Clock Opera was one of my biggest revelations of 2016 when I discovered their second album ‘Whipporill’. Their blend of sad indie-rock anthems really struck a chord with me. The quartet return to bring the first gold standard rock album of 2020 with ‘Carousel’.
Whilst electronics and sampling were always a huge part of the Clock Opera sound, this album brings it front and centre in a more pronounced way. Synths replace guitars from the start and ‘Be Somebody Else’ marks the change. Guitars are far from gone though. They now scat about adding quickfire motifs and embellishments. This creates something that feels pop-like in production initially but also has a razor-sharp grizzle when the guitars kick in.
Elsewhere the title track offers a pacey but melancholy piano-led anthem that the band have made a staple. The beauty here is the space they give the melody and vocals to breathe. It works a treat. Keeping the pace but moving from pianos to samples ‘Run’ is another riot. The song feels like it is breaking into a sprint with the way the drums pick up extra toms and the guitars ring out like echoed sirens. It will certainly get your blood pumping.
Slower tracks are more stylised with RnB nods such as the chilled out ‘Imaginary Nation’ and ‘I Surrender’. The production of the latter is so pop-orientated but the feeling is of a slowed down trance synth. This is one track where the guitar takes charge around halfway through and rules as soon as it enters. ‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ is more of a traditional rock ballad but Clock Opera work every nuance of emotion out of it.
Another element of the album is the cinematic elements that seep in towards the end. ‘Algorithm’ starts off as a sleepy dark ballad but soon breaks into a synth brass led dramatic second half. The closing track ‘Last Thing First’ is a sumptuous wash of cloudy synths and vocal layers that glide and soar. The synths run like tiny bubbles and the vocals glisten and calm the technical noises around you. It feels very cinematic and sounds like the equivalent of a musical Gaussian blur.
Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to the other two tracks. ‘Howling at the Moon’ and especially ‘Snake Oil’ have a real 80s new romantics feel to them. It’s still very much Clock Opera but there is a hint of Michael Jackson bassline on these and the smudged synths and retro guitar sound just makes it all bloom together.
‘Carousel’ is another stunning album from Clock Opera. It expands their sound palette whilst being quintessentially them. After 10 years of making music, the band shows no signs of staying safe or samey. This will be high on my albums of the year list and I knew it from the first listen.