Labour by Clawing

Release date: October 31, 2018
Label: Grey Matter

An addict digs a hole. At first glance that’s a metaphor with all the subtlety of Trump at the bully pulpit. If you painted it on a wall and claimed it as an original Banksy no one would dispute it. But in the hands of Clawing there are unexpected nuances to be teased out of it: indeed for them it’s a perfect starting point. For that’s quickly becoming their stock-in-trade, being both blunt yet deceptively subtle. They’re a weaponised brick wielded with a deft hand, a bulldozer with a skilled racing driver at the wheel. They create drone and abstract noise that throbs with malevolence and that force you to confront some horrific vision face on. And yet by the end they make you want to come back and face it all over again.

If there was a criticism that could be levelled at their first outing Spectral Estate it’s that it’s bleakness was overwhelming with little to nothing to alleviate it. The crack that ought to let the light in had been boarded shut from the inside. But then it’s probably a bit rich to demand that those explorations of familial abuse (of every unflinching description) should conform to the ideals of Good Drama. It might seem perverse that the tale of a drug addict endlessly digging, stopping occasionally to pass out and piss himself atop a mound of dirt, as a better opportunity to find some light to contrast against the dark but in the broken, venal Americana sketched by spoken word artist Matt Finney solace is taken wherever it can be found. The opening stanza of Labour’s single 30 minute long track is as bright a side as Crawling have shown, featuring guitar chords and arpeggios that shimmer with an almost tender loneliness. It’s still far from an easy listen of course – those chords are accompanied by so much clanking and rattling that it sounds like someone is rummaging through Tom Waits’ overstuffed garage. But there is a stubborn beauty to it nonetheless.

An addict digs a hole. The first draft of this review used the word ‘Junkie’ instead of addict, but that’s a cruel, dismissive word – for all their aural savagery I doubt Crawling would approve. Inspired by the plague of meth addiction that blights much of the American South, as well as from experience within Finney’s own family, the spoken word sections are told in his usual first person perspective, forcing at least a certain degree of sympathy from the listener. Though his actions will seem inexplicable to anyone lucky enough to have no experience of addiction, from the opening line (“You put me out to pasture..”) onwards it’s clear our shovel wielding protagonist has nothing but the hole and the drugs in his life. It’s a bleak character study of a man who doesn’t recognise himself and digs seemingly just to remain in motion. And out of a desire to disappear completely. It’s sparsely written with barely a word wasted but gives you enough to draw a picture of this man and his unfathomable desires. But whilst there’s sympathy here there’s not so much as a sliver of a hope of redemption. That’s not the kind of story Clawing tell. 

An addict digs a hole. Why? What does he hope to achieve? Could he even tell you if you asked him? After the cracked elegance of the opening section there’s a disoriented passage of effect laden guitar and more unsettling noises that sound like a room of folio artists gone wild. The confusion gives way to dread and ultimately, inevitably, distortion seeps in like toxic gas through the crack in a door. It breaks for a moment and builds back to a similarly corrosive finale of ominous synths and bleeding static, much more akin to the generally more abrasive Spectral Estate. Since that record Clawing have picked up two new members (with Tyson Platt, J. James and K. Miller joining the original trio of Finney, Austin Gaines and Jeff McLeod) who seem to have been subsumed by the project entirely, adding extra depth to the abyssal noise both at it’s most heartworn and destructive. There’s a sense of growing confidence from all the players involved in Labour – Clawing are quickly becoming the perfect foil for Finney’s words, up there with his long time collaborator Heinali and arguably his most accomplished Siavash Amini, building immaculately detailed grim and run down sets for his pitch black vignettes to play out upon.

An addict digs a hole. When his shovel breaks he claws at the dirt with bleeding fingers, driven on by urges beyond the grasp of his drug addled mind. It takes a certain kind of sensibility to read words like that and want to go away and spend a half hour in that man’s company. If you’re in possession of such a predilection then what you probably need most of all is a tall glass of whisky and a long think about whatever it is that instilled such a want in your wounded soul. If you’re lucky enough to see a way to rid yourself of it then you should take the time to make an appointment with Clawing before you say farewell to that unnameable void. As for the rest of us, well, we may as well make peace with our fate and go grab a shovel.

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