Antony Milton and Clayton Noone don’t so much play songs as strenuously interlink ghosts of melody and tempo. The duo hails from New Zealand and they are immediate descendants of that remote country’s underground heroes: The Dead C, Alastair Galbraith, Surface of the Earth.
But where their elders distorted songwriting norms into maelstroms of noise and avant-rock, the wispy, fragmented compositions on A Daylight Blessing are more tantalisingly lo-fi, fuzzy bedroom-born soundscapes where brittle textures are melded to delicate acoustic guitars and vocals subsumed by layers of haze. If rock and pop are woven into Claypipe’s DNA, they have been stripped of immediacy in favour of the intangible, bringing Noone and Milton closer to the hauntology/hypnagogic scenes of the UK and US than their homeland’s alternative scene (with the possible exception of Galbraith).
A Daylight Blessing is an album blanketed by a poignant sense of loneliness and isolation. Although drone and noise are frequent leitmotifs, the acoustic guitar dominates: subtle, low-key finger-picked melodies dip and swirl at the heart of nearly every track, sometimes bolstered by insistent strumming, notably on the gorgeous nine-minute “Change Course”; but mostly left to flutter meekly as Milton and Noone add on layers of feedback and waves of synthesizer drone. “A Daylight Blessing” feels like a sketch for a Neil Young song (maybe “Pocahontas” or “Penny Arcade”), but one left open-ended as fragile vocals quiver and billow wordlessly (or with the words drowned in effects) and the song drifts melancholically to an unresolved finish.
Even the meatier tracks, such as the robust, chugging “Cloud Shaper” with its brooding electric riffs and punkish DIY feel, or the cavernous industrial creaks of “Tried to Believe,” seem to evolve organically, Claypipe allowing each note or surge of feedback to breathe and stretch to the max. Where Surface of the Earth’s music evokes ruined cities and blackened slag heaps, Claypipe’s, whilst no less morose, is the sound of damp forests and desolate sea fronts, at times sounding as if heard through a dense fog. It’s no surprise to learn that A Daylight Blessing was mastered by James Plotkin, whose work in (post-)metal bands such as Khanate and Khlyst has always been earthy and primordial.
“Forlorn Hope” is even more haunting, an echo-laden wordless mantra drifting listlessly over plucked guitar notes, surrounded by a cloud of ever-shifting haze. Acts like Grouper, Belong and even Philip Skelton spring to mind, but, as with the tracks themselves, never stay long enough to take root. Claypipe’s songs are like scraps of paper swirling in the wind: you can only experience them fleetingly, as they seem to disappear even as they hover into view.