Back when my life consisted of going to bed at sunrise and starting my workday at sunset, I recall a vignette that, to this day, remains one of the most unfathomably bizarre experiences of my life.
I had woken up at some unreasonable hour, starving, as I did most days. Driven by what I’m sure were the more reptilian parts of my brain, I got myself mostly dressed and half-sleepwalked out the door to head to the local burrito bar. Surprisingly, there wasn’t anyone else in sight. It was amazingly quiet, even by the standards of rural Ohio college towns.
After two blocks of mindless stumbling, though, I encountered a fairly large group of people casually walking down the street dressed as Power Rangers. Too tired and hungry to think, I ignored them and continued through the middle of town where I happened upon a girl practicing Tai Chi, a man riding a bike while screaming Céline Dion at the top of his lungs, and, perhaps strangest to me at the time, a bicycle lodged in a tree that to this day I believe would have been impossible to climb. I finally arrived at the burrito joint, and found myself standing in line behind two gentlemen in full body costumes, one dressed as Spiderman, the other as Elmo.
For the record, I was lucid enough to know that it was not Halloween. I stifled the thought that I might be having some kind of exhaustion-induced mental breakdown, and decided to wolf down my burrito without asking too many questions.
Why have I told you this story?
That twilight-zone experience is the only other thing in my adult life that has come close to the schizoid weirdness I encountered while listening to Clarence Clarity’s debut LP, NO NOW.
There are two things I can comfortably say I appreciate in this world: complete, well-designed albums, and having my expectations thrown for a loop. NO NOW exemplifies some of the best of both. First, I should make it clear that this album might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s fractured, disjointed, referential to more musical styles than you can count, and generally feels like a too-full pot of idea soup that’s boiling over onto your stovetop.
But all of this is exactly why I can’t get enough. Listening to Clarity’s epic, 20-track electro-pop statement, you’re drawn into his mind and forced to follow his rules. He creates a sonic world which one second bombards you with sound and the next drops you into complete silence. Hearing the album in its entirety feels kind of like approaching a stranger and saying, “Here you go, for the next hour you have complete control over my life and sanity.” It’s Clarity’s pure creative spirit that we are confronted with, and he’s on a mission to make us pay attention.
Listening to NO NOW is sometimes more akin to watching a movie than listening to an album – each musical reference and strange production choice adds to a vivid labyrinth of dark and humorous imagery. Clarity owns it, too, stating proudly several times, “HD pictures / HD sound,” like he’s demanding that you have more than an auditory experience. He abruptly transitions from experimental electronic pop to what I can only describe as musique concrète, then back into utter silence. Or, like on my favorite track off the album, “Let’s Shoot Up,” seemingly restarts the song without warning mid-track.
At a certain point, the sheer audacity of what he’s doing makes you want to acquiesce to the insanity and shout, “Clarence! I give up! I submit to your world!” If you’re willing to do that, then NO NOW has the potential to be a gratifying, if bizarre, experience. If you're not, I recommend you take a listen anyway and work on expanding that comfort zone. When the world becomes abruptly unfamiliar, unsettling, and hard to follow, sometimes it’s best to just sit back and enjoy your burrito.