Michael L. Clamp (Lazarus Clamp) – Best of 2010

Michael L. Clamp. Photo by John Bloor/Smoking Drum

Bottomless Pit – Blood on the Bridge

The other records on this list are in no particular order; I’ve enjoyed them all a lot. But the Bottomless Pit album is exceptionally, intimidatingly good. It’s a denser record than its magnificent predecessor (Hammer Of The Gods), and it has taken me longer to appreciate.  Partly this is because it doesn’t work particularly well as a single piece; it comes on four sides of vinyl, and heard in this way as four pairs of songs, it makes perfect sense. Listening to the CD [which I did, in the car, to start with] is a more confusing experience – but even then, I doubt if there is a band currently making ‘better’ music with electric guitars and drums. By ‘better’ I mean a combined function of: more engaging, better executed, more aesthetically-coherent, recorded with greater attention to detail, more musically interesting, more lyrically thoughtful, and more rewarding of repeated listening.

In case the name means nothing to you – or in case you are under the impression that I’m describing a death metal band – Bottomless Pit combine the pop sensibilities which emerged on the late-period Silkworm records, with the clean precision of, say Bedhead, and the measured aggression of any number of their fellow Chicago bands. On top of that, you get an interest in texture, repetition and disruption which reminds me of Neu! and a willingness to create awkward, empty, contemplative spaces in the music, which I find hard to characterise as anything other than their own. And you get two singers [always a plus], some tremendously thunking loping drumbeats and some breathtakingly intricate guitars. The most perfect and immediate track on Blood Under The Bridge is the opener, “Winterwind,” which sounds like a grown-up Joy Division [imagine how they might have sounded if they’d made that fateful trip to the US, and come home loose-limbed and in good spirits, after a bit of exercise, fresh air and sunshine out on the coast] covering Galaxie 500’s “Fourth Of July” [this is an effect which is much more impressive than G500’s own cover of “Ceremony”]. I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow commentary on the rest: the album is a conundrum best explored in person.

As a sometime musician, I find that I react to most of the music that I love in a fairly consistent way: when the needle starts to scrape around the inner groove, I am torn between flipping over to side 2, and picking up a guitar. Toss a coin. But the Bottomless Pit LPs belong to a small category of records that are suffocatingly, dispiritingly, good [Marquee Moon is another that springs to mind].  As a listener, I still haven’t tired of the first LP; I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this one – and I’ve yet to share them with someone who hasn’t enjoyed them, regardless of their musical preferences. But the bar is set incredibly high on these records. Few bands are capable of making such detailed, focused and coherent work, entirely indifferent to the pull of the mainstream, and bringing the listener along with them.

Medications – Completely Removed
Chris Brokaw and Geoff Farina – The Angel’s Message To Me
Clem Snide – The Meat of Life
Curtis Harvey – Box of Stones
Tre Orsi – Devices and Emblems
Sun Kil Moon – Admiral Fell Promises

Lazarus Clamp – “The Hard Work Of Simple Things”