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Album Review: A Clockwork Orchestra – A Fish For A Heart

3 min read

It’s a great time to be a lover of bizarre music. After all, it’s not even been a month since Ariel Pink’s delightfully deranged Pom Pom hit the shelves, and already another unhinged slice of musical madness has been released: Clockwork Orchestra’s A Fish For A Heart.

A Fish For A Heart - Clockwork OrchestraClockwork Orchestra is the moniker of Paul Mangan, an Irish musician who recorded the album on his lonesome in a single messy Dublin room. The resulting music is a hybrid of Captain Beefheart’s odd lyrical obsessions and the warped melodies of Sparks. Forewarning then: this is not an album for everyone. In fact, it might not even be an album for most. But if your ear bends towards the stranger end of the sonic spectrum, then this is a record to be relished.

A number of A Fish for A Heart’s tracks sound like theme tunes for the most demented children’s shows imaginable, and indeed the album perfectly balances wide eyed innocence with full blown insanity. Particular praise must go to album opener The Generator Girls and Squeak’s Intervention: songs that sound like the kind of music that The Teletubbies might have recorded after a particularly intense acid trip.

Mangan’s greatest skill, however, is the way he crafts melodies that are defiantly odd but never distancing. If you are tuned into A Fish For A Heart’s obstinately alien frequency, then you will soon discover that the album is full of catchy melodies. For evidence that in another life Mangan might have been a pop star, you need look no further than Thoughtful Thieves, Percy or Clean Clothes, Dirty Girl, all of which, despite their strangeness, have the conventions of a good pop song buried somewhere in their distorted psyches.

Puddle Fishing is a delirious waltz – a perfect first dance for a wedding, one might think, as long as you and your partner are both utterly bonkers –  and The Man With the Golden Nose might be A Fish For A Heart’s strangest tune, which, make no mistake, is definitely saying something. But The Beginning Could Be the End is without a doubt A Fish For A Heart’s high point. Mangan’s affected vocals perfectly complement the simple but never simplistic piano work that backs him, and the moment the song transforms from subtle ballad to full on psychedelic freak out is a powerfully effective shock to the system.

Although A Fish for A Heart is an album with a sustained and specific mood, it never becomes same-y or self-parodic, and the latter quarter of the album has enough variety to keep things interesting. Odd Steps is subtle enough to give the listener some necessary breathing room, while Stones Unturned ramps the psychedelia back up to eleven. Just as impressively, Terry Took The Moon Away showcases Mangan’s storytelling abilities – this is clearly a musician who values the words as much as the tunes – and the song’s lyrics call to mind the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut or Donald Barthelme.

By the time album closer Crepe Paper Ghosts had finished blasting its crooked path through my ears, I was only left wanting more. In an alternate universe where an excess of imagination is what makes music popular, Clockwork Orchestra is playing a stadium to an audience of thousands. In our humble universe, he will have to make do with a group of dedicated, unhinged fans – a group that I can now ecstatically raise my hand and call myself a proud member of.