It’s arguable that bands of the ‘prog’ genre fall in to a few categories these days. The banal, re-treaders, rehashing the sounds of old. The super prog we play a million notes /show off-ers. Then you have the Cyril Snear/Radiohead “we’re-not-prog-but-secretly-we-are-and-are-awesome”-ers. And my final recent addition to the list is a new breed of bands that are starting to unashamedly bellow “WE ARE PROG”. It’s often in this scribe’s not so humble opinion that between the bellowers and the deniers, you’re likely to find the most expressive,genuine, challenging and boundary shattering music. Those whom seek to run away from and those eager to grab with both hands, smash up and tinker with the component aspects (and your preconceptions of “the P word”), all with sublime consequences for a music fan.
Cleft unashamedly fly the flag for PROG of the 21st century, or as they’d have it ‘TURBO PROG’. Since first hearing of them in late 2012 with their killer Whale Bone EP, a short sharp shock to the senses with bludgeoning riffs and time signature changes, it signaled a change in the tides of Manchester’s nascent and thriving prog community. The new boys had started school and they weren’t fucking about.
Consequently the band has spent the last year crafting the songs contained on ‘BOSH!’, and road testing them to perfection, and it shows. The colossal opener ’12 Second Panda’ is a crash course in Cleft, from its opening swathes of shimmering reverb and delayed guitars, to the choppy percussive intricacies of the main opening riff, it then goes on to pummel you into fucking submission before letting up marginally and then they’re off again kicking your head around the musical football pitch.
The thing is with Cleft and ‘BOSH!’ specifically, they don’t sound quite like anyone else out there. It’s easy to describe vaguely what tracks sound like, but to pin them down you’d be hard pressed. Sure there are signposts to influences a bit of Faraquet here, a bit of Meshuggah(yeah, more on that later) there, some nice 90’s post-hardcore/emo twinkling around the edges, a smidgen of electronic rewired through the deft guitar effect linguistics of Dan Beesley. However for the most part the choppy frenetic nature of the tracks pleasantly assaults the senses in such a way it becomes hard to keep up exactly with what bit sounds like what band or genre, the band successfully blurring the lines between the beach and the sea.
‘Tamed Beests’ is classic Cleft, John Simm’s rhythms smashing their way through the jungle of riffs while Beesley’s guitar decides “Hey lets go explore this dark corner with some incredibly mad ring modulation”, the next you’re bopping along to some slinky darkwave funky odyssey intro (‘Alec Baldwin’s Hair’) which morphs a thrashy cover version of the same song and then WOOSH you’re off into the staccato math rock shapes of ‘Gutter Brush’. The underlying theme is a very odd balancing act between off-kilter, skittering tempos and a genuine ability to make you “shake yo’ ass” (I think t that’s how the kids say it anyway).
We crash onward with ‘Elephant in the Bar Room’ featuring Matt Franklin from Manchester’s Halfling’s Leaf for some one-off vocal duties. It straddles the Sikth/early Faith No More vibe both vocally and musically. Sadly it doesn’t always hit the mark, with the vocals sometimes falling short of‘Manipulator’ era Fall Of Troy, however for the most part the relentless riffing urges the track forward full force, eventually melting into the crowning glory of the album ‘Drop A Bastard’.
It’s a skill to write something that truly exceeds the influences that you have so lovingly imbued into a song, and the wonderfully entitled ‘Drop A Bastard’ does just that. This song should absolutely be handed out with any and all sales of heavy gauge string for aspiring guitar de-tuners. Beesley’s guitar looping wizardry, something which he defies logic with when this is played live (I’ve seen it performed a good few times now and still can’t fathom it) and with it dissolving into the most crushingly obtuse metal chuggyriffingI’ve heard from any band, let alone a non-metal band, in ages. All the while there’s not a sniff of this sounding boring at any point, and considering there’s no double kick in earshot; Simm’s drums couldn’t sound any more fearsome if he tried.
Similarly for ‘Buffet Remorse’ we’re now adding mathy back into the equation and a sniff of sonic youth-esque noisiness, not before it opens with some unamplified electric guitar and bird song in the background, dark/light, up/down, it all ceases to matter in this universe. Then we’re on to another weird-thrash-fest in the shape of ‘Pudendal’, hitting us with diminished chord relentlessness.
Finally ending on the lead track from the album ‘Hostage’ (Which they’re very kindly giving away for bloody free) and what a track it is. Guitar tapping is one of those things that can be really really bloody boring if done in a “widdlywiddly woo” style, as EVERYONE has done it since the dawn of hair metal. Here though we find Beesley blending reverbs, delays, loops and tapping to create a rhythmic counterpoint to another side of himself and Simm alternating between a stop-start sliding and cymbals thing, and just as you think it’s about to explode into something HUGE as they have before….AH!..what? NO! It’s back down again and now, what’s that…piano?! Not only have they been fucking with your preconceptions of music in general, now its fucking with what you expect of them, all within the space of a single album. It’s on into Rage Against The Machine style grooving and genuine guitar shredding, there’s evidently some great love for RATM/Tom Morello here and done in a completely tasteful way.
It’s not all smooth sailing for the entirety of BOSH!, apart from the aforementioned weaker aspects of ‘Elephant…’, the side A finisher ‘Ghost Thighs’, although a great song, feels incredibly out of place. Coming across more like a great album track from ‘Ideas Above Our Station’ era Hundred Reasons, however it’s the very lack of a rousing vocal or lyrical hook to carry along the song that really makes it stand out, and I found it dragging the pace of the album down considerably as there wasn’t enough interplay between the instruments to keep up interest.
On the whole the album is fucking fantastic, a few small bumps in the road do not tarnish what, with the omission of one track (and that’s just in my opinion), would almost certainly be a truly perfect album. It’s a musical journey, granted it’s akin to the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where David travels faster than light and sees all of creation in the space of 30 seconds and becomes enlightened in the process, albeit his brain was probably half as confused into submission along the way.
Cleft have crafted a body of work that not only builds on what they’ve done before, but also builds on the ever expanding ethos of what Prog can and should aspire to be. It’s a testament to Dan and John that they achieve all this and there are only two of them in the band, making more of a colossal racket than a lot of bigger bands, and pulling it off time and again live as well […Fuckers!]. This album is challenging, thoughtful, provoking, experimental, catchy as fuck, but most of all it’s the fact you can tell they have had loads of fun creating BOSH!, and that’s what really matters. Be good, be weird, be fun. They nailed it to the fucking wall, hitting it and you the listener on the head with a big, fat, BOSH!
Words: Nick Duke