Starting today, I present to you a new weekly column called A Closer Look, where I take an in-depth look at an album I believe is overlooked. This week, I’m revisiting the self-titled and only album from the mysterious and short-lived Brixton post-punk band Clor.
During my junior year of high school, I would occasionally watch old Pavement concerts on YouTube to fall asleep. I can’t really explain it, but it was comforting hearing the band’s charging riffs and Stephen Malkmus’ laconic vocal delivery while trying to put my racing mind to bed. However one night, I woke up and discovered a bright yellow glow taking up much of my television screen. It had a heavy criss-crossed background and the name Clor in one of its squares. I didn’t think much of it, considering I wasn’t fully awake — at first, I read the band’s name as “Glor.” After taking a sip of water, I tried falling back asleep but soon heard the quick-paced blast of “Love + Pain” and I was immediately hooked (thank you autoplay!). After the song ended, I remember quickly grabbing my phone and trying to find everything that I could about this band: “Are they British? What kind of hair do they have? And why do they sound a lot like Gary Numan?” I didn’t care that I had to get ready for school in the coming hours, I was curious about this band, especially why they broke up months after their debut album was released. I couldn’t find much, besides a few reviews and comments where people were just raving about how underrated they were. After finally finishing the whole album later that night, I found myself thinking the same thing.
In 2005, the British post-punk revival scene was reaching its peak with energetic debuts from Bloc Party and Editors. Sure Arctic Monkeys didn’t release their debut album until a year later, but 2005 was a fantastic year in British rock music, with more notable releases from Kaiser Chiefs, Gorillaz and of course Franz Ferdinand. But underneath the surface of this British rock takeover was that eye-catching yellow album that was filled with loads of energy, ambiguity and charm. Like their contemporaries, Clor was an English post-punk revival quintet who drew heavily from the best sounds of the late-’70s and early-’80s, including new wave and synth-pop. Their arrangements are minimal, but with layers of dancefloor-filling electronics blending with their eccentric post-punk riffage, Clor’s self-produced debut stands out and still sounds fresh today.
Its opening track “Good Stuff” is loaded with dashes of chopping riffs and pulsating beats that are reminiscent of Numan’s Tubeway Army. Right away, you can hear the band stretching towards a retro-futurist production style with some stylistic twists thrown in the mix. “Outlines” is catchy and clever with its cheeky melody and jerky hooks that combine elements of Britpop with ’80s post-punk. There’s a taste of romantic glam rock on their Sparks-soaked swerving anthem “Love + Pain” — the song that can turn any listener to the band’s deranged, strange world. It’s the band at their most immediate and unapologetic, with frontman Barry Dobbin hiding the pain it carries underneath his playful vocals and layers of sharp angular guitars and buzzing synths. Also it’s melodic refrain sticks and speaks to the album’s burst of emotion — “wide-eyed and open-mouthed, you look a little lost and found.” In an archived interview, Dobbins referred to the lead single as a basic love song. “You know giant bear meets tiny hairy woman, they fall in and out of love, she steals the honey etc, he gets lost and found,” Dobbins said. “It’s the usual tale all told through the medium of rock guitars, soulful drums and heavy, heavy, vocals.”
The energy in the outro of “Hearts on Fire” sounds like a synth-pop ode to Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” but way more frantic and adventurous. The instrumentals slow down on the more mellow and pure “Gifted,” but right after, the band is in their most chaotic state on “Stuck in a Tight Spot.” It’s tightly wrapped groove is filled with stabs of disjointed guitar rhythms, epic keyboards and changing tempos; it’s complete chaos. “Dangerzone” provides the listener with some space with its hypnotic downtempo melodies and inventive shuffling soundscape that recalls Tubeway Army yet again. It shows off some of Clor’s best qualities and superbly transitions into the funk-splattered synth lines of “Magic Touch.” This time Dobbin tries out his best Prince impression over the prowling instrumentals; it sounds like the music robots would do the nasty to. Similar to “Stuck in a Tight Spot,” “Making You All Mine” encompasses a crunching groove that’s rough and flashy and serves as some of the most memorable electro-pop you’ll hear from the mid-aughts. “Garden of Love” is another spiraling psychedelic-techno stormer with its tense and fast-paced polyrhythms and Game Boy accents. “Goodbye” is a quirky, but heartfelt closing track that speaks to the band’s legacy because right after this release, they disappeared.
Clor’s only album scored fine reviews from critics, with the NME calling it, “2005’s best goofy electro-pop album.” However, as good as the reviews were, it wasn’t enough to take the band to commercial heights like their contemporaries reached and soon Clor fell off the map. In 2006, right before the album was released in the states, the band called it quits. The band’s manager John Best confirmed their split and wrote a statement indicating that Clor broke up simply because of their creative differences and an unclear path of where to go next due to their commercial failure. “Clor, a band for whom musical differences surely seemed to be the whole point, have nonetheless succumbed to this hoariest of rock ‘n’ roll fates and decided not to be a pop group anymore,” Best said. “Unable to reconcile the yin and yang of wanting to be both wildly creative and chart-bothering, they will leave a big, uniquely C.L.O.R.-shaped hole in the all-too-generic world of guitar/electronic music.” Best also added how the band had left a “jewel of album for future generations to discover among the land-fill and rock detritus of so many of their peers.” Dobbin went on to form Barringtone, another mysterious electronic project and Clor’s other leading member Luke Smith became a record producer, most noticeably working with Foals, Everything Everything and Depeche Mode.
I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of Clor before that night, considering how I mostly grew up on post-punk revival music, but it makes sense considering the little promotion it received. In a way, Clor came out of nowhere with their bursts of electronics and idiosyncratic dance-rock style. Their music didn’t sound anything like their contemporaries. And even with the countless musical odes from Tubeway Army to Spöön Fazer and Original Mirrors to Devo, Clor makes their style their own, hence why Parlophone signed them so quickly. Luckily, they established a cult following, but it’s still unfair considering we will never know what they would’ve accomplished if they continued making music together.
Listen to Clor’s debut album below.