Expectations are inevitably going to be lofty for a group that includes former members of the Unicorns and Arcade Fire. Thankfully for band members Alden Penner and Brendan Reed, Clues’ self-titled debut has the tunes to back up the hype. The album evokes the warped glory of Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? with bare-bones production and Penner’s creepy, whispered vocals. The gleefully twisted “Remember Severed Head” could easily pass for a Unicorns out-take, with wonky guitar lines, falsetto humming, and a morbid refrain of “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
But this isn’t to suggest that Clues are a mere Unicorns retread—the abrasive guitars and stomping drums of “Approach The Throne” are pure garage-punk, while “In The Dream” is an ambient wash of feedback and echoed vocals (sung in both French and English). The album closes with “Let’s Get Strong,” a gentle piano ballad that is pretty enough to be Coldplay, but without the bombastic rock-star baggage. It is an eclectic mish-mash of styles and moods—not only from song to song, but even within the same tune, as Clues prefer non-linear structures to typical verse-chorus-verse patterns. It’s a perfect mix of catchy pop and off-the-wall weirdness, and a brilliant addition to the Montreal indie rock canon.