Calico Horse - Mirror
Bands are volatile and nothing can be left unexpected. Band life is certainly not all glitz and glamor and, oftentimes, can be a burden. Keeping a band together can be a chore and even your entire heart and soul may not be able to keep it standing. And, what's worse is that your heart and soul may get buried in the rubble.
So goes the story of San Diego's Clock Work Army, who stepped into a friend's studio in 2006 to record the follow-up to their debut EP, A Catalyst for Change. Over the course of 18 months, the band dissolved, not once, not twice, but three times. Following the third collapse, lead singer and songwriter, Emily Neveu (pronounced "neh-voo"), couldn't bear to be torn apart any longer and decided to scrap the album. However, she soon realized that the album possessed her heart and soul and, although making it left her in shambles, finishing it was the only way to piece herself back together.
The band began as Emily Neveu, guitarist Scott Wheeler, bassist Dave Pettijohn, and drummer Ted Humphrey. Ted was the first to leave, getting a call from LA breakout act, The Willowz, to go on tour, which eventually led to a permanent spot in the band. Although Ted was a phenomenal drummer, the biggest loss was his home studio and production capabilities. The band was left without a drummer, producer, and studio. The band went on an indefinite hiatus. Fortunately, local San Diego icon, Pall Jenkins, founding member of Three Mile Pilot and Black Heart Procession, enthralled by Emily's voice, agreed to record the album at his home studio. Soon after entering Jenkins' studio, Dave Pettijohn, known as "Petti," was offered to go on tour with Augustana as a guitar tech and documentarian. Being that Petti was a film major at UC San Diego, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to get behind the lens. With only two members, Neveu and Wheeler, The Clock Work Army forged on. But, eventually, the thin thread that was The Clock Work Army snapped when Wheeler decided to leave the band due to a lack of interest in the project. In February of 2007, Emily decided to give up on the band that was poised to become San Diego's rock darlings, leaving it all behind in a pile of dust and bones.
Over the next two months, Neveu left music behind and, although she yearned to be creative, she found relief in her paintings and collages. But music was her calling and, with the encouragement of Jenkins, Neveu began to re-work old songs and write new ones. Bit by bit, she pieced together the album, incorporating themes that were present in her own life. She wrote about the ocean, its ebb and flow, its swirling sound, and its constancy. She wrote about the night sky, its darkness and twinkles of brightness, its hollow sound, and its infinite space. She wrote about love, its bouts of pleasantries, its scarring demise, and its inevitable plateaus. And, finally, after nearly two years, Emily Neveu emerged from the studio, now as Calico Horse, with the lovely and, on occasion, brilliant album Mirror.
The album sets sail on a winter evening, wearily floating away from the fog-covered docks. It tumbles to the bottom of the cold, black sea, rises up to the moonlit sky, and drifts off to sleep as the sun begins to rise above the horizon. "All We've Left To Do Is Pay The Boatmen" begins with chiming bells, calling in the ghost ships that were wandering the lonely sea. But we are cast out into the dark waters with eyes closed, dreaming our way through the night. "Rest your head, slowly close your breath, completely satisfied, completely say goodbye. It's your time," sings Neveu, bringing in the theme of death that takes many forms throughout the album. "Awake in the Clouds" follows, describing the dark sky where our souls collide when people die. The influence of Pall Jenkins is obvious in this track, with it's sea shanty rhythm and dark guitar melody. Then we hear "Happy Placebo Syringe Day," a song that traces the lives of two drug-happy lovebirds and the entracing, out of body, yet fulfilling experience of an altered state of mind. Never has death seemed so eerily bright, when Neveu ends the song, "We lay side-by-side in wooden boxes."
As mentioned before, the pirate-like sound of Black Heart Procession is present throughout the album, as is the slow, yet sweet sound of Low and Sparklehorse, but there are upbeat elements of grandiosity that are scattered in between. "Onomatopoeia" highlights Ted Humphrey's virtuosity as a drummer, building a heavy rhythm with Petti's bass line. Wheeler's guitar melody is as pleasing as it is piercing while Neveu pounds away at the piano. "Colors" follows the same recipe while "Hi-Fi Plane Ride" sounds like a k-pop, techno jam. But, what truly stands out during the entire album is Neveu's voice, which is soothing, robust, and versatile as Leslie Feist's or even Liz Fraser's. In the closing track, "Goodnight," Neveu sings us to sleep in a beautifully haunting manner. Each time she sings the wordless chorus, we slip further into sleep. From the opening bells of "All We've Left to Do is Pay the Boatman" to the closing thump of "Good Night", Calico Horse takes us on a dream-like journey aboard a rickety boat made of lost love, life, and direction. And, in the end, we find ourselves alone on the boat, eyelids closing as fast as the sun is rising, drifting off into our dreams.
Out now on Banter Records.