Cleared is the convergence of two Chicago-based musicians of different generations who share an appreciation for looped, layered sound. Steven Hess, who is in his early 40s, plays with Mark Nelson’s semi-ambient Pan•American, doom-loving enterprises Locrian and Ural Umbo, and process-oriented outfits On and Haptic. Guitarist/electronicist Michael Vallera is in his mid-20s, and aside from some solo cassettes his one recording is a contribution to the excellent LP Offstrings: Inventions For Guitar (Complacency). where he held his own alongside more established guitarists like David Daniell and Mark Shippy.
Vallera’s evident preference for analog formats whose heyday passed before he started going to school all day finds common cause with Hess’s frequent role in his various projects, where he is as likely to thicken textures and magnify the dimensions of the music as he is to keep a beat. While Cleared can rock rather savagely in concert, this record is all about the physicality and quality of sound; the rumble of stylus against vinyl or the hiss of tape against heads just adds another layer to an already laminal cake.
Each of the record’s five pieces is founded upon conventionally played cymbals and guitars, but they’ve been so processed that you don’t hear instruments so much as you feel the surface grain and the hefty density of their presence. Of course, this is not a new way of working, and Cleared don’t mind letting their roots show; the way Hess folds a couple of echoed drum thumps into the mix of “When The Ground Is Close” and trowels a big, distorted beat into “False Morning’s” remorseless churn comes right out of the This Heat playbook. The point isn’t so much to make music that is new as it is to manifest sounds and the efforts made to achieve them in a physical space, and do it well enough to justify its presence. On this account, they succeed.