Claw the Thin Ice – Wanderlust Of Venus (Hanger Records, 2018)

Claw The Thin Ice began life as a solo endeavour for multi-instrumentalist Ian Breen, originating as a bedroom-pop project that focussed largely on icy-synths and acoustic melodrama. The idea from the beginning was for the project to be a progressive musical endeavour that was unafraid of remoulding and expanding itself and has since 2012 been a fully-formed live outfit with a community spirit – members and collaborators shift and change as the sound evolves.

With their third full-length album, Wanderlust Of Venus, Claw The Thin Ice occupy a space where chaos and spleandour co-exist, melding psych-rock guitars and heavy metal freak-outs with pop sensibilities, earworm choruses and anthemic indie rock.
Take a listen to this exclusive pre-release stream of Wanderlust Of Venus, and read on for a track by track talk through of the album from Claw the Thin Ice’s Ian Breen and Jake Beddow…

1. Houdini

Ian: The original demo for this was done back in 2013, around about the time we were writing demos for our last record “Exercise”. For one reason or another it just didn’t really fit with those songs, so it felt like this song was the springboard for writing “Wanderlust…”, but didn’t really come together collectively until quite late in the game. When we were trying to think of a potential running order for the album, it just made perfect sense to have it as the opening song because it immediately drops you into this weird world that feels a million miles away from what we’ve done previously. If you can vibe with “Houdini” then you’re in for a wild ride through the rest of the album. We also knew we wanted saxophone on there from quite an early stage, so we asked our friend Dan Means from Kayo Dot to get involved – he is one of our absolute favourite musicians in the world and also a good friend of ours so it made perfect sense. It was kind of perfect timing really, as Kayo Dot were in town for a few days and staying at my apartment, so we were able to dedicate an entire evening to going wild recording the saxophone parts.

Jake: We always seem to come together as a band when we play this song. The groove in the verses set the tone for the album, and the mood it creates is something we can tap into quite easily as a band. It also feels like the lyrics Ian wrote were like jigsaw pieces falling into place about what he was going through at the time.

2. Cursing Blood

Ian: This was another old song that was re-jigged and re-worked into something that made sense in the context of the album. We had a show where John (our original guitarist, now our drummer) was overseas for work, so myself, Toby (bass guitar) and Danny (our original drummer) performed a bunch of songs as a three-piece and wrote “Cursing Blood” specifically for the show. The arrangement on the album is stripped back to a single guitar, bass and drums with my vocals over the top, then about halfway through everything kind of explodes as extra guitars and keyboard come in to make things gigantic.

Jake: For me this song is fun to play, especially the harmonising lead part with Ian in the instrumental ending. Harmonised guitars are a running theme on this album but it is probably prettiest here in my opinion. The tuning is crazy on this song so we don’t get chance to play this much live.

3. Lydia & Gage

Ian: “Lydia & Gage” was the first song we wrote after Jake (guitar/vocals) had joined the band – while we were still in the middle of recording “Exercise”. He came to the first rehearsal and had learned the entirety of “Exercise” and our first album “Pony Walker”, so at the second rehearsal we started work on “Lydia…”. It’s been a staple of our live sets over the past four years or so and was an obvious choice to use as the first single. The synths over the last half of the song were an element that had been eluding me for a while, so wound up being recorded during the mixing sessions. We were struggling to mix a different song for one reason or another, so rather than getting bogged down in technical issues we wound up spending the evening getting pretty wild with experimenting.

Jake: “Lydia & Gage” will always be especially important to me, as it was the first song I was involved in writing my own parts for, shortly after joining the band. Both this song and Kawaii are probably more engrained into our muscle memory than any other songs on the album, as we did a few demos of them and play them a lot live.

4. Kawaii

Ian: “Kawaii” has been another live staple for a while and is one of our absolute favourites. We rely quite a lot on feedback while we’re playing and this song is a perfect example of it – it’s one where can just go wild and make a racket. We’ve also structured the album to be in four parts, as if you’re listening to it on vinyl (hey indie labels, hit us up), so this is a nice cathartic end to side A.

Jake: I feel that the music reflects the subject of the song really well. When we play this there is a frenetic tension that feels like the wheels could come off and the song could fall apart at any moment, and that’s what I really enjoy most about playing live.

photo credit: AMBY

5. Wildlife

Ian: When we’re writing and recording, one thing that is always in the back of my mind is that we should try to do things differently to our previous record. Whereas “Exercise” had minimal overdubs (at least instrumentally) and stuck quite rigidly to a guitar-bass-drums “rock band” format, with “Wanderlust…” we wanted to make something that was extremely layered and unafraid to get weird. We recorded “Wanderlust…” with Jamie Birkett, who also recorded “Exercise” and thankfully he was as open to the idea of getting pretty weird and experimental as us. To date, “Wildlife” is by far the most out-there song we have ever written and could not be further from the blueprint of “Exercise”. Much of the song was constructed using MIDI with the synth design for the song done by Jamie using his Korg Minilog. We also wanted to include some friends who had particularly unique and interesting voices – so much of the lead vocal is performed by Alison Carney from the fantastic band She The Throne. Her voice is so alien and beautiful and she also has a fascination with layering multiple vocals and effects to create something otherworldly and I think it leaves a really lasting impression on you. This is by far one of my favourite songs that we have.

6. Heaviness

Ian: Leading on from that last song, “Heaviness” is another song that breaks away from the mould of our previous songs. Sometimes, songs are brought to rehearsal pretty fleshed-out and fully-formed already, so they tend to come together quite fast. “Heaviness” was a song where there were fragments of ideas that we were able to just jam for hours – endless loops that you could get lost in. We tried to keep an element of that in the finished product – everything from the mid-section onwards was totally jammed out in the studio but took quite a few takes to nail. We were pretty elated once we had it down. The guitar solo was completely improvised in a single take too – as soon as I’d done that it was like “that’s it, that’s the one, I’ll never play it better than that!”. This song also sees the return of Dan Means on saxophone, laying down some trippy delay-drenched woodwind vibes.

Photo credit: AMBY

7. My Tulpa

Ian: After everything that’s come before, you need a little breather – a little time to reflect. “My Tulpa” was the last thing we wrote for the album and was recorded on the upright piano in our rehearsal room. It’s a little out of tune and a bit beaten up but it sounds great. I recorded this just onto my phone and then we messed with it a lot in the mix. I tried re-recording it on a really nice piano in a huge hall, with this gigantic natural reverb – but it just didn’t have that same vibe as the phone-recorded, fucked-up piano.

8. Seasick

Ian: “Seasick” is the start of a short run of four-minute guitar-pop songs on the record – after all the 9-minute jams, sax freakouts and disco tunes, it’s time to get down to business. This song features our friend Tom Hall from the wonderful band Papayer on lead vocals in the mid-section – the idea behind the song is that it’s from the perspective of someone crippled with anxiety, who can’t get out of bed following waves of devastation in their personal life, so Tom’s vocal is kind of taking on the role of that voice in your head or the devil on your shoulder, reinforcing all your worst fears and feeding your anxiety.

Jake: For me this song came together very late and I was still tweaking my verse part up until I had to record. I also didn’t fully realise how sad the song was until after recording. I really appreciate how Ian lyrically describes his situation in a very open and touching way.

Photo credit: AMBY

9. Venus

Ian: This is our blatant attempt at trying to match the dizzy highs of “Clarity”-era Jimmy Eat World – although people often told us it sounded more like “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield which I am not going to turn my nose up at! This is definitely the most soaring pop song we have ever written – we wanted to really ramp up the pop element by including tonnes of pianos, synths, drum machines and vocal harmonies – it pleases me hearing all the alternating rhythms and lead melodies all working in harmony. It’s impossible to pull this off live, so we really dirty it up and make it more of a rock tune at our shows. Thematically, it’s about two star-crossed lovers from the same astrological sign at the end of their relationship, still trying to hold on to something they know just cannot work anymore and looking to the planets for guidance.

10. Fire Escape

Ian: This song is what I think of as being a very quintessential Claw song – it’s a short, snappy pop song that juxtaposes upbeat melodies with kinda miserable or downbeat lyrics. It’s one that we always rehearse and love playing together but for some reason it never finds its way into our live sets – hopefully we’ll change our ways and play it more now. I wrote the original demo on a piano that was in the house I lived in at the time, so it was important for me to find the right piano tone when we came to record it. The studio we used at Salford University had three different pianos available, so we got to trial them all and find the right sounds for the songs where piano is prevalent.

11. Middle of Nowhere

Ian: And so, we come to the end – and what better way to end than with a 13-minute long feedback frenzy about doomed romance and untimely death? We never play this song the same way twice – the mid-section is pretty much improvised and is totally all about vibe. I have no idea how many layers of guitars actually wound up on this song, I seem to remember just recording take after take of feedback. The ending was inspired by seeing St Vincent live in 2014 – the set ended with a rendition of “Your Lips Are Red” that had a huge 10 minute section of destruction and madness before collapsing into this beautiful, delayed-guitar melody which brought everything to a close in the most epic way imaginable. I remember just watching with my jaw on the floor and tears in my eyes and thinking it was one of the most perfect things I’d ever seen, so that really inspired this song a lot.

Jake: I recorded what became the introduction to this song on my phone very late one night. Rather than re-record it, We put it onto a cassette and recorded it playing through an old boom box. You can also hear some bootleg recording of an unsigned early 2000s nu-metal band at the very beginning, left over from Ian’s cassette.

Ian: That tape had been sat in a box in my parents’ attic for about 15 years! It was all dusty and knackered and wound up sounding perfect!

So there we have it folks…

On Wanderlust Of Venus, Claw the Thin Ice is:

Ian Breen – lead vocal, electric guitar, synthesizer and programming, piano
Jake Beddow – backing vocal, electric guitar, synthesizer and programming
Toby Potter – bass guitar
Daniel Jones – drumkit

with:
Jamie Birkett – synth design and drum machine
Daniel Means – saxophone on Houdini and Heaviness
Alison Carney – lead vocal on Wildlife
Tom Hall – lead vocal on Seasick
Liam Stewart – percussion on Wildlife

You can find more music from Claw the Thin Ice on their bandcamp page, where you can also pre-order “Wanderlust Of Venus” on cassette tape (a limited run of 50 black cassettes) or digital download. You can go and ‘like’ their Facebook page

Special thanks to Alicia Atout / AMBY music blog for the photos.

Tony of Nurgle is a true child of the North, currently living in exile in Croydon, South East London. He used to co-run a specialist record store in Manchester (Roadkill Records), and also spent a couple of years as a promoter, and put on shows for the likes of Leatherface, the Loved Ones, Lucero, Minus The Bear, These Arms Are Snakes, Spy vs Spy, Latterman etc. He also spent several years DJing at shady rock clubs in Manchester, and started the infamous Thursday night "punk room" at Jilly's Rockworld. Also responsible for Middle Finger Response, and collaborated with a couple of friends on a monthly night called Refuse to Lose, which will still occasionally reunite the original DJ line-up - hopefully in the not too distant future. Apart from that, it's all bitterness and a jaundiced view of human nature, rarely skateboarding, often reading books with maps in the front.

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