Scratched Into Our Souls

Candy Claws – ‘Hidden Lands’ (2010) | August 3, 2010

Every so often, a record will drop in my lap that is simply and truly unique. It’ll be something that has its feet firmly planted on the solid ground of a rich musical past, but the ideas will be jumbled and rearranged in ways that aren’t traditional. This year there have only been a handful of records that feel truly unique and ground-breaking from a stylistic point of view:  Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma, These New Puritans’ Hidden, and Sleigh Bells’ Treats are all records that come to mind. All questions of artistic merit aside, these records took the sounds of the past and filtered them through interesting aesthetic choices. Flying Lotus took electronic IDM and hip hop beats and mixed them with space-prog and jazz for a turbulent record that takes you on a journey past the planets and into the outer realms of the human imagination. These New Puritans took tribal drums from Japan and mixed it with the traditions of electro-rock and Western classical orchestrations, churning out a huge record in the process. Sleigh Bells took hardcore punk, glitchy hip hop beats, and bubblegum pop and somehow made them compatible.

We can add a newcomer to this list: Hidden Lands by Candy Claws. Hidden Lands takes the weightless atmosphere of chillwave, the ethereal vocals of dream pop, and Brian Wilson’s best chamber-pop orchestrations a la Pet Sounds, and mashes them all together, creating a record that sounds like a trip across the sun-soaked beaches of a fantasy world only imagined in the wonderful imaginations of innocent youth. It’s hard not to get lost in the beautiful and dramatic soundscapes, with vocal performances that are so beautiful and gentle that they are instantly accessible. If the feeling of falling asleep had a soundtrack, Candy Claws have made it.

Compositionally, Hidden Lands is remarkable for a few reasons. Firstly, every song is made up of many parts (the band tours as an eight-piece act), so the feeling of orchestral grandeur is prominent for the whole record. The vocals, however, are so intimate and gorgeous that you feel like you aren’t being overwhelmed by an orchestra but rather eased into a welcoming dream-state. Candy Claws have taken Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and made it pop music. If Kevin Shields had tried to make Pet Sounds, the result would have sounded like Hidden Lands.

The band has also stated that each song on this album contains a musical sample from one of the other songs, making this record interestingly post-modern in the sense that one cannot determine the origins of the samples at all. This fact leads listeners to a classic chicken-or-the-egg paradox, but this time it is a paradox of composition: from which song did the sample originate? The songs blend seamlessly, all interconnected on a deep compositional level. You can’t fault their ideas, even if the sonic nuggets used as samples are difficult to find. There are hidden treasures aplenty on this psychedelic masterpiece.

Then there’s the lyrics, which are not “written” by the band in the traditional sense of composing lyrical content. After selecting passages from Richard M. Ketchum’s book The Secret Life of the Forest, the band ran them through translation software on the internet, translating the passages back and forth between English and Japanese until they reached an equilibrium where no further changes were made in the translating process. The lyrics represent a weird poetry that are derived from technology and language, creating art in the process. It’s a remarkably interesting way to ‘write’ lyrics for an album, but it yields captivating poetry that suits the music perfectly: “Trees, like all other forms of life, trace their origins back to the sea” becomes “Tree of life in the sea.”

It’s an album that raises interesting questions about the nature of art and the nature of pop music, stretching the definition of “intellectual property” to include plagiarized passages that have been translated and transformed, while also stretching the boundaries of pop music to include something so beautiful and remarkably fresh and unique. You have to hear this.

Listen: Candy Claws – “Sunbeam Show”

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    About Me: Chris Robinson

    A budding writer and avid music fan from Los Angeles, California, I am a recent graduate of Music History from UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music. I've written for the UCLA Daily Bruin, graduated valedictorian from high school, and enjoy many different types of music, from The Beatles to Beethoven, and everything in between. I wrote my senior thesis on lyrical misinterpretations in popular music, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

    Add me on last.fm: http://www.last.fm/user/crob3888

    All music posted on this blog is for sampling purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Go out and buy their music, attend their shows, and buy merchandise.

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