Music & lyrics, artwork & layout by Alexander von Wieding.
Produced, recorded & mixed at North Of The Stairs, Hamburg, Germany.
Mastered by Chris Goosman at Baseline Audio Labs, Ann Arbor, MI.
Published by Small Stone Records (ASCAP)
“Larman Clamor is throwing a carnival- more of a street fair, really! You’ll find the sky is tinted a greenish yellow watercolor, the air is tepid and wet with humidity. Bugs come in swarms, and later a parade of children on the backs of reptiles will come out of the swamp and march down the crossroad.”
That’s what the marketing states, and if this is not from the deep South I don’t know what is? Well Hamburg, so not that far South, in fact further North than me! Yet you wouldn’t know it. My geography is not great, but I am not sure Hamburg is not known for it’s swamps and deltas.
Take some JJ & Mofro, and add some rawness as well as something dark, perhaps even ominous (“Been Cookin’” is it a recipe or a spell?), and possibly wear some waders as you are heading into the Dark Bayou. Then you get close to what this one man band project has produced.
The husky vocals, the acoustic guitar, the blues electrics, a bit of banjo, simple percussion-all add layers to give an understated sound that you just can’t help but gently nod along to, quietly tapping your feet. It gets into your head and under your skin.
When we receive requests for review they are either wrapped up in marketing bumpf, bundled with info about the band or artist. None of this is bad, in fact it can be very helpful. But in this instance we got an email simply stating would you be interested in reviewing my little one man band? Nothing else. Sometimes this humble approach speaks volumes, it also leaves you wondering what journey you are about to embark on when you put on your headphones or turn up your speakers.
The husky vocals, the acoustic guitar, simple percussion, all adds layers to give an understated sound.
From the opening title track “Alligator Heart” you are treated to an acoustic gentle intro, carefully put together-imagine sitting on a boat gliding across the bayou. Things change tack with Banshee Wail as the husky vocals kick in and the tempo rises, accompanied by a harsher sound. You are heading into no-mans land, your laws don’t apply here. With a solid rhythm – I can’t help but picture Seasick Steve and his Mississippi Drum Machine. Yet at about 85 seconds this track disappears as fast as it came, followed by “Perdition at Dawn”. Again, the distorted electric guitar is overlaid with his husky vocals, and what sounds like a kitchen supplied percussion section. The honesty and rawness makes this stand out. As things slow up a tad, the guitar loses some distortion, the tempo recedes slightly, and you are left with delta blues oozing from the stereo.
Closer to the opening track “Vines Of Yggdrasil” this instrumental track totally captures the deep Southern Vibe, unlike “Been Cookin” which might be nearer “Voodoo inspired” or a nasty recipe-you decide! “Sambucas Nigra” is a blues guitar led track, again rather short at just over 2 minutes, but captures the vibe to a tee. “Crow On A Wagon Wheel” has a familiar sound to me with the banjo – but I cannot place where. That plucking of the strings, a slight bass hum and the subtle reverb all give it an atmosphere.
Closing the album are two tracks paired together “Aether Bound”, the first “Scorched Earth” gently opening with guitar, and then as the instruments build up the tension it becomes hard to hear the vocal gently start. With only the slightest hint of percussion, this is more a bluesy guitar led track. Followed by “Dust & Ghost” with a slightly heavier vibe the drums kick in. The guitars are turned up a notch as well as the tempo to match, With spoken word in the middle giving the track an extra air of mystique.
I loved this album – in fact it got possibly too many plays prior to writing all this, meaning I started to lose objectivity, and with each listen I forgot to make notes. It generates that form of escapism, takes you away form your day to day. I am now curious about the first two albums from this “one man band”!
To quote Larman; “Welcome to my garage in the swamps of outer space!”
It has to be said that Alexander Von Wieding is a pretty prolific kind of guy. As well as providing instantly recognisable cover artwork for several luminaries of the stoner rock scene including heavy hitters such as Monster Magnet, Karma To Burn and Gozu, he is also the brains behind one man swamp outfit Larman Clamor.
Larman Clamor’s first album, “Frogs” was a genuine slab of dark, swampy blues rock typified by droning blues guitar, sparse rhythms and Von Wieding’s gruff, Tom Waits styled vocal howl and on album number two the template still seems to fit very well. Second time around, however, it feels as though Von Wieding has become a lot more confident in himself as more flesh has been added to the sparse bones of the debut. The songs here are still based around simplistic, repetitive guitar figures back up by some unconventional, in rock terms at least, percussion such as bongos, wood blocks, foot stomping…etc, but Von Wieding seems happier to use the luxury of multi tracking to give his pieces more weight and gravitas.
Despite being on Small Stone Recordings this is by no means a hard rock record though it is heavy. Not heavy in the crush you with its mighty riff power kind of way but an understated, introspective, sombre kind of heavy. Songs tend to build from a guitar, sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric, and build gradually, further instrumentation creeps in such as banjo, keyboards percussion, extra layers of guitar float in and out of the mix, voices appear and disappear often independently of the lead vocal. The effect is startling. What initially seems to be the sound of one man doing it porch style and solo with his guitar and very little else actually turns out to be a dense, rhythmically diverse, highly orchestrated schizophrenic ensemble piece that pulls such diverse influences as Five Horse Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Tom Waits into a tightly woven world of deep, dark delta blues albeit born on German soil. This album is proof that the blues comes from within and you don’t even have to set foot on Delta soil to have it.
Now here’s the thing, recently I was watching a Joe Bonamassa live show on the TV. Joe is being widely touted as the saviour of white man’s blues and, yes, he is damn good admittedly. The guy has an incredible talent on the guitar, a decent voice and some great tunes but his sanitised, populist rehash of the blues is a stark contrast to the sheer emotive depth and soul of Larman Clamor. A white German guy has tapped so far further into the spirit of Robert Johnson than someone like Bonamassa could ever hope to. I mention this because some musicians play blues music and some musicians have “The Blues”…Larman Clamor fall into the latter category.
When the time comes at the end of the year to deliver the inevitable album of the year lists this is an album that may sneak into my top ten without me even realiising it…I’ll just look down and it’ll be there by virtue of some strange Hoodoo Voodoo trickery…and who will I be to argue with that?
With his third Larman Clamor full-length in as many years, Hamburg-based singer-songwriters Alexander von Wieding continues the development of his established swampadelic blues aesthetic. Alligator Heart, which is von Wieding‘s second outing through Small Stone, is a somewhat rawer affair than last year’s Frogs (review here) or 2011′s Altars to Turn Blood (review here), but in stripping down some of the arrangements — less organ, more banjo — the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist has lost nothing of the rich mood of his prior outings, and indeed only given his songwriting and instrumental performances more space to flourish. Aiding in that as well is the fact that at over 38 minutes, Alligator Heart is the longest Larman Clamor album to date, and though the craft and construction has simplified in some ways, it’s also become more conceptually complex, as the two-part “Aether Bound I: Scorched Earth” and “Aether Bound II: Dust and Ghost” closing duo shows. Offset by catchier songs like “Banshee w’Me” and the grooving “I’m Buildin’ Ruins,” these ideas seem all the more engaging, particularly as they come accompanied by growth in von Wieding‘s vocal approach, which even on the five-minute East-meets-South stomper “She Sent Her Hounds” seems to have embraced more emotional complexity and seems to be in the process of growing beyond the guttural bluesman’s exclamations that have typified Larman Clamor‘s singing to date. As ever, the recording is overarchingly organic, giving a live-from-the-porch vibe — one can almost see the holes in the screen door — and gorgeous visuals also care of von Wieding also accompany, only adding to the completeness of the Alligator Heart package.
Because it has such a cohesive sound throughout, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the complexities in the individual pieces that occur throughout Alligator Heart, but the otherworldly feel that runs a thread (also threat) through each track has been these last several years a big part of what ties Larman Clamor‘s albums together, and the sense from the acoustic-led “Alligator Heart” on is exploratory. Von Wieding strums and feels out the parts after some subdued verses atop a rising bed of distortion, showing a bit of patience in the instrumental second half of the opener while letting “Banshee w’Me” pick up the tempo and provide the first of several landmark hooks that carve a path through the fog-coated bayouscape of Alligator Heart. The only thing missing is handclaps, but one should remember that von Wieding is working with a simpler palette this time around, so some of the flourish that prior albums may have led listeners to expect is replaced by a focus on the hooks themselves. “Banshee w’Me” is all ramble and brash groove, lead lines peppered in with tambourine meter, and leaves a lasting impression that its 1:25 runtime does little to hint at. “Perdition at Dawn” plugs in tight strumming and more blown-out singing with a strong build behind as snare hits come in to punctuate the march. Here, von Wieding sounds confident plucking acoustic notes that if they were played on a sitar you’d call them psychedelic, but it’s ultimately his vocals that carry the piece, and in that too, he’s in top form. His voice sounds less like something put on for the purpose of the tracks than something harnessed in response to a call from them. It’s a bigger difference than you might initially think.
A trio of varied cuts follows to round out side A. “Done No Good” enters sparse with a build around emotive guitar lines that gradually emerges to a Clutch-style groove soaked in psychedelic attitude, while the instrumental “Vines of Yggdrasil” offers hypnotic intertwining layers of guitar once again kept moving forward by a simple beat — repetition mirroring the album opener in the process — while “Been Cookin’” takes a linear progression and gradually turns it into the next trail-marker hook for those making their way through the album front to back. Each song as a personality of its own, but von Wieding draws them all together with his vocals and deceptively intricate guitar work, skillfully making complicated ideas sound easy in a way that would seem to indicate a vision at work going into the writing. As side B gets underway with the is-that-tambourine-or-crickets-chirping “Sambucus Nigra,” the interlude acts as a precursor to some of the more out-there moments still to come as Alligator Heart continues to expand its aural sprawl. “She Sent Her Hounds” follows as the longest cut on the record, built around a straightforward bluesy electric guitar groove over which von Wieding recalls tales of monsters and men. At least until “Aether Bound II: Dust and Ghost” rolls around to its apex, it’s also probably the busiest, but satisfying for all that, and “I’m Buildin’ Ruins” returns to give one last landmark before sending listeners off to meet their fate with “Crow on a Wagon Wheel” and the closing duo, the catchiest of Alligator Heart‘s “big three” choruses having been saved for the last of them. With a banjo line that seems drawn from the echoing 16 Horsepower sphere, “Crow on a Wagon Wheel” gives a contemplative break before “Aether Bound” takes hold to finish out.
Since Larman Clamor has worked so quickly as a project — an album every 11 months since their first, which arrived just half a year after the debut EP (review here) — I’m hesitant to speak in superlatives about the two chapters of “Aether Bound,” which bleed right from the first into the second to form one seven-plus-minute whole, but separated at the end of the tracklisting, they satisfy in a way that von Wieding hasn’t shown much interest in to this point. The build between them, from silence to the album’s most riotous stretches, is complete, accomplished and purposeful, and even the moment when the parts switch from one to the next feels thought out. “Scorched Earth” brings us to a turning point and “Dust and Ghost” picks up from there and maximizes the tension as it turns more and more vehement. There isn’t a payoff as such — that is, von Wieding doesn’t depart the build in favor of some release-point groove — but the tension continues to mount evenly across measures until finally it cuts. A tambourine shake, some fading notes and tape buzz, and the latest installment in Larman Clamor‘s ongoing journey ends as unpretentiously as it possibly could, as though von Wieding thought about keeping the part going and suddenly said, “Nah, that’s plenty.” I suppose it is, with this being the project’s longest outing yet at the aforementioned still-vinyl-ready 38 minutes, but as ever, I’m left after the conclusion of Alligator Heart how the project might continue to develop. After the “kitchen sink” approach of Frogs proved so effective, it seemed to make sense that would continue, but the soul of Alligator Heart is simpler, more straightforward. It asks less of the listener but delivers no less in return, and though speculating on where von Wieding might take the project from here isn’t a mistake I’ll make again, if past is prologue, it won’t be too long before we find out.
- H.P. Taskmaster