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Clam, 'Watercolor Travels'

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Published November 23, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


(Self-released, digital)

I've never been able to pin down Burlington singer-songwriter Alex Vitzthum, musically speaking. But he always intrigues me. He has zigzagged between styles, playing with multiple groups and under various monikers. They include quirky indie rock bands Homeboy Aurelio and Count Hamilton, trivial one-offs such as beer-soaked the Mouthful, and Clam, an avant-garde solo project that keeps evolving.

I first encountered Clam with 2016's Sonnendruck, a mashup of electronica and Gregorian chanting. Vitzthum continues in the electronic vein with his new album, Watercolor Travels. And this time he adds gnomes to the mix.

A collision of high tech and high fantasy, the eight-song LP consists largely of live takes of Vitzthum's analog PolyBrute synthesizer. The hypnotic, often formless tracks introduce a new electronic subgenre the artist dubbed "gnomewave." The collection's album art represents the fantastical land from which the music emanates. Vitzthum created the images using the artificial intelligence image generator DALL-E.

Back up a minute ... did he say gnomes? Is this a joke? you might be wondering. According to Vitzthum, it is and it isn't.

"I think gnomes are a funny vehicle to base serious music around," he wrote by email. He explained that many artists in electronic subgenres take their work über seriously, which, I inferred, can suck some of the fun out of it. He mentioned a category called "dungeon synth" that I've yet to venture into.

Vitzthum's gnomewave is quite cinematic. With eyes closed while listening to the instrumental Watercolor Travels, I recalled Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's score for Blade Runner 2049 and M83's chilling recording of Anthony Gonzalez's song for Oblivion. The album's song titles indicate a journey of some kind ("Discovering Gnomelandia," "The Majesty of the Gnomedom," "Gnometta's First Waltz), but the listener must fill in the blanks — or not.

Though broken up into tracks, the album works as a fluid piece. The airy tones of opener "The Tower" swell and recede, breathing and sighing their way into aqueous "The Sea." The second cut expands the emotional impact of Vitzthum's instrument, employing richer, fuller timbres that linger and resonate.

"The Copse" adds more rhythm and structure with a bouncy, randomized arpeggiator. It also explores the lower end of the sonic spectrum with searing bass synths that buzz through the song's woodsy landscape like dragonflies moving in slow motion.

"Discovering Gnomelandia" disorients by pairing meandering, staccato tones with more of the jagged bass heard in "The Copse." Subsequent track "Gnometta's First Waltz" begins with a childlike quality before cascading into a swirl of sawtoothed synth.

For Vitzthum, Clam seems to scratch an itch not satiated by his rock-leaning projects. Perhaps it's a way to cleanse his palate or explore his weird side. Whatever it is, the project always yields a puzzling but undeniably fascinating result.

Watercolor Travels is available at clamclamclam.bandcamp.com.