Albums of the Decade: Clarence Clarity – NO NOW (Bella Union, 2015)

What does it mean to make a statement? We kind of do it all the time: the choice of clothes we wear, the jewellery we pick out, the certain way we have our hair cut or styled, all of these things exude a statement of self. As an example I started wearing floral shirts to work sometime late last year; partly it was one of those ways of signalling that I was ok and moving on with my life after some difficult times (a white lie), but also it was out of frustration. I got sick of wearing the same thing as everyone else, the unobtrusive and banal business attire that just feels tired and suppressive: a minor act of rebellion mixed with self-expression.

Statements come in all shapes and sizes and forms, but when I think of a real statement piece I reflect back on NO NOW. This record is an epic and grandiose affair that goes beyond shirt wearing or jewellery flaunting, it’s practically a fully-fledging manifesto that bombards the senses. Art Pop, Glitch Pop, Alternative RnB, Industrial, there are too many genres ties and tags to accompany this beast, but what comes out the other end is a mad but magical experience.

And in some ways it’s quite hard to explain the explicit statement that the mysterious Clarence Clarity is trying to make here, because this titanic cathartic beast feels so vast and all-consuming and authentically unique that pinning it to a definitive simple answer is just impossible. Core themes run through lyrically of self-obsession, narcissism, sexuality, technology, existentialism, celebrity culture: it feels like a breezy condemnation of so many negative tropes and traits all running together. Products of this modern world damned in arcane poetry and noise.

There is a general arc, and indeed the opening track “Become Death” launches us into brash extant sound immediately only to have its loop closed at the end of the record with “Now I Am”. It sets a pace that hardly lets up across its 62 minutes of exorcising energy, melting in to one of the more core pieces “Will To Believe”.

“And the heart can’t always feel it
But the head can always dream it
And then stop dreaming, be it
And I will”

Spastic glitch currents and noise overprints set something of the blueprint of the record, aggressive percussive and industrial intermissions to juxtapose the more conventional art pop sequences and their hopeful, expansive tone. These juxtapositions fall elsewhere, such as in the conspiratorial and cynical “Those Who Can’t, Cheat” whose more conventional Pop vibe is straddled with vocal distortions and almost hateful crescendoes of warped screams at its conclusion.

Black temptations run through tracks like first half “Off My Grid”, lost to heady bass and slewed and skewed vocals, swimming in reminiscences of perverse digital interactions and getting lost in the deep-end of questionable online “romances”. It has a sensual and fluttery, tantalising feel though, rather different to the more lackadaisical RnB unwindings of later “Porn Mountain”. The latter has more built guitars and even an off-kilter 90’s Vaporwaving feel at times and the outro, like a sick dredging up of false techno-promises from the days of yore.

CC has gone so long feeding from the unreality of the internet that even when he’s presented with a good thing in “The Cute” he’s unsure how to act and react, all smudged floaty. Instead he turns back to the easy simplicity of sex-hotlines in “1-800-WORSHIP” where he won’t be judged, and both parties get what they want: they get paid, and he gets off. The need for these short-term desires and needs is reflected in earlier “Bloodbarf”, whose low-key crooning repeats “Living this without you is no good”. Though this could also be a reference to drug use following from “Let’s Shoot Up” and its chaotic, nonsensical language lost in the heart of a prolonged bender.

All of these pressures and overprints ultimately come to a head in Art Pop masterstroke “Cancer In The Water”, whose entrance is alluded to via samples throughout tracks in the second half.

“Before I get out, I’ll put cancer in the water

Before you got out, you left cancer in me”

It has a strange power, its lyrics damning and vengeful as CC rallies against the damage dealt to him, promising his retribution in some unspecified manner. Yet the piece moves with a sort of sweeping synth energy, almost triumphal in this grand finale of societal and personal dissatisfaction. It’s hard not to get sucked up in its vibrant wake, like the shockwave of a collapsing star blasting us from harm’s way on shining, terrifying clouds of glowing gas.

This isn’t just a statement piece, it’s a career defining debut that feels so fully realised and brilliantly well defined it’s hard to fault. Not only that, but it manages to encompass a swath of complex emotions and life-lessons in a package of textures that seems almost violently individual. Clarence Clarity hasn’t just created a lazy swipe at the socio-political landscape, or even at his own demons, he’s done so in a very specific, personal and inimitable style that the likes of the rest of us can only dream of. Forget your fashion pieces or your rhetorical blog posts, this is something.