Written by: Dave Cantrell
As a complement to the recent Friends & Frenemies compilation comes Mystery Lawn Music honcho Allen Clapp’s solo effort Six Seasons, a six-song, unsurprisingly gem-stuffed affair that swings with easy authority through a pop spectrum marked at one end by the bright and clappy (no pun intended, I don’t think) and at the other by the delicate and slightly dewy. Not the broadest sweep but when we’re talking a mini-album with a mere half-dozen tracks it shouldn’t be. Instead, Clapp handles his remit here with his usual focus and finesse, astutely subtle at the core, judicious but not stingy with the flourishes.
Producing and handling every instrument and voice, Clapp’s experience with this sort of sound over the past twenty years or so is evident in every little decision made over the album’s eighteen and a half minutes. There’s a certain impeccability at play, the whole thing brimming with a sureness that strikes as both effortful and nonchalant, as if pop mastery is just second nature to this guy. Thus in no small way do we find ourselves traversing through some prime Todd Rundgren real estate, a comparison especially true in terms of texture and structure while leaving the self-mythologizing humbly behind, even if claims of wizardry would not be ill-placed and true stardom, in a just world, would assuredly beckon.
That Clapp’s maybe a bit of a stereo boffin is apparent in literally the first second of Six Seasons as the drums that punch in the opening of the big and starry “Moss Falls Like Rain” are given a kind of silvery reverb treatment that’s both near-invisible to the naked ear and essential in setting the character of the song’s – and the album’s – Game Theory-worthy plunge into pop wonderment. It’s that former quality, however, those sort of gloriously understated nuances of production that Clapp applies to whatever he does, that makes the already Midas touched songwriting really shine. You may not be able to always see the joins but you sure as hell enjoy the well-appointed architecture that results. An Allen Clapp song is, indeed, a thing to behold.
“Friend Collector,” while laying strongest claim to the ‘Rundgrenesque’ label, also happens to boast an implied linkage to the sunny SoCal pop of the Asylum years, albeit of a type soddered onto a pre-hardwired, light-but-lush Wilsonian touch. “The Weight of Fallen Leaves” rather adapts the (expected) autumnal tone of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hello Darkness My Old Friend” before expanding into a rich romantic lament of Nyro-like proportions, the layered-on brightness of vibes only adding to its finely distilled melancholia. Before the instrumental “New Again” ends things on a bashingly lucent note that evolves from a piano intro redolent of Carole King into something altogether more spectral (and is the closest Clapp comes, perhaps, to synth pop), we get the two linked, sort-of title tracks, “Seasons 5&6 (parts 1&2).” The first, also vocal-free, suggests, through some gently icy piano, a susurration of bass, and synthesizer glimmers firing off with random precision, what it might be like to stand at night inside the massive grandeur of the redwood forests near MLM’s Boulder Creek studio, pondering all that unknowability up there, while the second, fed by pinging acoustics, tremulous cello effects, and brilliant almost falsetto harmonies, brings a brittle edge to our all-too-mortal understanding of this life’s temporal limits. Both in combination are breathtaking in an under-the-surface way that only accentuates the breadth and aesthetic stealth of this artist’s abilities.
In a phrase, then, this is ‘Pop Dynamics 101,’ and anyone out there hoping to attain similar opportunities to grasp the golden pop ring would be well advised to get this modest little record, strap on their headphones, and take notes (again no pun intended).