- Clever Girls, Luck
(Self-released, CD, LP, cassette, digital download)
When Burlington's Clever Girls burst onto the scene in 2017 with their debut EP, Loose Tooth, the release came with the promise of a quick turnaround for a subsequent full-length. One year later, their debut LP, Luck, fulfills that promise and heralds a new age for the group. Think of the EP as raw cookie dough: Sure, it's undeniably delicious. But you wouldn't know what you were missing if you'd never had a snickerdoodle fresh out of the oven. Luck proves to be a fully baked, aromatic and addictive offering.
Originally a trio of songwriter/guitarist Diane Jean, guitarist/bassist Winfield Holt and drummer Rob Slater, Clever Girls have solidified as a quartet with bassist Tobias Sullivan, who also played alongside Holt and Slater in retro-pop outfit 1881. Scaling up to a four-piece has provided everyone the space to more fully sink into their roles. Jean's lyrics are as disquieting and self-effacing as ever, further emphasizing that she's a formidable artist with sharp instincts. And the way she shifts between full-force belting and trembling whisper-singing feels representative of the emotional whiplash of life in your twenties.
Perhaps most noticeable about the new record is its heaviness. Loose Tooth was hefty, too, both emotionally and sonically. But it was a bit manic. Luck feels more even-keeled and lands solidly in grunge and shoegaze territory. Hardly a trace remains of the alt-country-ish strains of its predecessor. The group also makes some bold compositional and structural choices, which are further evidence of its cohesion.
"Owen" flits back and forth between 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures, the junctions of which are smooth and organic. Waves of blaring guitar repeatedly punch the downbeat, masking Jean's climactic, rafter-scraping wails.
Like a grungy reimagining of an "American Bandstand" slow dance, "Dumb Smile" recalls the golden era of rock. The lead guitar's slap-back echo ushers in a stark void before exploding into a voluminous full-band spread. The song fades into oblivion with Jean repeatedly asking a rhetorical question: "Will I ever stop acting like a goddamn child?"
She sings through a peppy filter over blaring riffs on garage-rock banger "Junior." About 60 seconds in, Slater doubles the tempo as Holt's guitar has a frenetic sonic meltdown. At just under two minutes, the song proves how much oomph the group can pack into small spaces.
On "Get Out," a chilly second cousin of Loose Tooth's wistful waltz "Crazy," Jean crystallizes romantic anxiety in its opening line: "I keep my home tidy in case you decide to drop by."
With a charismatic front woman and rock-solid instrumental lineup, Clever Girls seem poised to break out into the larger cultural landscape. We're lucky to have them in our backyard.
Luck is available at clevergirlsmusic.bandcamp.com. Clever Girls celebrate its release on Thursday, April 5, at ArtsRiot in Burlington.