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Album review: Kristin McClement “The Wild Grips” (FRUK)

March 2, 2015

Kristin McClement - The Wild Grips album coverAlthough having been something of a fixture on the Brighton scene for a fair old while, Kristin McClement has only recently released her first solo album, The Wild Grips. The record’s title apparently refers to “our wild nature” and, over the course of its ten songs, seeks to reconcile this with our mundane, everyday existences.

The album opens with ‘Blackfin Gulls’ and it’s easy to see why it was selected by Tom Robinson for a recent BBC Introducing Mixtape. Kristin’s rich, soulful voice floats over a syncopated piano and some atmospheric electronic treatments. Thomas Heather’s sparse percussion creates a wave-like sense of motion, while the unusual combination of Christopher Cundy’s bass clarinet and Tom Leaper’s sax add some interesting textures to the moody, monochromatic arrangement.

‘No End To The Drum’ is a more overtly rocky number in feel, although some sweet harmonies behind Kristin’s overdubbed, overlapping vocals and Becca Mears’ well-placed cello lift the song out of the ordinary. The interplay between Kristin’s deceptively simple vocals and Thomas’s distinctive drumming combine to make ‘Giant No Good’ one of the album’s highlights for me; Mike Siddell’s mournful violin and Becca’s cello bring an almost baroque feel while Helen Whitaker’s flute adds a dramatic intensity.

There’s a distinct folk-rock feel about the changes in ‘Hoax Of A Man’; precise guitar lines and solid four-square drumming set up the arrangement for some highly atmospheric ensemble vocals with Emma Kraemer’s violin adding a tension to the overall sense of foreboding. Becca’s pizzicato cello and treated percussion lend a sense of urgency to ‘Hope’s Departure’; a churchy organ and various ambient electronic effects underpin Kristin’s distorted vocals ahead of the darkly swirling second section, with the slow rise-and-fall of the arrangement painting a bleak and unsettling sound picture.

‘Mouthful Of Shells’ lifts the tempo if not the mood, its 6/8 rhythm counterpointed by some well-placed percussion and a highly original string arrangement supported on Marcus Hamblett’s solid double bass. Nimbly avoiding the alcohol-fuelled maudlin state described so vividly in its lyric, ‘Drink Waltz’ is possessed of a slow, skittering grace; the song structure has some clever changes, cycling between major and minor chords it manages to evoke a sense of dislocated dizziness that’s entirely fitting for its lyrical content.

The flamenco-tinged ‘Planks’ builds slowly by stages to an insistent peak, thanks in no small measure to the combination of Mike Siddell’s violin and Thomas Heather’s drums. Paradoxically, Kristin’s vocals which start out strong and clear have, by the song’s end, almost dissolved into distant swathes of impressionistic sound. It’s an unexpected highlight of the album, mainly, I think, because of its difficult subject matter; it takes a couple of listens to grasp its subtleties but is well worth the effort on the listener’s part.

Title track ‘The Wild Grips’ is softly introspective; its immense lyrical theme reflected in its spacious sound. Emma Kraemer’s violin is gently soothing and Kristin’s voice is filled with a world-weary tenderness as she muses on uncertain futures and improbable pasts. The album closes with a short instrumental, ‘Karoo’, its guitar strangely muffled yet no less evocative for that.

Sometimes lyrically opaque but instrumentally always ear-catching, with The Wild Grips Kristin McClement has created (with restrained but crucial input from producer/musician Christian Hardy) a debut album of gravitas and maturity which should secure her reputation as a songwriter and musician of depth and character.

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (02 March 2015)

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