Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Cautious Clay remains in search of form on Karpeh


Release date: 18 August 2023
Cautious Clay KARPEH cover
18 August 2023, 09:00 Written by Noah Barker

Karpeh is in an unwelcome position.

The second album from US R&B'er Cautious Clay changes its style and motivation every four tracks for the entirety of its runtime like a freshly graduated college student pinging between potential careers. Its tracks are not interesting enough to be studied with scrupulous intent, nor are they consistent enough to warrant a zen appreciation as the mind wanders. It reels back when it should let go, and leaves the odd-interested mind to hang uncomfortably.

The first leg of the record sees Clay imagining the apocalyptic scenario of a world without bass lord Thundercat, a position he fills with up-tempo jazz grooves and reverb-soaked lead vocals. While the reverb on this record has the tendency to so thoroughly wash the mix that the instruments feel swept away by a high tide, it brings a certain character to tracks that are missed via Stockholm syndrome. As indicative as they are of his current listening rotation, the first leg of the record, including the decadent “Ohio”, makes for many of the most interesting and explosive tracks of his catalogue. This building goodwill is then immediately shattered and buried, with the ground left salted and decaying.

It is always worth asking when recording and sequencing an album if the tracks feel related, or if there is some causality between them; not every artist can be Stevie Wonder or Ween, effortlessly tying together strings of untraceable sounds. I do not believe Clay had this mentality, as the middle portion of the record remains the most confounding shift of tone and style I have heard on a record for the entirety of the last three years.

The signature reverb is gone, the grooves abandoned, and his vocal tonality ripped apart and remade in the image of Ed Sheeran by the way of Khalid. There is now a smattering of ballads with eerily similar chord progressions reminiscent of Sheeran’s “Perfect”; not exactly in style alone, but at least on the same level of depth and originality. Their saving grace is that none of them last for even three minutes, breaking down without so much as a college try.

As the record meanders its way to a close, Clay reclaims his role as composer and ends the listen with multiple instrumental jazz fusion pieces that spin in place and bid the audience adieu as if he had stuck the landing with grace. Like the tracks themselves, the album as a whole contains a breadth in the way of sounds and styles, but less so in depth. Confused and trying on more hats than a grandfather at a beachfront souvenir shop, Cautious Clay flickers with interest and leaves without a second thought.

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