Fifteen tracks makes for a long album. In the case of Alarm Clock Conspiracy‘s self-titled LP, that’s just under an hour’s worth of music. But there’s no sense of rush or tension in the music. It expands into the space of that hour.
“Tomorrow’s Past” is a wistful song, soaked in ‘70s-era California country rock glimmer. “On Me” moved farther into that territory, its sound the breeziness-juxtaposed-with-longing that The Eagles captured so perfectly during their hey day. That song is underscored with the warble of mandolin.
“What You’re Waiting For” steps back even farther into bygone eras, into the more mystical, “Johnny’s Garden” moments of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It drips with morning rain, sparkles with pale sun, breathes. The guitars shimmer, matched by a light, brushes-on-snare percussion. It crackles with electricity just below a smooth surface.
Turns out the ‘60s and ‘70s references aren’t incidental: Those decades are duly noted in the band’s bio, along with the remark that “the ‘conspiracy’ which they speak of is the conspiracy that humans must awake to a bellowing alarm clock each morning, to rush off to work at a job that they truly hate.”
Probably the members of Alarm Clock Conspiracy (guitarists/vocalists Ian Reardon and Chris Carter who founded the band as a duo in ‘99, with, on the album, drummer Jamie Hurlston, bassist Wes Jameson and a number of guests) have been holding down day jobs while chipping away at their dreams of career musicianship — a heartbreaking prospect. But there’s a level of practiced skill and raw talent on the LP, combined with the sort of fluidity that comes from tapping into a vision. It’s so masterly and dexterous that it’s hard to believe the album (at least its first two thirds) was born out of any sense of frustration.
And, even though there’s a continuity of sound (the nimble musicianship, the lithe blending of Reardon and Carter’s vocals), the band doesn’t shy away from some experimentation. “Will You Wake Up” moves in a different direction — it’s island in flavor (Jimmy Buffet, Donavon Frankenreiter) with hits of horn that would veer into mariachi territory were it not for the dark, churning electric guitar bridge.
“Hello You Young Shadows,” the album’s longest track at nearly seven minutes, is a spacey jam, departing from its lyrics and melody around the two-minute mark. But even in its atmospheric and static explorations, the song maintains a thread of tidiness, with the bass maintaining a soft foundation below the ethereal striations, comet tails and stardust.
That songs ends, in its last 30 seconds, with a plea to “help me lord, don’t let me get bored with this world that I’m living in.” It’s a marked change in mood, followed by two much heavier, angrier songs. They rock, they make use of the guitar muscle that the band possesses. But the return to the softer (if not sunnier) tones of “Something’s About To Break” is a relief. Here is a train-chug of rhythm from a shaker, a peel of steel guitar and some tasteful vocal harmonies. And, deliciously, it ends with a half-minute of cricket sounds.
The final song, “Fall Down,” while not exactly a note of hope, continues in the clean-washed glisten that follows a summer storm. It feels wrung out, cried out, shuddery with release and decisiveness. It feels like a culmination.
Really, Alarm Clock Conspiracy’s album could have been two records — The first 10 songs play like a cohesive project and then the final five act as a special bonus EP, with a darker turn and angsty bite. As a whole, the song cycle takes a different journey than a split album would have, but that’s an artistic choice and this is a band that seems deliberate in its choices. No leap of faith is required, on the part of the listener, to go along for the ride. It’s a steadfast trip, even if the terrain is, at points, rocky.
Alarm Clock Conspiracy holds an album release party on Friday, June 8 at Highland Brewing Company‘s tasting room from 6-8 p.m. Forrest Smith and Isaac Wells will sit in on pedal steel and percussion, respectively. Free show.