When Clipd Beaks raged onto the scene a few years back, critics instantly lumped the Oakland-based three-piece into the HEALTH-y school of rhythmic, monochromatically abrasive noise rock — the L.A.-centric flavor of the moment that was all the blog rage at the time. It was an easy but patently unfair comparison; where the zillion bands emerging from The Smell scene seemed fixated on being as manic and aggressive as possible, the Beaks seemed to possess something pure and underlying, an understanding of texture and melody that set them at arm’s length from their SoCal compatriots.
To Realize, the superb sophomore full-length from the band, finds them wholly embracing what was once merely hinted at. Foremost, this is an album, not just a collection of songs. In fact, it’s more like one long song. Every track crawls along at the same zombie-turtle’s pace and is imbued with the same darkly melodic motifs that pop up again and again. An obvious touchstone is Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead. But where that record trafficked in directness and empty space, Clipd Beaks fills the hell out of any and all voids. “Home,” the album’s fifth track and one of its finest, displays the band in peak sonic form. Woozy and decadent, the song rolls through six minutes of noisy glory, layering guitars on vocals on drums on trumpets on keyboards to a huge, terrifying climax. The song feels like the photograph on the cover of To Realize: a little bit ominous, but weirdly incandescent, all rainbow-hued and charcoal black.
Where Clipd Beaks particularly excel is in keeping this cacophonic mess from becoming claustrophobic or overbearing. Instead, everything seems open and airy, somehow light against such a weighty musical backdrop. An acknowledged influence on the group is the timeless and underappreciated proto-noisers This Heat; their fingerprints are all over the Beaks’ sound, especially in this way. The two groups share a unique sense of time and space, as well as a knack for creating dense, rich textures with no overload. The band’s impeccable sense of texture shines throughout the record, from the languid, psychedelic swirl of “Blood,” with its constant, anguished low groan; to “Jamn,” which invokes both Alice Coltrane and Spacemen 3 but sounds like neither. Trumpets show up at various points on To Realize, usually with a sweetly-tinged, cool jazzish sort of melody that lopes along, adding to the album’s eerie, yellowed atmosphere. It’s a potentially awkward aspect to a record that nonetheless never once comes across as cloying or forced.
To Realize also marks the first time that the vocals have held a spot front and center for Clipd Beaks, and thankfully it’s a wholly welcome change. “Down in a violent world/ I’ve been known to bleed,” vocalist Nick Barbein moans on the sprawling “On One.” Album closer “Shot on a Horse” is once of the best closing tracks in recent times: Western-tinged, lonely, and creepy as fuck. “I wait for the morning to come,” Barbein croons through an ocean of reverb. “It comes.” In a way, this lyric encapsulates what makes To Realize something truly extraordinary, which is its ability to find solace in stagnation, to transform seconds into hours into days and so on; to simply hold still.
It’s tempting to dwell on suspected influences and surface-level comparisons when writing about music. Sometimes this is a result of creative laziness, but it is also because — let’s face it — most music isn’t good or imaginative enough to merit a serious discussion based on its intrinsic significance alone. So, it’s a great, uplifting feeling when a band manages to truly surprise, when a record outstrips its influences and a band truly becomes its own damn self. To Realize is one such record, and Clipd Beaks is one such band.