There’s a hell of a lot of history in Cleared’s music. When you hear Steven Hess’s uncluttered drumbeats looming over Michael Vallera’s churning guitar, the instrumental passages of Joy Division and early Echo & The Bunnymen records come to mind. When they shift from one stark groove to another with the abrupt angularity of a robot turning a right angle, you have to think of This Heat. And when you feel the boom in their low frequencies, they connect the way Austria’s Radian does on good nights, but rarely achieves on record. So with all these similarities, it’s fair to ask; what does Cleared have that’s all their own?
Boldness and illusory simplicity. There’s an inevitability to their constructions on Breaking Day that belies the layering that goes into a fading soundscape like “The Harvest,” an absolute certainty in the way Hess thrashes his cymbals on “Rogues” around a kick drum that booms like a bomb going off in the hall of the Mountain King. There’s always something bold and evident, a sound that zaps you with its authority. Once transfixed, you might go a few listens before you note that there’s more going on. But it’s there, waiting for you; a sustained drone, an electronic burp, a clink of filtered percussion. And then you listen more, and you realize that while the sounds interact as though they were played in real time — and given the persuasiveness with which Cleared pulls this stuff off in concert, they probably did — the sounds have not been left alone. The resonance of the chimes on “No Path To Claim” seems magnified by some effect — probably ring modulation — so that the sound’s contours stand out more clearly against the murky machine rumble behind it.
The duo’s penchant for hyper-real magnification puts them in the same boat as the Basic Channel crew, and I’m sure Hess and Vallera know their techno; the LP (of which 500 were pressed) was mastered at D&M in Berlin. But no matter how deep they sink into the realms of texture and tone, at heart Hess and Vallera are rock guys. They respect the riff and love a good limb-triggered lurch as much as any oscillation, and their forays into processing simply put these qualities in stark relief on Breaking Day.