Folk-influenced ambient dream pop? However you want to categorise it, it’s one of the best albums of 2022.
Cleverley sets himself a high bar in his press release for his 4th album. “‘Broadcast The Secret Verse’ is an album about saying the things that need to be said in the time we have. At times abrasive, at others uplifting, but never in between. It is a contemporary, fresh and innovative offering to the rapidly evolving 21st Century songwriting scene. The perfect companion piece to our head-spinning modern age.”
Describing his songwriting as “ambient Dream-Folk” he sits with a number of relatively new artists bringing the sensibilities of Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens to the indie pop that they grew up with. The relatively straightforward folk of ‘Borderlands’ leads into ‘Chlorophyll’ which blends a Cello solo with ambient sounds and a Banjo riff that punctuates the verses, in a way that Radiohead would recognise. ‘Still Life’ starts as an almost Trip Hop tune, quickly morphing into another golden pop song. The ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. Taking that as the theme for his song of the same name, Cleverley has created a song that this time sits in the sort of narrative space that Crowded House occupy, before jumping into a Post Rock idle section. An anthemic production that would make this an album highlight on any lesser record, is here just another facet of the range of styles he makes his own.
Adding contemporary arrangements and extended instrumental sections to traditional folk song structures and making it sound natural is where Cleverley scores over some of his peers. ‘Paradise’ is a modern rock song, but still rooted in folk. ‘Nausea’ does the same with ambient, downtempo electronic sounds. It is a sing that probably works just as well on an acoustic guitar. Socially conscious words, and observations of the world around the writer have always been the basis of folk music, and Cleverley maintains that tradition. “We’re living through an era of unprecedented global change. It would be wrong to sugar-coat it all, but equally we must draw on the deep well of beauty all around us to maintain an even keel. To be real, we have to explore both sides of the coin.”
The album drifts to an end on some more ambient and dream pop-based songs, closing with ‘If I’d Have Listened’, which reflects on the turns a life can take. Like so many of these songs this has “hit single in a fairer world” written all over it.
2022 has been a remarkable year for music. So many established artists have turned in the best work of their career that to get noticed and mentioned in the same breath as them in the year end polls will be a hard task. Chris Cleverly has managed it with an album that pulls on many of the stylistic threads of the moment and binding them into a music that is all his own.