Saturday, 24 April 2010

Clair Cassis - Clair Cassis (2010) 90/100.

After the surprise departure and dismantlement of Velvet Cacoon from the black metal scene, it was hard for me to imagine Angela and Josh doing anything else with their time, or having anything else to do with the metal realm of music if they were not to pursue the brutal contrast of ambiance and dissonance that Velvet Cacoon are known for. Perhaps the delicate ambiance of ‘Atropine’, essentially the ultimate guide to background music, was the way forward for the two musicians from Portland, Oregon? Apparently not. Clair Cassis, the duo’s new band, is a softened version of Velvet Cacoon. To me it still takes on the same shape as their previous band, but perhaps with a more spacious sound, acquiring the use of cleaner instrumentation, a more prominent bass figure and a general lack of what made Velvet Cacoon so world renowned to begin with -- harsh, hazy distortion and a dense production style that encapsulated the sound into a tiny space. The wide open plains which house Clair Cassis are a far cry from the compacted atmospheric approach of their former band, but because the changes are subtle, perhaps not so many people will notice the alterations that the band themselves say have occurred behind the scenes.

According to an interview, Josh was apparently tired of the drama which surrounded Velvet Cacoon given their antics in the past and seemingly bad relations with the likes of Fullmoon Productions. So, in order to change public perception of themselves, both Angela and Josh have opted to give themselves a collective face lift and alter the name of the band, the song lengths, the production style and even the approach. Whilst I consider there to still be many similarities between Clair Cassis and two albums in particular, those being ‘Genevieve’ and ‘P aa opal Poere Pr 3’, I can hear a few differences too. The bass is far more prominent for starters. Each and every song takes the bass into account. Not only is it more accessible because the production has relinquished its hold over the atmosphere, giving it a wider and varied appeal, the bass is also more experimental, occasionally leading songs forward, as shown on songs like ‘Our Overwintering In The Ivories’. Songs like this even feature, albeit briefly, light acoustic sections which give Clair Cassis a dreamy feel, akin to the ambient touches that Velvet Cacoon applied to their music, though nowhere near as dull of ‘Atropine’ could be.

The production, whilst not all that terrific, is agreeable since it gives the acoustics and bass more room to manoeuvre, as shown superbly on one of my favourite songs on the album, the beautifully entitled ‘Pearls & Pinesmoke’. There is something poetical about Clair Cassis, just as there was with Velvet Cacoon. Josh has stated that it was physically and mentally exhausting making ‘P aa opal Poere Pr 3’, an album he considers to be the absolute pinnacle of Velvet Cacoon’s career, possibly due to the length and perfectionist approach he took to making the record. He also said he was tired with the ambient black metal scene, though this album seems to me to come under that very description. He didn’t believe he had a future when it came to nautical black metal, but the aesthetic features, such as cover artwork and song titles, all remain the same. To me, this album could have very well been created under the Velvet Cacoon moniker. Pluck-for-pluck, beat-for-beat, it sounds exactly like a Velvet Cacoon record, so his escapism mentality seems to be in his own mind, rather than public knowledge because I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two bands’ sounds had I not already known they were released under different titles.

Though Josh appears to have had a clear destination for the song, with each to have its own specific qualities, own specific atmosphere and personality, the songs tend to blend into one movement with the repetitive backbone becoming a prominent figure as the record moves forward. His vocals, again, are another element which is precisely the same as it has always been, though, according to Josh himself, lyrics were never important to him. He said, “I think it's silly to try to convey any deep message via lyrics in black metal, so I prefer to make everything really pretty. I call it word-painting, drugs taught me this. I think these colourful wordplays do a good job at describing the music we create, more so than some bland title like "The Dark Mountain" that's too ambiguous to mean anything at all.” This is something I can easily relate to as I’ve often told people in discussions, or through reviews that vocals and lyrics in black metal mean very little to me. I can connect with what he’s saying because, to me, the vocals are meant to blend in with the instrumentation, which they do perfectly through Josh’s hateful hissed voice, and essentially become another instrument on their own.

The vocals fade into the background and enhance the beauty in desolation that becomes apparent the further I delve into the genial atmosphere. ‘Hazelhearted In The Seapalour’ is a terrific example of this. The bass takes over and though repetitive, is exquisite. The guitars are even more repetitive than the other elements, playing the same notes again, and again, and again for effect. The mesmerising, hynoptic qualities which made Velvet Cacoon’s music stick in my long-term memory are all here and with the accessible instrumentation due to the easing up of the production, the entrancing vibe becomes more and more apparent and the clarity of the emotions within the music are empowered by the cleaner style, though there is still some distortion and haze to become entangled in. The beauty within the subtle haze grows like vines, entwining itself around you and squeezing you like a boa constrictor. The idea was not to create a raw atmosphere akin to some of the work on the wondrous ‘Genevieve’, but to mould a new, fresh sound through shared song writing, powerful atmospheres and a loosening of the strings over the procession.

Josh has claimed that he was the sole provider for Velvet Cacoon, writing most, if not all, of the material himself. On this occasion, with new member Daniel Marvin on drums, Josh has allowed a shared responsibility when it comes to song writing and Clair Cassis benefit from a combination of ideas. I have read somewhere that Josh merely used a new programming system for the drums, one which presents the sound more proficiently, but he himself credits Daniel with some of the writing, so I assume that he provided the drum work, which does feel far more authentic and in the cymbal and snare work, the percussion comes to life and isn’t based entirely around a repetitious blast beat section. With the short song lengths, there is perhaps a more coherent structure to Clair Cassis. Velvet Cacoon often required a fair amount of patience in the listener, but listening to this self-titled effort is easy. It flows effortlessly from one song to another and I simply cannot wait for the second full-length, which is apparently almost already completely written up and will be released in the autumn of 2010. My highlights include ‘Pearls & Pinesmoke’ and ‘Hazelhearted In The Seapalour’.

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