Highlights: The Book That Won’t Be Read, Accident, Mummer
Friends Without Names is the sort of left-field release that gives ‘left-field’ a good name. A clever (maybe too clever) synthpop record that has tested my senses in a way no other 2012 record has. It’s self-consciously edgy, it’s weird and, on occasion, just flat out disturbing. Not that you would mind, of course, for most of these songs are brimming with confidence, clever details and a seemingly endless array of whimsical, bizarre, totally irresistible hooks. Certainly not something you could wrap your head around.
Clockwork Orchestra is the project of Ireland’s Paul Mangan, and Friends Without Names is his band’s debut. And like a good debut should be – it comes crammed with an absolutely maddening cascade of tricks and ideas. In fact, there’s a danger that one might get scared away by the sheer intensity and, well, oddness of the whole thing (quite frankly, the album is all over the place – albeit in a good way).
The songs are generally complex, dense, multi-layered things – meticulously produced and featuring a number of different, sometimes completely different, sections. For instance, “Accident” (one of my favourites here) has a brilliant, propulsive synths groove that at some point fades away into a lovely flute part – the effect being both confusing and fascinating. This stuff is quite elaborate instrumentally; synths (often charmingly cheap and deliberately dated) might dominate the sound, but there’s some terrific violin and piano work here, too. Speaking of the latter, I’m particularly fond of the album’s penultimate instrumental track, “Mummer”, which sounds like Erik Satie kicked into the modern age.
It’s not an easy listen, and for all its relative diversity (techno pop, Krautrock, classical piano), your head will explode by track 8 – simply because there’s only so much art-pop whimsy you can take in one gulp. So no, emotionally you won’t connect with this stuff: it’s way too cold and clever for that. Which means that Friends Without Names is that proverbial ‘easy to admire, difficult to love’ album. But at this point in time – admiration is good enough. The verdict being: recommended. This is one rewarding, singular experience.