Little Claw Spit and Squalor Swallow the Snow

[Ecstatic Yod; 2010]

Styles: gritty lo-fi, psych rock
Others: The Magik Markers, U.S. Girls, Sic Alps, Royal Trux

Little Claw’s Human Taste was one of the more criminally underrated albums of 2009. Unnoticed by most but greatly appreciated by the relative few that happened to hear it, it was a living, seething rock album. Lots of reasons can be attributed to why it slipped through the cracks. Perhaps the argument that has the most traction is that it got lost in the vast indie feedback loop of ‘lo-fi’ releases that permeated 2009. Still, its not like Human Taste was completely orphaned. It was put out by labels that receive a fair bit of attention, namely populist sub-underground taste-makers Ecstatic Peace! and Not Not Fun. Maybe the problem was that Little Claw’s brand of lo-fi is lower-fi than many of their supposed peers, as outlined by Elliott Sharp in his fine review of Human Taste. Whatever the case, it was an album strangely absent and sadly unheard.

So, then, perhaps Ecstatic Yod’s re-release of 2007’s Spit and Squalor Swallow the Snow is an attempt to foist Little Claw back into the fickle attention span of today’s music appreciators. Chronologically, this album came out at the advent of what would become today’s prevalent lo-fi sound. Alongside ‘first-wavers’ such as No Age and Times New Viking, Little Claw’s debut LP should have created some sticky talking points, but again went virtually unnoticed. (Seriously, Google it.) It would seem that the band’s plight is more unfortunate than it is any kind of statement on the quality of their music. Little Claw’s brand of rock exudes garage-y raucousness and no-fi nihilism, a sound as likely to hit you with a sticky hook as it is to beat you into submission with single-minded, haunting inertia.

Little Claw have two main modes of operation. The first and certainly most endearing is their penchant to write classic, driving rock songs, echoing notes of Led Zepplin and The White Stripes filtered through the scuzz-rock tendencies of something like Royal Trux. In fact, on Spit and Squalor, front lady Kilynn Lunsford’s vocals sometimes resemble those of Jack White. Her voice is full of power, somehow both feral and welcoming, capable of intoning sweet hooks (“Movies For You”), Joplin-esque rock ’n’ soul acrobatics (“Brackish Stratum”) and weirdo minimal shamanic pop (“Prickly Pear”). While these songs are strong, rollicking numbers, nothing here quite compares with “Colours You Drown,” the anthemic, Phil Spector-influenced highlight of Human Taste that was certainly as good as (if not better than) anything from Best Coast or Vivian Girls.

The second and more prevalent tendency of Little Claw is to pound out darker, feedback-drenched songs, echoing the snarling poetics of contemporaries like The Magik Markers. “Wayward Chief” is probably the highlight of Spit and Squalor, which, let’s be honest, is a damn gritty album title, like a lost Faulkner manuscript. On “Wayward Chief,” Lunsford menacingly and coolly chants, “I kill my father/ Wear his head like a crown” over thudding bass and damaged blues rock guitar. “Domestication of Manchild” and “Shopping Cart Part II” are both drenched in heavy feedback, tempos pushing and pulling like a bear with its teeth sunk in. If there’s any element of Little Claw that may serve to alienate more ‘mainstream’ indie listeners, it is their affinity for longer, more difficult psych dirges such as these.

Spit and Squalor is an interesting release. It speaks to the instant revisionism sometimes necessary in our information-drenched culture. For a band who put out an excellent but virtually ignored album last year, it serves as another artifact to help gain the attention of listeners. As an album that was originally released in 2007, it adds immediate context to Human Taste, allowing critics and listeners another chance at a fresh take on a vital band that they may have missed the first time around. While not quite as strong as what would follow, Spit and Squalor is a fun and challenging listening, showing off the dynamism of a band that certainly has much more to offer.

Links: Little Claw - Ecstatic Yod

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