Let’s get this over with. Brendan Reed, who used to be in Arcade Fire, is on this. This is better than anything he did with Arcade Fire. It’s actually probably better than anything Arcade Fire ever did, full stop. This is also Alden Penner from the Unicorns’ new band. It could be better than anything the Unicorns did, too. But it has been met by the world with two Canadian band names in hand, ready to compare and contrast. That’s fine.
It starts with an invocation. “Outward reaching, expecting hands”. Then a pause. “Searching for what the eyes cannot see”. Follow it through crashing drums, through light whispers and hinted guitars, and find something frenzied. This is Haarp. It’s Clues, it’s not Unicorns (and definitely not Arcade Fire), and it’s ready to stand up for itself.
The adjectives here are things like “tense” and “uneasy”. Melodic too. But strange. Think of it like the spirit of a regular, fruity indie pop album pressed down into a container, held at way too high a pressure, turning unstable. Sometimes it just squeaks out, ghostly and jilted. Other times, like on Haarp, or Cave Mouth, the screws pop out of the container and all this energy comes crashing and tumbling out at the speed of light.
It’s all imbued with this weirdness, but it’s also eminently listenable, even when it tries unusual stuff: jaunty gypsy carnival piano on the unsettling A Perfect Fit is one obvious example of a song that would probably be terrible if it was by anyone else, but Penner’s personality and the general spark of pop genius present on the album makes it work. Or Ledmonton, which has a melody not dissimilar to Greensleeves before cracking open into a raw-throated communal battle hymn of no-one in particular.
Clues hit heights. Haarp’s frantic riff. The kick-in of Cave Mouth. Ledmonton’s explosion. When they get there, there’s nothing that can compete with them. For all the consideration of its creators’ past lives, it might be good to recall for a second that this is a debut album. The best one since Vampire Weekend last year maybe, and if your tolerance for being mushroom cloud tattoos is higher than your tolerance for collegiate grief, it could be even better than that.