Clams’ sound is still the bees’ knees.
Clams Casino’s 32 Levels was a hell of an album. No one could ever forget Samuel T. Herring drooling all over “Ghost in a Kiss” or Lil B ludicrously claiming his “money up to NASA.” Not all of it was so memorable, and not all that was memorable worked, but it deserves comparison with Charli XCX’s Pop 2 in terms of how fiercely it defines its alternate vision of the charts, where any weirdo could be the apple of the world’s eye. It was flawed but striking, hard not to root for, and one of the most interesting pop experiments of the decade.
The New Jersey producer’s second album Moon Trip Radio features no guests and is not about pop in the least. It closely resembles the untitled instrumental tapes he’s released throughout this decade. In fact, it’s less substantial than a lot of his tapes, clocking in at 30 minutes, and a few of the tracks start out as ambient interstitials like what techno producers put on their albums in between the dancefloor cuts. Was he cowed by 32 Levels’ lack of success? It’s possible, but good taste doesn’t always trump risk.
Clams’ sound is still the bees’ knees. His snare sound is one of the most distinctive since Prince’s, more closely resembling a blacksmith hammering a red-hot anvil than the crisp 808s of today’s trap. He likes hi-hats, bells, and gongs to give his tracks a sense of metallic weight; particularly impressive is opener “Rune,” with its contrast between a huge, dragging cymbal and crisp little trap triplets. And he loves low, moaning, unidentifiable samples that seem dredged from a swamp and barely cleaned. It’s hard to imagine Pi’erre Bourne’s sun-warmed dreams or Metro Boomin’s gothic castles without the template set by Clams Casino.
There’s an added element of nostalgia hearing the Clams sound now and remembering the glorious mid-Obama summer when everyone wanted to go to Coachella, molly was the drug du jour, and Lil B was being booked to lecture at colleges. “Cupidwing” might sound a little like Tycho at the beginning, at least before it’s subducted by one of his famous samples, but that’s less because of influence than because they came out of the same attitude. The based era was the last time pop was positive, and unlike in these narcotized Future days, the promise of escapism through parties, weed, and sunshine was still a poignant dream.
That feeling’s more easily accessed through Clams’ instrumental mixtapes—or through the underrated Rainforest EP from 2011, where the then-rising producer indulged in sounds a rapper couldn’t easily sink into. One would hope the first proper instrumental album from a producer like Clams would lean even further away from beatworld. But giving your all to a risky album like 32 Levels and not being rewarded is hard for the soul. Let’s make 32 Levels a cult classic. I can guarantee that if you put on “Ghost in a Kiss” at a bar, everyone will wonder what they’re hearing and reach for that little checkmark on Spotify.