Harrisonburg, Virginia has its own sound now. Slow Clover's debut LP preview single, Makebelieve embodies the feeling of life in wide open spaces, much like the small town in the middle of the Shenandoah. Evocative and ethereal sounds are complemented with sporadic guitar syncopations. Intricate fretwork and a taut rhythm section cuts at the swath of heavy distortion that serves as the underlying bedrock. The guitar melodies shimmer like stars in a vast, night sky. It’s this manipulation of sound and lack thereof that highlights the contrast that ultimately defines their music.
A key contrast, their distinct blend of alt-fuzz and math-rock, propels a normally dense genre into a set of lively and thoughtful compositions. The reverb-heavy guitar melody of “Makebelieve” not only establishes the emptiness of the song’s theme, but also introduces the spark that guides us through the dream and reality. It brings a sense of wonder and wistfulness to otherwise morose lines like, “Tonight I'm in love/ With the tangible not merely the thought of/ But do I live in fear of the unknown?” Much like the central theme of Makebelieve, Slow Clover recognizes that the promise of love is fleeting and often uncertain. The enchantment of the verses is further punctuated by the blitz of sound and aggression in the refrain where the dream meets crushing reality.
The true tension of the song comes from the comforts of make believe. Despite the very real problems presented in the lyrics, the narrator resigns themself to “run away from everything and make believe”. The tranquility that composed the earlier verses starts to feel more suffocating as the harmless daydreaming becomes more of a form of escapism. This building tension comes to a tumultuous head when, in its final turn, the chorus “You love this part of me today/ You love it when things go your way” transitions from a list of grievances to a desperate plea to face reality again.
The second track on Slow Clover’s two track release, “Sculptured Stars,” has a greater focus on imagery than deep, lyrical themes and is more clinical in its execution. It begins with an introduction that works the fretboard like an equation, and weaves that riff into the composition with a tight drum beat and stuttered timing. The layering of guitar syncopations, chords, harmonies, and echoed lead vocals in the verses gives the feeling of controlled chaos, like there’s still plenty of room for a massive explosion. After teasing it for over the 3 minutes, “Sculptured Stars” implodes in its own Big Bang. The spry rhythm section and meticulous guitar implodes into a formless mass of awe-inducing disarray.
The math rock inspiration is clearer on this second track, however, there’s a lot more at play here. The link to 90’s alt-rock is immediately established with the first snap and pop of the snare and bass drums. It’s reminiscent of the clean, unhurried instrumentation that ran against the popular muddle of grunge at that time; take out the complex guitar intro and you’ve got a perfectly pleasing Toad The Wet Sprocket track. The band proves able to dominate both ends of the spectrum with the song’s epic conclusion that verges on the likes of heavy distortion heroes Dinosaur Jr. The band succeeds at building delicate tunes with complex instrumentation and evocative imagery, but they are at their edgiest when they harken back to the wall of fuzz from the 90’s.
No matter what band or decade they are reminiscent of, their chief specialty is nostalgia.