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Pablum

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Album Review

On Pablum, Claw Hammer once again put hard rock and blues through the punk wringer. In comparison with 1992's Ramwhale, the songs are perhaps more concise and the album more cohesive as a whole, but that's not to say that things have been toned down for this release. On the contrary, although Pablum displays a more focused approach, it's infused with a greater measure of explosive energy than its predecessor. From the outset, as the band crashes unceremoniously into the frantic, staccato charge of "Vigil Smile," Pablum has a feel of managed mayhem. This is a band seemingly operating on the brink of sonic anarchy at all times. Indeed, that precarious balance between chaos and relative order is one of the most compelling features of Claw Hammer's sound. Throughout Pablum, the group achieves that balance with a combination of signature elements: Jon Wahl's verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown vocals, a guitar assault that often puts songs into overdrive and threatens to push them over the edge, and a talent for seamlessly integrated stop-start rhythms and bursts of sudden acceleration. Although abrupt shifts in intensity and pace are a crucial characteristic of Claw Hammer's often frenzied sound, there's also a more intricate dimension as the band incorporates changes in time signature. "Pablum on My Mind," for instance, occasionally breaks into a near sea shanty lilt that gives the number a playful, off-kilter flavor. On the album's standout track, "William Tell," Claw Hammer's more frazzled, manic tendencies are amplified by Wahl's punctuating blasts of harmonica. Those harp squalls lend a blistering, crazed feel that's entirely appropriate to the song's apparent subject matter — William Burroughs' bizarre murder of his wife. All told, the title of Claw Hammer's fourth album is supremely ironic: Pablum is about as far from bland, insipid entertainment as you could get.

Pablum, Claw Hammer
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