Strange Cousins from the West – CLUTCH – 2009

Despite their stunning, eclectic two-decade-old existence, only in recent times have I ‘discovered’ (and I use the term liberally) Clutch, and am yet to ‘discover’ a populace familiar with their works. That is unfortunate. Not merely because this Germantown, Maryland quartet has experimented with every modern (alongside some recent forays into more…conservative (and I use the term literally) avenues, nor because they completely redefined the claustrophobic template of monotony that Sleep’s Al Cisneros insisted on putting us through (Remember the disastrous

Somebody shoot me - El Bajista

‘Dopesmoker’?) that used to be the cognitive touchstone of Stoner Rock, and rendered it formless, free and flowing, transcending genre (funk, folk, bluegrass, blues, rock, metal and hard-core), nor because any band that Opeth claims as an influence, irrespective of how left-of-the-dial, is de facto respectable; but because the man (singer-lyricist-guitarist, Neil Fallon) who concocts a rant to the effect of, “Electric Hobo! So now you know not to clock the weeble-wobble-hot-rod-gang-revelator-big-bang!” has something to say that I want to listen to.“I always try to tell a story,” blurts Fallon, whilst acknowledging the free form lyrical approach that has come to distinguish Clutch. “I make up some kind of fiction and then act like I know what I’m talking about. I don’t really know about…UFOs or monster trucks, but I would rather tell a story instead of trying to sing about my life or how I feel.”

Clutch.....what a great name.

Consistent with their 1998-present turnaround-throwback to the blues-tinged-southern-rock-sensibilities, Strange Cousins from the West is…familiar, like whiskey stains and cigarette burns, yet, from a Clutch-centric perspective ground-breaking. The synthesis of the post-1998 southern-rock embrace with the lyrical randomness of Pure Rock Fury has finally arrived. So, on ‘Motherless Child’, expect aged-woman-slide guitar and a slight shuffle but no lyrical throwback (Essentially, nothing of the ilk of “I don’t have a mother, oh yeah, I don’t have a mother, oh yeah, I used to have one but she’s gone away”). Nonetheless, the content is much more personal than earlier works. “Sometimes I feel like a wandering dog.” Pause. Count. Cut to bridge. This, from the man whose erstwhile idea of a plausible refrain was, “Bang, bang, bang! Vamanos! Vamanos!” is a heart-wrenching confession. Follow-up, ‘50,000 Unstoppable Watts’ gets prima facie respect for being the heaviest, soggiest, deepest-pocket groove I’ve heard in the mainstream I 2009 (‘Minotaur’ off the record, comes a close second), and the pacing-shift is a mind-blowing memento to Pure Rock Fury. Funk lives, with ‘The Amazing Kresken’ and its Parliament-esque disco-funk bass-line. Two pieces off the record, although adequate, are evidently blatant attempts at appeasing old-school Clutch-lovers and seem incongruous with the generic palate that ‘Strange Cousins from the West’ mostly sets. ‘Abraham Lincoln’ (Classic R.C. vis-à-vis  ‘I Have The Body of John Wilkes Booth’) and the furious, fire-and-brimstone vocal frenzy of ‘Freakonomics’, over guitarist Tim Sult’s hopped-up rendition of what, at heart is a classic boogie-woogie rhythm.

So the riffs remain sludgy, the solos remain improvised and the lyrics are as yet, little more than intelligent salad. What is definitive about the album is the no-nonsense statement of comfort it evinces from Clutch, and the obvious shift in technical dynamics. Many of the pieces carry one lead line from Sult and Fallon each, and the structuring of each and every song seems tailor-made for on-stage improvisation. With this album, Clutch officially achieves near-jam-band status. Infinitely more importantly, precious little is better than an album that rolls on like a single unit, evoking one uniform echo throughout, leaving no doubt as to the collective awareness of Clutch that they, themselves, have finally arrived. Admittedly, in Strange Cousins from the West the echo is that of crickets in the night and batter-fried chicken crackling, but precisely like those metaphors, it lasts through the night, and there is a hint underneath it all that you’re not the only one on your backyard porch.

– The Real Cock n’ Cola

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