The car windows are down, the air is warm, and the possibilities are boundless. On Cut Worms, the new self-titled album from Brooklyn-based Max Clarke, the singer-songwriter and musician continues his exploration of what he calls “pop essentialism”. Mining the golden hits of yesteryear for a timeless double A-side sound, he contemplates age-old questions through a modern lens. Here, he leaves behind the legendary studio and sought-after producers for a more homegrown approach, working with a cast of gifted friends and collaborators. The result is a compact collection of daydream anthems that live between the summer’s hopeful beginnings and the season’s fleeting end.
In many ways, this record is a response to 2020’s Nobody Lives Here Anymore, Clarke’s expansive double-LP recorded in Memphis. While writing new material, he challenged himself to cut out extraneous detail and hang on to the essentials of what makes a song stronger. “How much can I say and give in a limited amount of time?”
As opposed to recording the entire album in one chunk at one studio, Clarke varied his methods. Three of the songs were cut from start to finish in his shared rehearsal space. “Don’t Fade Out” and Living Inside” were recorded in Brooklyn by Brian and Michael D’Addario of the Lemon Twigs, who also played piano and bass, respectively, on these two songs. Further basic tracking was done by Rick Spataro (of indie folk band Florist) at his Hudson Valley studio, Onlyness Analog, with contributions from the long standing Cut Worms live band–keyboardist John Andrews, bassist Keven Louis Lareau, and drummer Noah Bond (who played on all three sessions).
Clarke went about overdubbing in his signature fashion and found himself leaning toward arrangements that translate more easily to a live performance. The instrumentation is subtle and the harmonies often delicate. Clarke’s tenor sits front and center amid an ensemble of celestial guitar leads, stacked horns, and strolling piano lines. The success of last year’s self-recorded single “Dream Most Wild” gave him the confidence to take on the roles of mixer and producer for the first time on a full-length release.
A youthful spirit breathes throughout these nine songs. The carnation-adorned school dance serenade of “I’ll Never Make It”; the starry eyed infatuation of “Is it Magic?”; the first fall leaves on the bus ride to school on “Living Inside”–all evoke a place of warmth and safety. Declarations like “Don’t Fade Out”, “Let’s Go Out On The Town”, and “Use Your Love” make high demands for life to change, but beg for us, as people, to keep hold of what makes us human. Clarke wrestles with a paradox–the joys of experience cannot be won without the loss of innocence.
On “Ballad of a Texas King” Clarke sings, ““Hey kid come along… something is wrong… I believe you know… All this to say, only one way that this can go…” It’s as if he’s reaching out to his younger self, letting him know the changes are inevitable. How do we hang on to a dream? How do we not lose ourselves in a world that is lost? The only way out of a nightmare is to keep going. Clarke’s answer lies in his art, where the search for love and the perfect pop song coalesce and transcend him to that other plane. –Kyle Avallone.
The Urban Lounge
Old Town School of Folk Music
Music Hall of Williamsburg