Clem Leek – Holly Lane (2010, Hibernate Recordings)

Let me introduce you to Clem Leek. Odds are you’ve heard of him before. However, many people haven’t, and what they’re missing out on is perhaps one of the freshest rising artists specializing in ambient drone and modern classical music. Clem Leek is a musician and composer from the South East of the U.K., who has completed an MA in Music Composition, and has released some extraordinary EPs over the past year or so. I was first introduced to his music through Headphone Commute, who had posted a link to his free EP “Snow Tales”. That EP consisted of beautifully intricate piano melodies, the drones of violins and guitar, and the wondrous processing done to these instruments, all wrapped in the crackle of vinyl. “Holly Lane”, however, is his first debut album, and it is just as beautiful as nostalgic as “Snow Tales”. Sounds weave in and out to create a blanket that covers the listener, and throughout the almost 43 minutes of the album, there is nothing that sounds boring.

The album starts with the clicks and chimes of a grandfather clock in “Mystery Moor”, with the ticking of a clock keeping a beat, and violins swell in and out beautifully to create an atmosphere that calls upon an earlier, simpler time. Bits and pieces of distorted radio signals are put together to create a rhythmic element to the piece, and vocals and guitars slowly enter the piece to create a very beautiful introduction that foreshadows an inkling of what will come next in the album. “At The Mercy Of The Waves” contain the sounds of the sea, swaying in and out on the beach, along with some very beautiful guitar chords, drenched in a cathedral reverb. Soft violins and bass drones enter to create an altogether stunning soundscape that sounds like a perfectly innocent moment of life, where all one cared about was the beauty of nature and the fragility of life. “Holly Lane” contains more of the processed acoustic drones, along with the crackle of vinyl and the strange electronic tones of door chimes. The sounds here are overwhelmingly emotional and melancholic, and just shows how delicate Clem’s sound truly is. “Mistletoe Lane” contains the drones of guitars, Penderecki-like violins, and strange electronics to create a sad, heartbreaking soundscape that will most definitely bring up some intensely emotional moments for even the happiest listener, and is right on par with some of William Basinski’s works.

“Greylings Manor” starts with the swells of voices and piano enveloped in a dusty reverb and delay, followed by the saddening melodies of a violin and strange keyboard melodies and effects, which all wrap around each other to create a strangely beautiful soundscape that seems to call upon memories and ghosts from the past. “Smugglers Top” contains some distortion in the drones, along with a post-rock guitar and electronic vibe melody, and the sounds of distant radio broadcasts, which together create a relaxing and sensual atmosphere that could, in some cases, recall an image of the restlessness of a city, where many people are asleep, but some are wide awake, haunted by a mixture of emotions that they cannot directly tag down. “Cliff Castle” has a bit of a creepier melody at the beginning, containing two guitar notes that conflict with each other, and layer by layer, noisy soundscapes courtesy of the processed acoustic instruments, creating a hugely dense composition that seems right on par with the ambience of Aphex Twin’s “Hedphelym”, but obviously without the techno beats of that track. The layering of violin melodies at the end of the piece is also stunning. The last composition, “The Burnt Home”, which is also the longest track on the album, starts with airy bass drones and a strange, bell-like loop, before violins and guitars enter to create a huge, melancholic, and cinematic-like soundscape that sounds somewhat like a folk song from long ago. By being processed through the ambient reverbs and delays that Clem uses, the folk-like melody is merely a ghost of its former self, while containing some of the melodic elements, but still retaining all of the heavy emotional content. The layers stack one on top of the other at the end, with some distant footstep-like taps being heard in the background. The piece ends out quietly like the slow death scenes from “Romeo and Juliet”, and once they have dissipated, so has the album.

In summary, if I would have heard “Holly Lane” back when it was released last year, it would have been in my top 5 for the best modern classical/ambient drone albums of the year. Seeing that Kyle Bobby Dunn’s “A Young Person’s Guide To Kyle Bobby Dunn” was also released last year, both this album and that one would have been on par with each other for the #1 spot, perhaps even being a tiebreaker. Clem’s specialized dronology on this debut album is amazing, in that the melodies from each of the instruments never sound boring, and are always freshly emotional. Each listen to the album is rewarding, in that a new element comes out each time that wasn’t found before on the last listen. Overall, Clem Leek’s debut album is melancholic and beautiful, and I would keep a close eye on this young composer, because in the next few years, he could become the next big star of modern classical and ambient music. Highly recommended listening.

Album: Holly Lane

Artist: Clem Leek

Genre: Modern Classical/Ambient/Drone

Released in 2010 on Hibernate Recordings

Available now at all major retailers!

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