The Creepy Clown EP (2005, Self-released)
I’ve never been to LA but I’ve always imagined it to be ‘hot and sunny every day, every day hot and sunny’, as put ever-so-eloquently by the late dark poet himself, Bill Hicks. I picture am ample-bosomed, well-tanned blonde in her Z3, $500 purse around her chest, counting the fronds on the palm trees while stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the beach. Movie stars expediting their superficial selves through rural areas in their gymongous, gas-guzzlin’ SUV’s, blinded by their own perceived awesomeness. I envision a fat, bald, over-the-hill police detective being hunted by a crazy Armenian mobster with a foot fetish set to the tune of horrendous nu-metal and generic pop-punk banality. Now if you were to tell me The Approach existed peacefully somewhere within this mental painting of LA I’d think you were stark raving mad. But somehow it’s true and we should all be grateful they do to remind us that stereotypes are bad bad bad.
The Creepy Clown consists of 7 songs, divided into 2 acts – separated by a very brief intermission. Opening track ‘Lull’ sets the tone which permeates throughout The EP with its melodious layered vocals, minimal arrangements and cavernous production. The goose-bump inducing vocals cut open the wound while the dirge-like organ and echoed drums apply the bandage . The satellite transmission ending of ‘Lull’ segues effortlessly into the blissful mix of shakers(?), synth, oh-by-the-way guitar and ethereal harmonized vox on ‘Sleeping’, forming the most appealing 1-2 dream-pop punch I’ve heard in quite some time. The less memorable, but in no way lacking, ‘Her Confession’ and “The Last Fall Of Constantine’ round out the first act. The former features a noteworthy episode of guitar bliss towards the end.
The second half of the album finds the band turning up the volume a bit and bringing the guitars, more or less, to the front of the mix. Judging from the song titles (Lull, Sleeping, I Stand Awake) and the change of pace I sense some sort of underlying theme going on here but it was difficult to extract all the lyrical content to say for sure. ‘I Stand Awake’ and ‘The Sound’ are powered by Chris H’s dramatic delivery and floating, spacey guitars. If I were to pick out a glaring misstep on the EP it would be the poor choice of finality on the EP. While ‘At Arm’s Length’ is a decent song with a bubbly bassline (provided by the singer himself), it lacks the powerful closing statement albums of this caliber usually take pride in. Or perhaps I am missing the point of the above-mentioned theme and it was meant to end this way…
Though I can say with certainty that the production here gives this a slight 80’s feel (a la The Cure), I couldn’t really unearth any sure comparisons to any other bands which, to The Approach’s credit, bodes well in the originality column. The only remote comparison I could make is to Elliott (the band, not Smith). Holbrook’s vocal styling does have a lot in common with Chris Higdon and the latter half of The Creepy Clown does bear slight resemblance to Elliott’s overlooked masterpiece, False Cathedrals. Though really, as any self-respecting reviewer should know, unique sound alone does not a good album make. What delegates this to keeper status is the band’s ability to create a mood and build upon it without resorting to bombast or a pretentious modus operandi. They’ve taken a rather Spartan approach to their music and have managed to provide a more engaging listen than most bands who lay it on thick, so to speak. For example, during the first half of the EP they give each song ample space to breathe using ambient textures instead of piling on a sonic assault of guitars and synths, which would have likely drowned out the mesmerizing vocals. Excellent atmospheric music accompanied by beautiful, expressive vocals such as this should win the hearts of anyone seeking refuge from their own inner-LA.