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Sebastian Clark - Songs From A Van

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 18 / 7 / 2006

Sebastian Clark - Songs From A Van
Label: Select Label
Format: CD


Entertaining acoustic and summery late 60's and 70's influenced lo-fi pop from American singer-songwriter Sebastian Clark, recorded in the back of his camper van

Taking the indie ethic to the limit university dropout Sebastian Clark has created the perfect soundtrack to the warmest summer we’ve had for years. The twelve track CD is packaged in brown cardboard and taped together. Initial fears that the thing would fall apart within the first few days were unfounded. Weeks of being handled by curious fingers and transported from the car into the house and back countless times and the package is still in one piece and looking good. Even the glue holding the liner notes and track details has held up. Clark, as the title suggests, recorded these acoustic, summery songs which recall a darker Simon and Garfunkel, in his Volkswagen Westfalla camper van ( which he has named Dierdre) using in, Clark’s words, ”stolen electricity”. Apart from bongos which were supplied by Nick Arciaga, all the sounds on the album are made by Clark. At first it appeared that, due to the home-made nature of the album, these 12 songs were going to the be mellow, laid back songs of just a guy and his acoustic. Thankfully Clark has fleshed out his sound with a number of ‘sound effects’ most of which I wouldn’t dare to guess. As Clark admits to one of these percussive effects being “glass bottles half-filled with my piss” we’ll leave it at that. But whatever Clark has used he has used to great effect. It works, simple as that. The album starts with the sound of the camper van door sliding open and twenty eight minutes later ends with the doors closing. And stepping into Clark’s world for nearly half an hour is something I’ve done time and again this summer. There are just two things that would make this collection better ; a longer running time, the album ends far too soon, and there is one track towards the end of the album, ‘Slow Down’, which doesn’t work as well as the others. For the first part of the song Clark’s otherwise warm, gentle vocals are treated in some way which just jars, although the backing vocals are glorious, that lead vocal just doesn’t hold up against the rest of the album. But Clark finds his way again before the song ends brilliantly. So half-a-song which doesn’t work out of twelve and I’m just nit-picking. It’s just the other eleven songs are brilliant all the way through. Just now it seems that it’s cool to be part of this ‘wyrd-folk / acid-folk’ thing that has built up. While it’s good that albums recorded back in the 60's and early 70's which fall into that genre now are finally gaining some recognition the new breed are falling short of conjuring up the mystery and magic found on those original albums. This isn’t the case with Clark. His album is the first in recent years which, although having one eye firmly fixed on the acoustic scene of the past, is more 2006 than 1966. The word lo-fi is being used a lot to describe Clark’s sound. In spite of being made in a van the sound is not noticeably lo-fi. It’s also been noted that Clark is far from a master musician or producer. Maybe so, but again, it’s not noticeable. It’s to Clark’s credit that armed with just his trusty acoustic guitar for the most part and whatever he can get his hands on for sound effects that the sound he produces is a full, warm sound. If there wasn’t so much made of the fact that the album was recorded in a van I seriously doubt any of us would have guessed. But made in a van it was and with that innovative case (cardboard from Starbucks where Clark worked while making the album) this album certainly catches the eye. But the fact that the songs hold up when the initial surprise of the packaging subsides is obviously what matters. With the photo of ‘Deirdre’ on the cover with Clark strumming his guitar while sitting between its opened doors I have noticed that this album has never failed to be picked up by the ever growing army of curious teenagers who are looking for something just a little different now. Thankfully they find the music just as appealing as the cover. As said, ‘Songs From A Van’ with its warm sunny harmonies, odd percussion and Clarks mellow vocals sound-tracked this glorious summer for me so it might be an idea to check it out before those dark clouds start taking over.

Track Listing:-
1 Home
2 What If I Told You?
3 All of My Love
4 Slippin' Through the Cracks
5 Okay, Goodnight
6 One Year Later
7 Glassy Eyes
8 Change
9 One Step Ahead
10 Slow Down
11 Hummingbird
12 Baby (Let's Start Over)

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