Leaving California by Jack O' the ClockRelease date: May 28, 2021
Label: Cuneiform Records
Since their formation in Oakland, California in 2007, Jack O’ the Clock are one of the most compelling groups combining Folk, Avant-Rock, and the Progressive genre. It is complex, weird, and challenging at the same time, they have six albums in the can. And now in 2021, they’ve come back with a vengeance as they unleash their seventh album entitled Leaving California.
Released on the Cuneiform label, Leaving California is a journey into the next chapter in the band’s career. It has a wacky, mind-boggling, gentle, and crazy texture that the group have brought to the kitchen table. I first became aware of their music after hearing them on Ian Beabout’s internet radio show, Prog Rock Deep Cuts a few years ago. And I was completely spellbound from what I was hearing.
I remember reviewing Repetitions of the Old City 1 on my blogsite, Music from the Other Side of the Room on January 25, 2017 by giving it a good review. And then I had completely forgotten about them for nearly four years. Until now. Since the pandemic, it is time for us to get away from being locked in and enjoy a wonderful trip by Leaving California.
‘Jubilation’ opens the album with Damon challenging his flamenco Pete Townshend-esque strumming on his mandolin as he and Thea Kelley channel some Yes-like vocalizations. Featuring these late ‘60s vibrations, Hoopes plays some heavy bass exercise by getting the engines up and running before driving across the deserted highway in the Nevada desert to get away from the Celebrity masquerade of Los Angeles.
On ‘You Let Me Down’ I felt a little tug with a mid-tempo groove between Love’s Forever Changes and Emily’s nod to Julian Lloyd Webber’s ‘Variations 1-4’. I love how she uses her violin exercises by taking us into these beautiful painting done by both Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. While there are some beautiful Beatle-esque vibes on this song, Damon does his chutes and ladders moment by taking his acoustic guitar up and down to get the beats flowing.
‘The Butcher’ features Jason’s snarling dooming bass lines and some sliding reverbing guitars with some intense clarinet and violin work. Thea tips her hat to Phideaux’s Valerie Gracious on here as she takes the listener into a spaghetti western scenario as we had witnessed an aftermath of a bloody showdown. Then, after a walking bass line and nightmarish midsections, Jack O’ the Clock goes into a swinging wah-wah groove as if Danny Elfman wrote a score for the Diablo Swing Orchestra that would get the floors all Hellzapoppin!
But for Emily, she and Josh share a beautiful arrangement between each of their instruments for ‘A Quarter-Page Ad’. It is almost like a score to Tony Collingwood’s animated short, Rarg as we start the dawning of a new day thanks to its Gentle Giant’s approach of the first two albums and a mini operatic effect that Thea does in the lyrical structures of the piece. Meanwhile the title-track has this alternative folk background as it becomes a drive into an unknown heart of their destination.
I’ve mentioned earlier this is Jack O’ the Clock moving away from the crazy shit that is going on between Los Angeles and Hollywood, California as it becomes a nightmarish and creepy landscape as they try to start a new chapter in their lives with some relaxing vibrations to get away from the madness of the crazy celebrity landscape it has become.
Damon and Thea share a bit of the country vibrations honoring not just Simon & Garfunkel, but a West-Coast area by channeling some of the singer-songwriters from the Asylum Records label in the golden-era of the 1970s while ‘Fascination’ has gentle acoustic yet crispy arrangements. Damon reflects the good times he had with his childhood whilst focusing on the future and never looking back before it the sun goes down with its ambient finale.
‘Narrow Gate’ closes the album at 11-minutes. Where would a progressive rock album be without an 11-minute epic? It’s a great finale by closing the curtains as Jack O’ The Clock celebrate Christmas in June throughout their vocalizations. Heavy riffs sharing Damon and Thea’s vocals, the blaring carousel sax and country-style violin work, and melodic lines between each of the instruments gets even darker as Glenn’s drumming goes into a chaotic strut. And as the complex changes unexpectedly, the last three minutes sees Thea being the only person on stage with a romantic vibration detailing the epilogue on what has happened.
Leaving California is quite a departure from Jack O’ the Clock’s previous music. Showing that while they want to do something different, it is a welcoming return for the bands adventure that awaits us to see what will happen next. In the words from Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Burns, “I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”