Clay Hips: Happily Ever After (Annika Records)
Some albums just beg to be made. They can wait like people stranded at a station in the rain, and then eventually spark into being as they hear the rumble in the distance like a promise. Such a beautiful realisation comes in the shape of Clay Hips' long anticipated release Happily Ever After. Ten years in the planning and ten days in the making, it betrays none of the limitations of its origins. Literally songs recorded at home, it has an eloquence and grace that suggests a dalliance with, and surplus amount of, time. The delay is the consequence of the members living in separate cities, but the songs are moody, eloquent and shimmer like freshly discovered pearls. The references are strangely English, a baroque dandyism, a collection of assured tunes, melancholy but utterly up-lifting, they are perfectly executed. It simply doesn't feel like a debut album. It has a much greater energy and poise.
Kenji Kitahama and Andrew Leavitt are exiles from their native San Francisco. They left a myriad of beautiful releases as The Fairway and ended up one in Dublin. the other in Ausburg, but despite a few appearances via compilations on Matinee Records, they seemed destined to be a frustratingly elusive promise. It was only when the Barcelona-based label Akinna suggested that they produce an album that Happily Ever After transpired. It is a sublime affair that kicks into life with the jaunty whisperish "I Won't Say." Kenji possesses a voice that nuances Art Garfunkel at his most precise. Mannered without ever sounding precious he has the ability to weave himself into the texture of a song, and then soar beyond the limitations of its form.
"Failure" has a breeziness that is at odds with its title. His exquisite delivery echoes the uncanny effortlessness of Colin Blunstone. It is an elegantly crafted song that shimmers like light on still water and is as unhurried as it is assured. "Disappointed" which features Beth Arzy on backing vocals threatens to skip into a pastoral dance routine. Again the vocals have an ethereal yet grounded phrasing, the sort of feat Frazier Chorus regularly achieved but seldom got the credit for. There is a Kevin Ayers influence presiding over "The Mayfair Hotel," a country-ish curiosity of that might saunter into a David Lynch movie on account of a Chris Isaak melancholia and swagger. "Someone Who Wanders" has an almost Scritti Politti jauntiness in its phrasing and vibe. A perfect piece of sunshine drenched pop that infects the brain and doesn't leave.
"The Bridge - A Song for Ausburg" is the mesmerizing jewel at the heart of the proceedings. Psych-laced, chamber drenched baroque, it sways effortlessly but has so many subtle twists and turns it leaves this listener in a state of utter awe. Think the Left Bank in cahoots with Duncan Browne in his Immediate label years, and you are only a third of the way there. It echoes Clifford T Ward circa "Mantlepieces" with all the ethereal longing that he so eloquently expressed. "Empty" reveals a beautifully perverse collision between aspects of a traditional Irish lament and a Parisian ballad. The vocal rivals the whispered eloquence achieved by Nick Drake, a rare feat, but modestly and effortlessly expressed.
"I Can't Say It's Love" is pure Act Fuseli, a forgotten English Off-shoot of Shelleyan Orphan whose haunting "Solange" was produced by Tony Visconti. This is a pure co-incidence as Clay Hips have never heard of them, but then precious few have. The song has an effortless confidence and stride to its favour and is strangely English despite neither being recorded there or created by natives of that soil. "Gone Too Fast" suggests The Zombies at their baroque best and is the aptly entitled closer, drowning in melancholy and perfectly realized, it leaves one wishing for more.
Happily Ever After is as perfectly realized as it is named. It will reward the listener because it is simply a labour of love that shows an myriad of influences realized into freshly vital statements of intent. Lyrically and musically something to cherish and adore it is proof perfect that these fleeting polaroids of perfection deserve as wide an airing as possible. It is a record that cannot fail to please. Such affairs are rare, which is precisely why it took a decade to arrive.