A review of Seth Horan’s “Clang & Chime”
Clang & Chime, the latest release by American bassist/singer Seth Horan is a beautiful record, focused around finely crafted songs. Seth writes thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics; sings like he means it and uses his bass to accompany himself with chordal parts, basslines, countermelodies and percussive lines.
On this record he is accompanied by Petteri Sariola on guitar and vocals on some tracks, Ed Sheets or Joel Ackerson on guitar on others and Ryan Cavan on drums. In terms of instruments, this is very much a bass-centric record. As I listened to this inspiring record for the first time, I remembered that Steve Lawson had told me to check Seth out back in 2006, but I have been very slow on picking up on his music. I should have listened to Steve straight away!
Clang & Chime is a personal record… you get the feeling it means a lot to Seth. It was produced in a ground breaking way: Seth made the entire album via crowdsourcing. He posted a blog in the summer of 2008 asking for volunteers to help produce the project. For a financial investment, the ‘producers’ were regularly sent tracks and engaged in a dialogue with Seth over production, arrangement and had a say in which songs were selected to make the cut for the record. Sixty-nine people opted to be on board for the entire process (seven more people did it for part of the time), and the final record came out in October 2009.
Clang & Chime is how Seth describes the sound of his bass to sound engineers at solo bass gigs – bewildered as they wonder how a voice/bass act should sound. It’s a great title and Seth describes some of the things it means to him in his blog. Aside from the apt description of his bass tone; it ties with concepts of consonance and dissonance (while both terms imply resonance); human fallibility within relationships (a theme of the lyrics); resonance of chakras within the body to different frequencies (in Eastern spirituality) and yin and yang. I love this way of viewing music as essentially combinations of tension and release – Clang & Chime – wonderfully onomatopoeic.
The first tune, “Letter to the Editor”, features an incredible staccato funky mix of morse-code guitar, a lovely dirty low bass sound, resonant bass chords, other layered bass parts and drums. It uses dynamics beautifully and the sounds are quite beautiful. I am reminded of Doug Wimbush‘s tone at times in Seth’s bright but deep bass tone and the way he uses a variety of bass tones and techniques for effect. The lyrics are on the theme of suffering from a tendency to speak out rather than keep quiet. I love the way the vocals are multi-tracked at the end to build up layer on layer. Seth has a lovely soulful voice.
“Ready for the Riot” starts with righteous growling bass slides and a fluent percussive chordal bass part. Lyrics that reflect controlled anger are complemented by drums and rocking multi-tracked bass. Some of the slapped bass fills are stunning and, like everything on this record, fit perfectly with the song and arrangement. Seth describes this one as “in-your-face and raw” in the notes “with nothing to distract you from the point.”
It’s quite obvious how Seth Horan loves words: he is wonderfully expressive in his lyrics – and he has a lot to say! This is music that he means. The words often set me thinking and several of the tunes (like good poetry) had meanings which changed in my perception over time.
“Stronger Still” follows a short piece using metallic percussion (Clang & Chime Pt1). The ballad features a fingerpicked bass chordal pattern and the tender lyrics beautifully describe the fragility of human life and the nature of love. There is a marvelous acoustic guitar solo from Petteri Sariola and just the right amount of light percussion – quite a gorgeous song that brought thoughts of James Taylor of my mind, Seth has that kind of quality to his songwriting.
“thirty-five” is a special song. It’s a very immediate tune that starts with a tapped chordal bass part. The lyrics tell of Seth’s self realization at 35 that it was time to live life more fully and completely and the words play off the number 35 repeatedly. The arrangement is very effective, the drumming is wonderful – a real rolling groove. It’s the voice and the lyrics that really grab the attention though – a really heartfelt song and a inspirational one.
“Bob Your Pretty Heads” is introduced by another short percussion interlude (Clang & Chime Pt2). The lyrics arise from Seth’s observation of sheeplike behavior among students at a conference in LA. It’s about the fact that many nowadays don’t actively listen to music but just respond. The irony is that this tune is almost impossible to listen to without bobbing your head or otherwise moving some part of your anatomy. The arrangement makes great use of bass harmonics and driving multi-tracked bass parts and a Nirvana like dynamic contrast between verse and chorus. The groove is serious funky and features some splendid wah-wah bass.
“Entr’Acte” is an instrumental with some beautiful acoustic guitar playing from Ed Sheets and some stunning chordal bass.
“One in Five” is preceded by the shortest of the percussion pieces, “Clang & Chime Pt2” – 7 seconds long. One in Five is one of my favourite tunes on the album – like “Letter to the Editor”, it arose from a looping jam with Sheets . It has a similar theme to “thirty-five” being about making the most of life and becoming “architects of (our) dream”. It features a superb little bass feature: 27 seconds of beautifully structured bass solo. This is another funky track with a tight rhythmic spring that somehow reminds me of Highlife, Belew era King Crimson and Talking Heads. The drumming is joyfully exuberant.
“Cyclone”, co-written with Sariola, is a change in mood and pace. It features a glorious hook and the melody weaves over a very different but equally powerful groove. Like all the songs here it haunts you afterwards as the melodies and words resonate.
“Ivory Tower” is preceded by “Clang & Chime Pt4” and it’s a powerful pop song. It’s an intricate bass arrangement accompanied by drums and backing a strong melody and heartfelt lyric about resolving an issue within a relationship.
“Of Course I Remember You” has Seth on double bass, which is a sweet contrast. The arrangement is simple: Joel Ackerson plays some chiming electric guitar which adds to the mood. The touching, romantic lyrics are written by Seth’s wife, Eugenia. This record contrasts bigger multi-tracked arrangements with sparser tunes like this.
“So Sorry” is a big 80’s-style, jangly pop arrangement. Clever, bright use of bass guitars to create that kind of sound. It’s an anthemic tune and the lyrics work slightly ironically against that – telling of self-criticism and the need to get beyond feeling sorry for oneself.
So there you have it. A great, passionate record from a guy who is using the bass to accompany his singing in a unique way; and a guy who is playing music he very much believes in and lives. Seth Horan is for real. Don’t wait four years to check his music out!
For more, check out Seth’ site.
You can order Clang & Chime from CD Baby.