CLAMOR, the second album from Catalan duo Maria Arnal i Marcel Bagés, offers dazzling proof of the old adage that sometimes you need to go back to go forward. The duo’s debut album, 2017’s 45 Cerebros y 1 Corazón, interpreted Iberian folk music from the 1950s and 1960s for a contemporary audience, using electric guitars and modern production techniques in a spirit not a million miles away from Rosalía’s experiments with flamenco on her debut, Los Angeles.
On CLAMOR, Arnal and Bagés take their inquisitive inclinations into bold new territory. While the material on their debut was built up over a period of time, CLAMOR was born from a desire—inspired by romantic separation, post-tour exhaustion, and a looming fascination with apocalypse and rebirth—to wipe the slate clean and make something genuinely new.
Arnal compared the recording of the new album to coming out of the “bubble” that was their debut, opening up to fresh sounds and new imaginative leaps. This meant inviting collaborators such as Holly Herndon and the Kronos Quartet into the fold; it also involved embracing new compositional techniques, bringing the electronic effects that were passing influences on their debut into the heart of their work. Producer David Soler, more of a passive presence on 45 Cerebros, became a key part of the duo’s sound on CLAMOR, as Arnal and Bagés built their new musical world from the ground up.
The result is a panoply of musical colors. “Fiera de mí” judders to the kind of sheet-metal bass rumble found on old dubstep records; “Murmuri” rides a sickening detuned string rush; “Hiperutopia” mixes a clattering industrial beat with stuttering vocal effects. “Milagro,” with its strummed guitar and apparently unprocessed vocal, is about as close as you get to 45 Cerebros’ new traditionalism on CLAMOR, and even that ends up in a whirl of distortion and programmed beats, calling to mind the febrile pop of Björk’s Homogenic.
The connecting thread to 45 Cerebros comes in the combination of Arnal’s gorgeously full-bodied voice and CLAMOR’s heady vocal melodies, which soar and dive like an eagle after its prey. These may be largely new songs—“Cant de la Sibil·la”, which is adapted from a medieval liturgical drama that prophesies the apocalypse, is the exception—but to the untrained ear the darkly dramatic melodies of “Tras de ti” or “Jaque” could be part of the same Iberian tradition celebrated on 45 Cerebros. On “Fiera de mí,” this songwriting form is alloyed to a strident pop sensibility and a well-defined chorus to create an anthem to rival 45 Cerebros’ stand-out track, “Tú Que Vienes a Rondarme.”
Arnal’s exquisite voice is key to the success of CLAMOR. But it is far from alone: the “clamor” of the album’s title is reflected in a rush of voices, both human and non-human. Field recordings bring the sound of birds, goats, and the gentle burble of a river to the mix, while on “Meteorit ferit” (“Wounded Meteorite”), Arnal channels the voice of a meteorite who is feeling vulnerable and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. This experimentation reaches its apotheosis in “Cant de la Sibil·la,” a sensational meeting point of musical tradition and technological thrust, where Holly Herndon’s “AI baby” Spawn meets the combined voices of Arnal and Catalan folk duo Tarta Relena in what could be a hymn to musical perpetuity.
The song’s synthesis—of medieval and 21st century, local and international, human and robot—exemplifies the brilliant complexities at the heart of CLAMOR. The album may take its inspirations from endings, but it finds its strength in what comes next. What comes after the apocalypse? How do you fill the hole of a broken heart? And where do you go after the success of your well-defined debut album? The answer, on CLAMOR, is upwards, outwards, and beyond.
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