another cosmic fireworks display” á la NO NOW. Even if this meant a longer wait for a new album, it was hard not to get excited at the idea of a second helping of interdimensional hyper-pop.

Plus, Clarity was still steadily releasing new material under his own name, as well as working with some of the more exciting up-and-coming electropop artists of the past two years like HMLTD and Rina Sawayama.

All of this is to say that, as uncertain as the future was, there didn’t seem to be any reason to worry about the future of the Clarence Clarity project. For as much of a fickle perfectionist as the man was, this mentality only boded well for what would eventually be revealed as his second full-length album, THINK: PEACE.

On the day of release, Clarity gave a statement (in a tweet of a screenshot of Microsoft Publisher of all things) regarding the mission statement of this new record:

THINK: PEACE is the album I wanted to make from this material. I wanted to make a more concise and direct album than NO NOW, but with harder extremes – more experimentation, but also more pop. I wanted to push my ideas of song deconstruction further this time and have you feel like you’re being thrown through wormholes and experiencing my music in fractured dream-time. I believe it is the most perfect album I can make, and I will most likely move on from this format altogether now.

— Clarence Clarity, Twitter (4 October, 2018)

Additionally, LEAVE EARTH has now become an ongoing project in the form of a streaming playlist which will intermittently be updated with songs that Clarity created between the original LEAVE EARTH cycle and THINK: PEACE. As of writing this review, the playlist contains all of the original permutations of the tracks from the new album.

Like Clarity says, THINK: PEACE certainly is more concise and direct, being almost half the tracklist and runtime as NO NOW. But to then say that the album will be more experimental than its predecessor is quite the bold claim. After all, we are talking about the album that (to give a few examples) loops seamlessly back into itself after the closing track, contains a made-up language, and even features a seemingly silent 23-second song that, when played at a high enough volume, reveals the coordinates to a small wood in London that apparently contains buried treasure.

Suffice to say, nothing on THINK: PEACE comes close conceptually to the bravest points of NO NOW. Unless there are some hidden facets that have yet to be discovered, or Clarity presses vinyl copies of the album made of his literal brain matter, I don’t think I can call THINK: PEACE the most extreme or experimental Clarence Clarity album.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Clarity’s music may be maximal to the max, but this isn’t to compensate for a lack of compelling songwriting or even a lacklustre singing voice. THINK: PEACE could almost pass for a mainstream pop/R&B album as it consistently delivers fantastic, catchy, and clever instrumentation, melodies and vocals.

This is possibly the one aspect of THINK: PEACE that I think exceeds NO NOW; with such a watertight tracklist, there are fewer interstitial moments that break up the unyielding rush of energy that almost every song provides.

This cohesion is further helped by Clarity continuing his trend of tying tracks together with several motifs, like the DELUXE PAIN™ self-promo, voicemail recordings, cries of “If I told you I might hurt myself”, as well as asking “Will I ever be a number?”.

All of these refrains seem to feed into the overarching theme of THINK: PEACE, as Clarity appears to be focused on the topic of love and the caveats therein: disloyalty, repentance, emotional disconnect and growing apart.

This latter idea presents itself in spades on the song “W€ CHANG£”, with Clarity singing “Even if you love me now, we change” over some campy keys and chimes that almost sound like they could have been pulled from The Nightmare Before Christmas (and trust me, this is a compliment).

This track also transitions seamlessly into “Naysayer, Magick Obeyer” whose 00s pop flavours and twinkling synths sound like the sort of thing Clarence would lay down for Rina Sawayama to sing over on one of her tracks. The second half of the bridge calls back to the opening song “Adam & the Evil*” which is one of the greatest fucking bangers of the year, hands down. The buzzing guitar chords and erratic hand percussion give way to this transcendental chorus:

The sins of our fathers
They start to add up
Undress to our curses
And forget-me-nots
The sins of our fathers
We’ll never shake off
Undress to our curses
And forget-me-nots

— Clarence Clarity, “Adam & the Evil*”

Moments like this truly live up to the mantra Clarence Clarity put forward in his statement: it really is like being launched through dream-time at light speed.

The same can be said for the woozy “Law of Fives” near the end of the album, with these propulsive synths and ticking drum patterns underneath Clarity proclaiming, “I kill people in my dreeeeams”. The fuzzed out crescendo of this track easily could have seen the album out if not for the shimmering “2016” closer afterwards, which almost would have been a dud if not for the sudden burst of keys and thumping bass near the middle of the track. It’s not one of my favourite songs here, but the unpredictable nature and abrupt off-key finish certainly helps to wrap the ethos of the album—and the Clarence Clarity project as a whole—quite astutely.

“Vapid Feels Ain’t Vapid” is probably the most despondent track here, but even then the flickering synths and sudden shift in tempo in the chorus is such an incredible moment that it’s difficult not to be overcome with an urge to get up and move rather than bask in the melancholia (which is saying a lot because I’m an absolute sucker for ennui).

The songs “Next Best Thing” and “Tru(e) Love” are fairly straightforward pop tunes relative to the rest of the album, but this isn’t to understate how thoroughly enjoyable they are. “Next Best Thing” brings a gnarly guitar interlude and what almost sounds like horn samples in the chorus, while “Tru(e) Love” oozes with sensual alt-R&B flavour that could compete with some of Clarity’s poppiest tunes.

Admittedly, it took me a little while to warm up to the new version of “SAME”, because the original is probably my favourite Clarence Clarity song, but the foundation of the track is just so good that it’s impossible not to fall in love with. I do think this version pales in comparison to the one from the SAME EP, but it still contains some of my favourite ever lyrics:

Help, I’ve been assaulted
I let the sun come and eat me up
Wait (no), I’ve been exalted (not really)
I am a godless pyramid
They were looking through the holes in our chamber
We were fucking like mortals at a wake
Spake, we’re not built the same
Now I’m hanging out the mouth of the ocean
But space-time just gagged and threw me up
Love, we’re not built the same

— Clarence Clarity, “SAME?”

The weakest point on the album for me is probably “Fold ‘Em/Silver Lake Reservoir”, which is a shame because I really enjoy the first half. “Fold ‘Em” has this clacking percussion that sounds like it’s being played on a xylophone made of bones, and SHADI’s feature continues to prove that Clarity’s production style perfectly complements the styles of the hip-hop artists he collaborates with. I don’t even dislike “Silver Lake Reservoir”, and it flows just as seamlessly into the next track as almost every song here, but in a sequence of cathartic bangers it definitely is the closest thing to a lull on the album.

Similar to NO NOW, this album didn’t click instantaneously with me, but for the opposite reasons this time. Instead of being overwhelmed by glitched out behemoths like on the debut, here I couldn’t help but feel like THINK: PEACE was lacking in the same sort of surprises that I found so fun to wrap my head around. But what this album lacks in scope, it more than makes up for with a consistent series of some of Clarity’s best tracks to date.

I don’t think THINK: PEACE is the most perfect album Clarence Clarity could possibly create—I don’t even think it tops NO NOW for me. That being said, I think this is a great starting point for newcomers, and as fans start to dissect this album like they did with NO NOW, I will only come to appreciate this album even more by the end of the year.

Welcome to ClarityLand. There will be no pleasure, and there will be no pain. No outrage. Just spinning teacup rides.

— Clarence Clarity, “Naysayer, Magick Obeyer”

FAVOURITE TRACKS: Adam & the Evil* / W€ CHANG£ / Naysayer, Magick Obeyer / Vapid Feels Ain’t Vapid / Next Best Thing / Tru(e) Love / SAME? / Law of Fives