Oct 11, 2009
Still A Mystery Machine Full Of Lumps And Fire
Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Shawn Biggs
Alden Penner is a normal dude and an utterly strange dude as well. When the Canadian was playing in Unicorns, the band shot publicity photos of themselves in a bathtub full of hair and in a massacre scene featuring horrific splatterings of blood on everything in sight. You can guess which one ran in most newspapers. After a break-up of that band and a silent hiatus - that was accompanied by murmurs and odd hints of new projects and music - he brought Clues to the world earlier this year, playing one of its first ever live shows at the Noise Pop festival in San Francisco later one February evening, following the taping of this one-song "session." They'd made a long drive in from close to 10 hours away, all through the night to get to where we were and over an hour and a half in the studio, they played a version of "Let's Get Strong," from their as-yet-to-have-been-released at the time self-titled album. It's a pretty song that sounds spiritual, in a way, remarking on the failings of destiny and all those people involved with their false destinies, struggling to get close to them because of some inner and outer weaknesses. It's empowering when he ends the song with a couple winking piano notes and sings, "I've got wings, but they're not meant for viewing," suggesting a privacy that should be held by the energies within, whatever gets us through our days without crumbling into heaps of lumps and elbows. It's a touching song and those come randomly on "Clues," a record that goes for oddball and goofiness in the same way that Unicorns did, but always finding a way to bring it back to center and countering with real human sentiments as well. Penner and crew were wild in San Francisco, sometimes clunky but always interesting, asking the recurring question of, " Who here wants to sleep in the dragon's mouth? Who here wants to feel?" making it feel as if it were a question like, "Who here wants more soup?" It's in making the strangeness enlightening that Clues give us the pieces of themselves that they're willing to divulge.