Band Members: Alden Penner (guitars, vocals), Brendan Reed (drums), Ben Borden (multi-instrumentalist), Lisa Gamble (drums), Nick Scribner (multi-instrumentalist)
For Fans Of: Broken Social Scene, The Sea and the Cake, The Microphones
Clues, the collaboration between former Arcade Fire drummer/vocalist Brendan Reed and former Unicorns frontman Alden Penner, has deftly eluded most would-be hype, slipping beneath the radar despite their vast potential for buzz. Despite the band’s name, the Montreal musicians have offered little evidence of their existence, playing mostly small, unadvertised shows and and boasting an almost nonexistent Internet presence, which Penner calls a “tactical absence.” But public attention isn’t the only thing Clues has eschewed—the ethereal soundscapes and eerie experimentation of its debut album, Self-Titled(out now) are as puzzling and enigmatic as the band itself, the tangled blend of post-rock instrumentation and experimental art pop nearly genre-proof. It’s hard for even the band members to pigeon-hole their sound.
“There’s a lot of looseness with which we stitch together our music,” Penner explains. “Trying to describe it is just as much a process of self-discovery as what we’re doing musically.”
The band’s obscure roots go back to 2007, when Penner and and Reed recorded a 7” together. “It was the most rudimentary means of collaborating, more like a letter-writing exchange, an expression of will between myself and Brendan, when we were initially trying to sculpt the band,” Penner says. Two years, one full album and several line-up changes later, Clues has chosen to remain relatively incoherent and scattered. “The social reality of the band is somewhat disjointed,” Penner says, “so the work that we’re focusing on is mostly from day to day. The lineup does stand to fluctuate, though I think there is somewhat of an equilibrium right now.”
That translates to frenetic, delirious live shows, with throngs of drums and band members continuously swapping instruments. “I think we’re still trying to figure out how to play as a band, performance-wise,” says Penner. “Having all the drums and a bunch of weird objects and instruments onstage, that may be the desire to feel like we’re not just another boring rock band. But we don’t want to make sounds for the sake of making sounds, either.”
Self-Titled carries the weight of the Constellation Records imprint, a label venerated for its status as post-rock pioneer (much to the trend-bucking label’s chagrin). Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Do Make Say Think were some of Constellation’s early vanguards, and Penner notes that the label’s rich history played a role in the forging of Clues’ debut. “In putting the album together, we ended up listening to a lot of the records they’ve put out,” he says, “trying not to assimilate to their history, but understand their context, situating the album within a certain context that they inhabit.”
Clues may be cryptic, but the spectral howls and hauntingly carnivalesque pianos that cloak the album do so in pursuit of a straightforward musical goal: “Pretty much just to make music that we like,” Penner laughs. “Just trying to abandon the idea of reproducing what’s already out there, and making the songs live in another way.”