Clearlake | Amber (Domino)

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Let’s be honest: Britpop has a tendency to repeat itself. And for this reason, we love and hate the genre—hate it because it recycles old habits, some of which weren’t worth developing in the first place, and love it because we know exactly what to expect and the musicians’ accents make us swoon.

For the Brighton, England, quintet Clearlake, this paradox sits heavy on the band’s third album, Amber, a record that makes definite stabs at creativity but relies more on simple rehashings of a proven formula. What’s interesting, however, is that Amber is split into two moods, with half the songs aping Kasabian’s Stone Roses–reviving club rock and the other half falling to its knees in worship of Andy Partridge’s brilliantly dramatic Skylarking. And it’s the juxtaposition of the two diverse sounds that Amber uses to distract from the musical shortcomings that would arise if either side had existed without the other.

Of the two moods, the gruff, guitar-heavy tracks lack the most spirit. The album’s opener, “No Kind of Life,” revels in shoegaze distortion and features frontman Jason Pegg repeating the chorus to create some sort of mantra. But aside from the early guitars, little about the track feels particularly epic, and the repetition of the title phrase ad nauseam fails to infuse the four words with any deeper meaning other than subliminally urging fingers toward the “skip” button. In a similar vein, “Neon” unveils the dreaded rock harmonica over thunderous percussion, “Good Clean Fun” showcases two start-stop guitar solos that struggle to redeem several horrific verses, and “Here to Learn” buries Pegg’s vocals beneath walls of distortion as the band takes a lousy stab at the Jesus and Mary Chain.

With many of the record’s energetic songs running the route to annoyance, the serene segments of Amber briefly quell the monotony. “Getting Light Outside” strips away the grime as Pegg approaches his cheerful verses with a theatrical bent that works well with the addition of a simple string arrangement and orchestral cymbal crashes. Even the desolate and dejected title track sounds refreshing as its clattering percussive loops tumble through just enough morose awkwardness to keep listeners attentive. But with “You Can’t Have Me” slowly building as a piano-based track that rips its sparse guitar sound from The Bends–era Radiohead, Clearlake’s creativity occasionally loses its luster—particularly with the gratuitous closer, “Widescreen,” a track that sounds as if it should rouse itself into a frenzy but instead wilts in defeat.

Given that the band clearly shows hints of creativity throughout the record, it’s puzzling why the majority of the quintet’s songwriting comes across as unforgivably ordinary. And even though Amber’s variance between two moods frequently uplifts the record, the dalliance in ready-proven sounds leaves Clearlake sounding like yet another group of revivalists looking to revisit Britpop’s glory days.

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