One of our favourites of 2020 came from Tara Clerkin Trio, a Bristol group whose debut album fused melodic songwriting, light smatterings of dub and graceful jazz to provide positivity in a year where it was in short supply.
Tara Clerkin Trio are made up of Patrick Benjamin, Sunny-Joe Paradiso and the synonymous Tara – three young Bristolians with a grounding in chugging psych-rock and communal jam sessions. At first they were the sixteen-legged Tara Clerkin Band before shedding five members and ending up a Trio. Going off their assuredly self-contained S/T, they are all the tighter for it.
“Tara Clerkin Trio” is bracing for everything it isn’t. There’s no trace of panic or pandemic to be found. Guided out in January through the Laura Lies In imprint, each listen is a welcome reminder of The Before Times: of how you could float in and out of someone’s personal space without it being a health risk; when every social engagement didn’t have to be rigorously pre-planned according to eternally morphing guidelines; the ease at which you could pop round someone’s for the afternoon, stick some records on and loaf around.
Obviously there’s no way the group could have known how their off-the-cuff energy would be at a premium mere months after the record’s release, but the dynamic that gifts the Trio’s songs their thrust would be a winner even if 2020 had turned out differently. Keys, melodica, woodwind and shuffling drums gel effortlessly. There is a fluidity and synchronicity that belies the age of the members. This is the sound of a well-honed unit of working together at the highest level, rewarding to throw on and sink into time and again.
All across the albums are passages to allay stress. ‘What?’ begins by evoking (or possibly just recording) wind chimes, setting the tone for an album defined by elemental breeziness, before a clarinet knocks on the door and politely enters the scene. ‘Gold Bar’ –– which could reference either a chunk of bullion, a caramel biscuit or, cheekily, a very good variety of pill –– has the effect of being immersed in warm suds. The multi-tracking on ‘There Will Be Time’ is like getting lost in a hall of mirrors, before a trapdoor opens and a slide sees you out with a bump.
The urgency of modern jazz –– Sons of Kemet’s loud-and-proud proclamations, Shabaka Hutchins unleashing squalls of hellfire, the octopus-limbed drumming of Moses Boyd, et al –– is absent. Instead, Tara Clerkin Trio’s eccentric bric-a-brac brings to mind Stereolab, Julia Holter, mid-90s Mo’ Wax compendium “Headz”, or the tonally rich collaborations between Beatrice Dillon and Rupert Clervaux (no surprise to find Clervaux on board here for mastering duty). “Tara Clerkin Trio” is a small yet perfectly-composed album that invites you in with a cup of tea and a reassuring hand on the shoulder. What’s not to love?