Nobody likes writing musical obituaries but it seems this year that far too many have been written. Besides the emotional drudgery, often they’re overly gushing with superlatives and fail at providing a nuanced insight into the complex lives and careers of some of history’s most complicated characters. But what if you had the chance to write your own obituary? To craft your own lament, curate your own funeral and lay down your last impressions on earth? Death is just as integral to the process of being prolific as conception or breathing, so the act of controlling death is a masterful art in itself. To quote Hubert Koundé in La Haine “How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!”
So here we are again, live-streaming the death of yet another great musical act. Two-piece instrumental self-proclaimed turbo-proggers Cleft (aka John Simm and Dan Beesley) are one of the most beloved bands in the UK DIY scene. Unfortunately they’ve decided to call it a day, but being the lovely human beings that they are, they’re giving us one last album in the form of ‘Wrong’, which turns out to be the perfect sequel to their inaugural LP Bosh!
(That Elephant on the cover has done a lot of partying!)
The task of setting out to record Wrong in four different recording studios may have seemed totally mad, even a little hazardous to some, but it reminded me of the momentum carried by bands like Minutemen, who possessed a cohesive, unrelenting turbo-drive like Cleft. For a band with so few members that are so locked into each others grooves, a task like this becomes an adventure of love no matter how steep the uphill journey may seem. For Cleft, the struggle has paid off massively, resulting in not only a great sounding chunky record, but one that captures their distinct character and in fact goes even further to add new colours to their palette.
Opening track and lead single ‘Frankenstein’ sets the thunderous tone fans were pining for as it chugs out a spectacular singable riff, which Cleft are oh so very good at. On track two, the brilliantly titled ‘D.O.N.G. 808’, we hear a chorus that’s full of euphoria, which surely stems from their conquering in the live field – specifically, those small independent festival fields. Without wishing to fall into the cliche of “band matures on second album”, in places it really does show. Some of these melodies and song structures sound like maybe they could come from some of the more ambitious or let’s say ‘careerist’ bands that play arenas, but at other times it sounds like they really haven’t grown up at all. They’ve found that line between child-like audacity and collective arena euphoria, which in a sense is just genuine fun rather than a cynical tool up.
Take for example ‘Face Plant’, a typical Cleft style turbo-jam; John’s thrashing drums maintain their succinct technicality while Dan’s pitch stacked guitars go off on one. It’s the kind of material that makes you want to bounce off the walls and join in the fun with them. You can even hear the two screaming in the background as John hurdles into a percussive frenzy. It’s an extremely enticing invitation.
Short jam ‘Lemmy’ knocks with a groove that sounds like it could be sampled for a Hip-Hop track, reminding me of The Meters or something Jack White might want to lay down on one of his guest spots. It further proves that Cleft are anything but a two note band. There are influences of funk, prog, metal and even pop on here.
‘Bees, Beads, Beas’ is the darkest track yet since Frankenstein, dropping to a mean faced breakdown while ‘Me, Sugar’ folds into a total stonker of a riff. But it’s live jam ‘Alan’ that’s possibly one of the most attention grabbing numbers at the halfway point of the album. A beautiful refrain from the riff antics, a blissful opiate for any lethargy one may contract from the brutal assault of relentless Cleft’s energy. It’s the brief break you need before the brilliant prog-epic that is ‘Onan’s Boulder.’ At this point the album seems to hit a sombre tone, but thankfully title track ‘Wrong’ provides something like a shower of happy tears to drench you in. It’s the most beautiful track Cleft have ever written and it reminds me that even though it’s short, not a second of that brief musical moment was wasted. It’s triumphant enough to make you want to ride a dolphin down a rainbow slide with Manga eyes while sicking up skittles and farting out hot dogs and being cheered on… or something.
The third and final live jam ‘David’ takes us into the last quarter, followed by ‘Desperate Elvis’, the twin sister of Frankenstein, featuring sprinkles of piano. It’s up to album closer ‘Dohmlette’ to bring back that balance of clean euphoric melodies, heavy riffing, and (surprisingly) a talkbox outro that leaves their ghostly stamp forever imprinted onto your mind. You wouldn’t have wanted it to end it any other way.
The mastery of Cleft is in writing truly memorable riffs that invade your very being and take you on an exploration through innocence and freedom. You do feel like a child running about in your room, jumping on top of stuff, sniffing things you shouldn’t be sniffing and yelling things very loudly, all while trying to work out how the the world works and reacts to your creative experiments. It’s the soundtrack to the joys of ignorance and the inventiveness found at the heart companionship. Wrong is an earnest document of Cleft’s last few breaths on earth. It doesn’t give up without a fight, but more than that, it leaves us with some of their best work to date, which while I’m thankful, makes me all the more sad that we won’t be able to see those ideas blossom any further. How you land is indeed important, but when you fall like Cleft you can’t help but turn it into a song dance before hitting the floor. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that!