Album Review: CLAMM – Beseech Me

[Meat Machine; 2021]

Melbourne punk trio CLAMM hold nothing back on their debut album Beseech Me; they sing and play how they feel, free of qualification, flourish, or bullshit. The band will undoubtedly call up similarities to the hasty, noise-fused rockers of Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and The Men. Yet while those artists often indulge in sprawling, punk-adjacent affairs, CLAMM — consisting of guitarist/vocalist Jack Summers, drummer Miles Harding, and bassist Luke Scott (who plays on the album but has been replaced by Maisie Everett) — rarely deviate from the core ideas of any song. Whether their subjects be mental illness (“Confused”), consumerism (“Repress”), or anti-violence (“Sucker Punch”), the trio hit and hit hard.

The raucous opener “Liar” has Summers spitting about an impending figure coming for him; “It’s black and it’s a dog / And I’m in its black smog,” he exclaims. However, he’s just as often talking about himself and his own faults; “I’ve never been a winner / Bummer / It’s a bummer.” He continues on “Cardiac Ablation”, “I feel faint I feel sick I just think I must sit,” and the song’s heavy, tripping hooks mimic the urgency of a panic attack or something worse. Yet the key lies in the follow-up line, “It just goes it just goes it just goes,” which reflects not only Summers’s physical and mental state, but the conditions that have caused it.

The socio-economic, political, and public health ills of our time are abundant on Beseech Me. Some artists like Jeff Rosenstock and Bob Mould aren’t afraid to call out their targets by name, but CLAMM’s approach is less exact, instead relying on the self-confessional, not blaming their emotions on something so much as just admitting how they feel. Indeed, the album’s weaker moments appear on their attempts to, in fact, name their targets. The despised character on album closer “Bossman”, for example, could easily mean anyone with management in their title (“And the boss man struts his stuff”), thus blunting the impact of the band’s aggression.

This is to say CLAMM are strongest when processing their internal states of mind. “I don’t wanna fight / ‘cause I’m a fucking coward” Summers admits on “Sucker Punch”; despite his spitfire delivery, he’s making it clear it’s all for show. Even though single “Keystone Pols” is about an unnamed character, it’s purely a study on Summers’ angry, disgusted thoughts about them (“You’ve got your face in the dirt and a fist full of hair and I see you”). The track is also one of the best examples of the band’s chemistry; Summers delivers roaring yet catchy shreds, while Harding’s manic drumming is brought to the forefront and a thrill to take in.

The opening, feedback-laden riffs of “Confused”, arguably the album’s best track, evokes The Men circa Leave Home, soaring up and down roaring melodies like a roller coaster ride while Summers confesses “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing / And I don’t know what to say,” among other uncertainties. On “I Feel Better Now”, Summers repeats the title declaratively over a whirlwind of guitar noise and feedback – but does he mean it? Given the sincerity of the rest of the album, it’s likely he does, thus delivering his newfound freedom the only way he knows how. Yet it’s also, quite conceivably, a moment of self-deception. Mental health improvement requires consistent work, and linear progress isn’t guaranteed.

There’s still a great stigma around mental health, despite the fact that one in four people in the United States and the United Kingdom, and one in five in Australia, experience mental health disorders in any given year. These stats were from the ‘before times’, and it’s unsettling to realize the repercussions of our moment will last for years or more. It takes guts to admit the need for help, to be vulnerable to others, things that CLAMM embrace without hesitation. “I hope my dreams will finally come true,” Summers declares on the album’s title track. It’s something we all hope for ourselves, even if we’re afraid to say it out loud.