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The Weather Clock by July Skies (Review)

At its best, I find it to be just as affecting as when I heard “Dreaming of Spires” so long ago.
The Weather Clock, July Skies

The Weather Clock has been in development for years, originally slated for release on Make Mine Music at least as far back as the fall of 2006, only to get pushed back time and again. But now it’s finally here, and it’s really more of the same from Harding and his collaborators (which includes members of Epic45). At its best, I find it to be just as affecting as when I heard Dreaming of Spires so long ago.

If you’ve heard any of Harding’s previous output, then there’s nothing on The Weather Clock that is truly groundbreaking or revelatory. If you haven’t, then prepare yourself for some of the most wistful, nostalgia-prone, navel-gazer pop one can imagine.

Musically, the influencies are pretty obvious: Slowdive, Flying Saucer Attack, The Durutti Column, Robin Guthrie, and so on. Harding wears those influences on his sleeve with nary an ounce of shame, and they dovetail quite nicely with all of the emotional and memorial influences. Which, as his MySpace page puts it, includes such things as “lost youth,” “endless childhood summers,” “dreams of 50’s suburbia,” “time spent amongst long summer grasses,” and “overgrown ancient ruins that still stand.”

It’s certainly not for the weak of heart: if there’s even one cynical or snarky bone in your body, you’ll be tempted to chuck the disc into the bin within the first few minutes. And yet, as repetitive and familiar as it might be, The Weather Clock still inevitably pulls me in, being the nostalgia-prone sucker that I am.

The dappled, lazy guitar strums and chiming notes of “Branch Line Summers Fade” don’t really do much of anything except fade away like old Polaroid photos, but in such a lovely manner. Same goes for “See Britain By Train.” It’s one of the disc’s more straightforward songs, and yet it still just seems to hover there, suspended on a circular bassline and shimmering, gauzy layers of guitar.

But there are just as many moments in which I realize that it doesn’t even seem like Harding is hardly trying at all, but rather, just recording any old strum of the guitar, and making sure that it’s gussied up in enough effects pedals to make Neil Halstead blush. There’s a sense that Harding has, ironically, become too caught up in his nostalgia, that he’s merely content to recycle and relive the same tropes, cliches, and images from previous recordings time and again.

However, just when I think I’ve heard everything that he has to throw at my wistful tendencies, when I’ve inured myself to all of his ethereal guitar atmospherics, nostalgic musings, fey vocals, and languid, pastoral melodies, Harding goes ahead and records something that still brings a catch to my throat and a clutch to my heart.

In this case, it’s the one-two punch of “Waiting For The Test Card” and “Skies For Nash.” The former is a stark piano ballad, that at two and a half minutes, seems endowed with a lifetime of crystallized memory. For an artist whose music is almost always wrapped up in gossamery atmospherics, it’s a relatively naked track that doesn’t need all manner of nostalgic metaphor or whimsy to lend it emotional heft — and indeed, is that much stronger for it.

“Skies For Nash,” on the other hand, finds Harding indulging every atmospheric and ambient whim that he’s ever had, and then some; “Skies For Nash” feels like a condensation of everything he’s been trying to do over the years, every effects-shrouded note and melody coalesced into one massive, rambling form.

Or, to put it another way, it’s the greatest song that Flying Saucer Attack never wrote. Heck, it’s better than most of the songs that Flying Saucer Attack have written: a somber and meditative layering of drones and slowly plucked melodies that wraps the listener in a warm and sorrowful embrace, soundtracks the decaying of those aforementioned ruins, and could potentially bring about autumn’s orange skies all by itself.

Indeed, if July Skies really does take a shift in styles, as Harding has hinted at in previous interviews, than he could do far worse than drifting even further into the expanses that we catch glimpses of during “Skies For Nash“ s six-plus minutes.

In addition to the full-length, Harding has also released a limited edition EP for The Weather Clock (which at 28 minutes, is nearly as long as the full-length). Here, Harding ventures into more of the sonics on display in “Waiting For The Test Card” and “Skies For Nash,” namely forlorn piano compositions (“Afternoon Pips (Piano Version)” and more shapeless, drone-oriented pieces (“See Britain By Train (Pevsner Version),” “Festival Of Britain”).

All told, it’s just more of the same. But if you find yourself at all captivated by July Skies’ crepuscular sounds, than you’ll welcome any chance to remain absorbed and captivated by them a little longer.

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