Previously known only as V, the lone contributor to Larman Clamor’s boogie-ready assault of darkened Americana has pulled back the veil of mystery and revealed himself to be none other than Hamburg-based artist Alexander von Wieding, whose work has graced album covers from Karma to Burn, Trouble, Cortez and Nuclear Assault as well as Wo Fat, Lo-Pan, Mangoo, Sun Gods in Exile, Infernal Overdrive and countless others from the Small Stone Records discography. It should probably come as little surprise, then, that Small Stone (who’ve hit a point in their regularity of releases as to be more or less a permanent fixture around here) has signed on for the release of Larman Clamor’s second full-length collection of weirdo psych blues, Frogs. The album follows last year’s course-setting Altars to Turn Blood LP (review here) and self-titled EP (review here), and though I wrote the same in the bio for the release, I have no hesitation to note that it’s von Wieding’s best and most atmospherically solid collection yet. To his and the album’s benefit, the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist keeps it short, but over the course of Frogs’ 31 minutes and 11 tracks, he nonetheless develops a full-length flow — more even than the last time around – while also keeping the songs memorable within themselves. The unquestionable standout of the bunch is “The Mudhole Stomp,” which is as fitting a description of the Larman Clamor sound as I’ve heard, but von Wieding’s alternate-universe garage swamp blues makes for several such highlights, shifting into a moody midsection only to revive the barnyard boogie later on in the album’s second half. Greater incorporation of gritty electric guitar soloing amid the sometimes central, sometimes companion acoustic grooves and the perpetual threat of a far-back organ melody make Frogs just as dangerous as anything Larman Clamor has released to this point, and though the depth of arrangement has deepened, the project has maintained the sense of rawness central to the authenticity of its presentation. That is, if Larman Clamor went prog, it wouldn’t work. It needs to be this stripped down. It needs to sound like there’s one man behind it, hooked up to however many noisemaking contraptions he might be.
That said, one wonders what even a song like the opening title-track might sound like with some layer of unexpected percussion behind it – some pans being banged on, for example, or even the smack of two bricks into each other – in time with the track’s irresistible get-down pulse. The rhythm is no less effective for their absence, von Wieding leading the way (his own way, that is) with a George Thorogood-esque start-stop guitar and sundry grunts about the frogs coming into his house. I had no idea Hamburg had amphibian issues, but climate change is a bastard and at this point I’ll believe anything. Like all of Larman Clamor’s output to date, “Frogs” effectively contrasts its urban origins with countrified swagger, and in any case, von Wieding isn’t the first city boy in the world to sing about the swamp. He does it well, and “Seven Slugs o’ Mud” might not bring Frogs past five minutes into its total runtime, but the opening duo has enough movement in it to break a sweat nonetheless, quickly establishing and pushing forward within a heavy momentum punctuated by tambourine and a continuingly appropriate thematic of all things slimy, cold-blooded and found in or around pondscum. “Seven Slugs o’ Mud” is fuller sounding, bordering on some of von Wieding’s appreciation for Tom Waits – the organ would put it over the top on that regard, but it’s not to be – and makes a solid setup for the contrast that the instrumental minimalism of “Mill Wheel Alchemy” provides, acoustic guitar providing both melody and rhythm in a series of taps and strums that lead to thicker, fuzzier electrics, loosely, vaguely riffed behind a mounting solo that one imagines played through a busted old amp in the woods, far away from any ears but those of the tape machine onto which it was recorded. If Frogs establishes anything, it’s von Wieding’s prowess as a guitarist. As the sole instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter in all of Larman Clamor, he leaves himself room to handle a bit of soulful lead work in the record’s more atmospheric stretches, “Mill Wheel Alchemy” being one of them, before “The Mudhole Stomp” offers Frogs’ most potent take on the bizarre balance in the band’s sound between gravely-delivered blues and psychedelic grooving.
And as many one-man projects as there are out there working in and around Americana influences, Larman Clamor is unique among them for the headfirstness with which it dives into the style. A repetitive, insistent guitar line complements the heavy feet of “The Mudhole Stomp,” and von Wieding switches effectively between mumbles and shouts vocally to underscore the otherworldly nature of his incantations, a layer of slide guitar behind seeming to bounce as though on a spring. From there, Frogs takes a turn into the ambient, a spoken vocal over the initial moments of guitar, far-back organ, bass and snare drum of “Undead Waters” reminding somewhat of Phil Anselmo circa the second Down album without being blatant either in cadence or mood. Larman Clamor’s brooding stretches prove no less effective than the party it seems willing at any moment to host, and it’s not often one things of handclaps as an element one might use to play up a feeling of morbidity, but somehow in the build of the two-minute “Undead Waters,” they do, and “Mine to Grind” maintains the darkness of atmosphere, a slogging rhythm – is that a washboard I hear? – playing out with bluesy electric and acoustic guitar riffs and moody, subdued vocalizing. There’s a vague build, or at least a linear course to “Mine to Grind,” but really the song functions best in the context of the album as a whole, offering a midsection glimpse into the overarching threat in the sound – the alligator hiding in the water. No less adept at playing one element off another than the switch between “Mill Wheel Alchemy” and “The Mudhole Stomp,” “Potions and Secrets” may be the shortest cut on Frogs at 1:25, but it’s also the purest moment of psychedelia, organ, drums and guitar working in tandem toward some ethereal mini-sprawl, still definitely of the mud and the tall grass, but at very least looking at the sky. From there, no place to go but back to the county fair, so “Black Cylinder” revives the one, two, three, four beat and forward push of the early-album material and gives a glimpse perhaps at some future strangeness to come in a short break of quirky percussion and hairy distorted guitar.
At a luxurious four minutes and three seconds, “Gorgon’s Gold” is among the longest tracks in Larman Clamor’s fast-expanding catalog. It begins a three-minutes-plus closing trio – “Gorgon’s Gold,” “Within Temples of Mold” and “Journey of the Serpents” – that seems bent on expanding the atmospheric and stylistic formula of the rest of the album. Hard-plucked strings in “Gorgon’s Gold” set up electric strumming, slide guitar, blown-out vocals, organ and a beat-keeping snare, and though by the time the full reach of the track is established, it’s more than halfway through, that seems to have been the idea in the first place, von Wieding having set a vibe like he started playing in a room and others just came in and picked up instruments as time went on. Of course, it’s all him, so that’s not the case, but the more fleshed-out feel of “Gorgon’s Gold” continues into “Within Temples of Mold” – the rhyming of the track names emblematic of an overarching rhythm at the core of Frogs permeating every aspect of it – which despite being instrumental, makes me wish von Wieding had six or seven compatriots in the project with whom he could embark on extended countrified jams. The song has sway more than swagger, but the lead guitar does an effective job anyway of filling a lyrical gap, and “Journey of the Serpents” would be an epic in the context of thicker tonality, but even as it is, the payoff that the first half builds toward is palpable, fuzz rhythm tossed in with lead, drum stomp, acoustic, moaning vocals and a dead-on riffy groove. That groove breaks down, one instrumental layer at a time, to its most basic elements before the song ends, and one is reminded of the subtle complexity in von Wieding’s approach to the recording: As basic as these songs feel, they’re not. Frogs pushes Larman Clamor’s arrangements into dark, yet-uncharted waters, but never loses sight either of the shore it’s leaving behind or the necessary loneliness of the blues at its base. As exciting as it is to think of what avenues for future exploration this might portend for von Wieding’s solo venture, what matters most for the time being is that the album makes each of its experiments work in the context of its own goals, and grows the idea of what Larman Clamor is without sacrificing what the project initially set out to be. As von Wieding continues to work at a pace of output no less kinetic than the material he presents, Frogs warrants catching before a follow-up surfaces.
Tags: Frogs, Germany, Hamburg, Larman Clamor, Larman Clamor Frogs, Small Stone