Ice Cream, the third release from Shane Clark – recording as Elephant – clanks and crashes with a slightly brighter palette, especially compared to the man’s earlier efforts. And while the LP does tackle themes of body image and career, the dark drama of old seems a touch less dire. On the contrary, we’re treated to a cover picture of an ice cream truck. Never mind that it resembles the lost footage of some Mr. Potato Head Claymation special. Peddling this therapeutic “levity and brevity” in 36 minutes potentially makes Clark the antithesis to Dr. Eugene Landy. Or Pennywise the Clown. Or anyone, for that matter, who risks arresting the psyche with unadulterated dread, courtesy of a well-vented sewer.
Although the sounds on this record may not be subterranean, they don’t reek of utopian mundanity either. Clarke’s experimentation with vocal treatments sets a definite mood. The end result is as much a brooding masterwork as is it a synthesized hotpot of angular resonance. Menace and malice vie for our emotional attention. Keyboards are cleverly programmed. And the heart of the collection – scooped and pitted – is voided with an almost uncomfortable glee.
“Body Shaming,” the opener, boasts a gregarious slice of metallic guitar. Deliberately antagonizing, it heeds just enough ground to respect Clarke’s moping drone, but not at the expense of volume. Yet, Ice Cream is not simply about loudness. “Envy,” the follow-up, is a textural homage to the opulence of Head On The Door era Cure. And “Nova Scotia” – playing like a shuddering postcard from the neighborhood sociopath – births an expansive wash of ambient keyboard. When paced to a quaalude popped drag of vocals, cotton-mouthed as they are, each verse grows increasingly distorted. Until the thing to which we’re listening to is barely human, but rather, a horribly cloistered monster.
“Your lipstick makes me sick,” Clark blurts in a hollowed haunt on “Sick Little Thing.” Ignoring the lyrics, the piece assumes the lilt of a gentle ballad (or a lo-fi prom anthem for losers, baking under gymnasium halide). Surely, this is all part of the mystique: two parts rough underbelly masked by lush instrumentation. Likewise, while the lyrics in “Heatstroke” aren’t quite rapped or scatted, they are poetically spit, ever so slightly behind the beat, as synths spiral dizzyingly upward. The euphoric collapse arrives in its last minute; a deliberately open armed catharsis, knees to pavement.
If Ice Cream is a kinder, gentler expulsion of demons, it certainly doesn’t skimp on the toppings of dread and peril. Clarke’s vocalizations keep us engaged, and the curious programming offers an extra kick for those wearied by garage-borne angst. It’s a remarkable study in sonic opposition. And, for lovers of dairy, a cautionary answer for the age old inquiry: How many licks before your tongue scrapes that razor blade?
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