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Heirs & Graces

[Illusive Sounds / Plant Music; 2013]

By ; May 14, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Clubfeet’s 2010 album, Gold On Gold, wasn’t groundbreaking in any way, but it certainly left the door open for the possibility of great things to present themselves. The album excelled only in momentary bursts, and arguably it’s easy just to pick and choose the songs you’ll return to for their substance and enjoyment (“Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It),” “Last Words,” “D.I.E. Yuppiescum”). But there was plenty of promise, and if they were able to smooth everything out, and present a cohesive package, they could be on par with the likes of fellow Melbournians Cut Copy.

Compared to their 2010 debut, Clubfeet’s new album, Heirs & Graces, doesn’t share a great deal of similarities. There’s an almost assured sense of what’s going on, and the trio seem more confident in doing what they’re doing; singles don’t stand out as much between everything else and to a greater extent than before, it’s easier to waddle through Heirs & Graces as an album. These, however, are also the problems: what they’re doing here is tiring and at times unengaging; many of the songs become part of the same mediocre whole, and although getting through most of Heirs & Graces is easy, it’s not hugely memorable.

First things first, though: there are some great songs here that do make a decent effort to shine above the others. Opening track “My Shadow” is probably the most successfully executed thing here that plays on from before. There’s live instrumentation paired with sparkling synths, plenty of likeable vocal harmonising, and a lyrical core that may well be relatable to its audience as it is easy to sing along to (“How can we be friends/ when we’ve slept together again?”). Lead single “Heartbreak” carries the band forward, building on what they had before by sounding like they’ve broken down the elements. The verses move at a languid pace while the chorus lifts the air, with plenty of bridges that keep everything in neatly bowed package (Chela also makes for a welcome vocalist).

“Heartbreak” also excels because it captures the lovelorn melancholia the band aims for with near enough every song at its best. “You don’t even know my name” goes one of the lyrical hooks, sounding like a disenchanted youngster trying to find love in a world of quick hook ups and brief encounters. This disposition does wear after a while, though, and soon it can feel like you’re constantly in the presence of that guy who just won’t stop talking about upset he is about his latest breakup. “Cape Town” is an aspiring disco number (that could really have hit the mark had it perhaps received some external production, or just some real strings in the latter half), and it captures this mood kind of perfectly. The beat is going about its business as a guitar riff is etched out, before it’s declared, “Everybody buy me a drink/ It’s my birthday.” It’s like someone pretending to be sad, and getting annoyed that nobody notices how sad they are.

Despite the constant heartache present in the lyrics, the songs here are kept uptempo. Normally that would come off as very tiring, very quickly, but instead it simply becomes boring, and after the album’s midpoint it’s easy to put it to the background, like not unappealing music you’re talking over at a bar. The few moments which seek to slow the pace don’t enthrall either: “Everything You Wanted” trudges along before laser-like synths begin firing during the chorus; final track “Kinski” recalls the sweaty comedown-in-the-club moments from The New Division, but otherwise it just plays itself to a close, like it’s both trying and trying not to catch the attention of worn out people heading for the cloakroom as the house lights come up.

It’s hard to be hugely impressed by Heirs & Graces, even when it’s hitting its best; too often it deals out tracks that just come off like lesser versions of “My Shadow” or “Heartbreak,” that sink away from your memory bank. For the most part, though, it is easy to get through, and occasionally there are moments that baffle (the guitar chord at the start of “Acapulco & LA” which seems taken right from The National’s “Conversation 16”) and others that catch you pleasantly by surprise (the sax on “Cold Rain”). But at the same time it can offer moments which quickly verge on relentless (the pounding synths on “Follow Me Down”; the slick “Nastassja” can come off like a desperate attempt to get the party going again), if not too often just being lyrically tedious. With Heirs & Graces Clubfeet had the opportunity to dazzle and become a force to be dealt with in synth-pop world, but instead it feels like they’ve appeared in that open door mentioned at the start, but have failed to be noticed by everyone on the other side.


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