Amelia’s Magazine | Clogs – The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton – Album Review

Perhaps the most apt album title of the year so far, sickness The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton is the fifth album from the classically-bent folk group known as Clogs. Theirs is a music grounded in an intellectual appreciation of musical form and theory, here but when they come to actually write their songs they sit around and jam like any other rock group. It gives their songs a fluidity and spontaneity that belies that this is, side effects at heart, a group of chin-stroking music theorists – those members being Padma Newsome (Australian multi-instrumentalist), Bryce Dessner (most famous for being guitarist for The National), Rachael Elliott, and Thomas Kozumplik.

The title is apt, dear readers, once you realise what, exactly, the Garden of Lady Walton is. The Argentinian Lady Susana Walton lived with her husband, the British composer William Walton, on the island of Ischia in Italy. Upon arriving at their new home in the year after the end of the Second World War they decided to call in the famous landscape gardener Russell Page, who decided upon a mix of indigenous Mediterranean plants and imported tropical, exotic varieties. Almost two decades ago the garden was opened to the public – the William Walton Foundation runs a museum dedicated to the composer, and puts on a series of classical concerts every year in the garden’s Greek Theater. It’s a highly-respected piece of horticulture, and very neatly acts as a metaphor for Clogs’ project – artists and musicians from around the world perform under the boughs of trees from every corner of the globe, an eclectic and vivid mixture that works far better than the sum of the parts. The creatures in the garden are the friends and influences that have helped them make this record, which by contrast to earlier Clogs output it more varied, more filled with wanderlust.

‘Cocodrillo’, then, opens with an a capella chorus of chirps and mumbles while the chant, “these are the creatures in Lady Walton’s garden,” is sang in rounds, exactly in keeping with the tangled foliage on the album’s cover – maybe a little bit too close to ‘concept album’ territory for some, but charming nonetheless.  There’s an operatic element to The Creatures… thanks to the vocal contributions of Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond – whereas previous Clogs albums have remained mostly instrumental in nature, her singing occupies pride of place on over half of the tracks here. It’s a voice that I could imagine would grate terribly with some but endear itself to others, a sweet and swooping voice that suits the more delicate classical compositions – something like ‘The Owl of Love’ is almost medieval – but which is thankfully not deployed over everything.

Newsome writes most of the lyrics, and sings on ‘Red Seas’; there’s also an appearance from Matt Berninger of The National, whose guest slot on vocals for ‘Last Song’ is a definite highlight. His voice, that level baritone, sticks out amongst the dramatic ups and downs of Newsome’s singing. Sufjan Stevens also guests, but his appearance is limited to the instrumental – no doubt to the disappointment of his fans, who were probably hoping for more than plucking a few banjo strings. Still, it’s a worthwhile contribution, as closing track ‘We Were Here’ is elegiac and rousing.

Every song sounds like a Clogs composition, but each one has its own little quirks and traits to make it seem more unique – there’s the concerto of ‘Raise the Flag’, the post-rock tinkle of ‘I Used to Do’. Trying to pull out which influences come from where feels like trying to weed a particularly stony patch of ground – beneath every root there’s another, then another, and another.

It’s hard to find fault with this record on the level of individual songs – it’s certainly Clogs’ strongest work, but its only weakness appears to be its strength – its delicateness. As with much music rooted in the mind rather than the soul there is little dynamic to grab the casual listener. I adore it – I adore the sensation of wandering through a mass of roots and branches, finding spaces of clarity and beauty on the Italian coast, as that’s what it cannot help but sound like. Perhaps Walton himself would approve, though I’m certain his wife would have.

Categories ,Bryce Dessler, ,classical, ,Clogs, ,folk, ,ian steadman, ,Matt Berninger, ,My Brightest Diamond, ,Padme Newsome, ,Shara Worden, ,Sufjan Stevens, ,The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton, ,The National

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