Record review: Clogs, ‘The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton’

This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Signal to Noise magazine’s summer 2010 issue.

The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton

The human voice made only cameo appearances on the four previous records by composer Padma Newsome and his Clogs ensemble, but it’s at the center of their latest song cycle. Despite going vocal, Clogs still sound more like a classical chamber group than a rock band. These delicate compositions resemble Renaissance ballads or 19th-century art songs more than contemporary pop numbers, with a light, spacious quality shining through even in darker and pensive passages. Newsome wrote these songs during a residency at Giardini La Mortella, a botanical paradise created by Lady Susana Walton on Ischia, an island in the Bay of Naples. (Lady Walton, the widow of British composer Sir William Walton, died in March, just a few weeks after the Clogs released their musical tribute to her garden.) The record opens with stunningly complex a cappella harmonies on the song “Cocodrillo.” Each voice chants the Italian name for a different animal or plant found in Lady Walton’s garden until they merge together — a meticulously plotted and executed cacophony. While Newsome sings at a few points on the album, the dominant voice belongs to guest vocalist Shara Worden (aka My Brightest Diamond). Worden is a classically trained singer, and it shows in her elegant, almost operatic delivery. Newsome’s lyrics are often striking, as when (on “The Owl of Love”)  Worden sings, “I take in the souls of the minds of the world and sift out the weeds from the few.” Matt Berninger and Sufjan Stevens also make appearances on the disc. Like Stevens, who incorporates Philip Glass-style minimalism into the string arrangements for his folk-rock songs, Clogs are performing beguiling and sophisticated music that erases the lines between genres.