San Francisco Bay Area experimental rock / prog / folk outfit Jack ‘O The Clock returns for their first album of new, original material since 2013’s outstanding All My Friends. Those familiar with that album will find plenty to like here as well. As the title would suggest, Repetitions of the Old City – I is indeed the first part of two albums. Leader Damon Waitkus describes the band as having recorded “the basic tracks to an hour and a half of music two years ago” and that it is “not a double album per se, just two parts of one body of work.”
The band remains a five piece, with Waitkus on vocals, guitars, hammer dulcimers, among several other instruments, Emily Packard on violins, Kate McLoughlin on bassoon, vocals, and flute, Jason Hoopes on basses, vocals, and zither, and Jordan Glenn drums, percussion, marimba, vibraphone. Guest musicians include Fred Frith of Henry Cow and Art Bears fame. His inclusion is appropriate given that Jack ‘O The Clock has often been compared to these Rock In Opposition pioneers.
But the music is a departure – not for the group, but from any other context the listener might bring to the table. Through 10 years of recordings, Jack ‘O The Clock is now established as a category unto themselves. The music often takes the form of complex, contrapuntal pieces with beautiful interplay between the hammer dulcimer, bassoon, violin, and guitar. The intertwined themes build and meander, but maintain a solid grounding that never quite extends into the pure avant-garde. On top of this are Waitkus’s poignant vocals, adding to the melancholic atmosphere.
Listening to Jack ‘O The Clock invokes a twisted view of America post World War II – or perhaps projects that view to the rural blight of today. Lyrically, the group does not make a statement in particular. They offer no positions, polemics, nor solutions. Instead, their songs explore dark slices of life, unusual and disturbing happenings involving people both ordinary and strange. This unassuming and non-pretentious approach is a welcome contrast to today’s screaming-head social commentators.
One could try to categorize Jack ‘O The Clock as modern progressive rock. With the aftermentioned Henry Cow and Art Bears influences (and throw in some Gentle Giant for good measure), this would be an apt parallel. But whereas prog has turned into a sound of its own, Jack ‘O The Clock moves forward without overt regard for categorization or genre.
Another excellent release from this group.
Jack O’ The Clock Reviews:
Interview with Damon Waitkus: