Long ago, during a hot and sweaty recording session that now lasts like a feverish dream, Cliffs made his new album, DNA. Many memories remain of that day in June 2018 in Jeremy Ebert’s (aka Jerbil House) home studio, but nothing more than the oppressive heat that defined the sessions as singer / guitarist Aaron Cottrell, singer / bassist Adam Hardy and then-drummer Jason Winner recorded eight songs with engineer / producer Alex Douglas.
Without a fan or air conditioning, Winner’s bare foot kept sliding off the bass drum during recording. Later, the drummer’s sweat soaked through his jeans and seeped into the cracks in his phone, frying him. At one point, Cottrell and Hardy said they had to take Douglas to the Grandview CafÃ© for a food and water break to keep him from passing out. âWe felt like we had just played a game of basketball,â said Hardy.
In the end, after adding a few overdubs and some lo-fi acoustic tracks, Cliffs left with DNA, which the scuzz-pop group will celebrate with a release show at Ace of Cups on Saturday, November 27, with new drummer Chris Mengerink and local openers Tetnis and Mukiss. (As is the custom of the group at Cliffsgiving, entry to the show will be reduced with a can.) In addition to the cassette copies of DNA, the group will also have to sell a new B-side and a cassette of rarities.
“We have all these recordings just before [2015 album] Self-portrait, where it’s just Adam and I in our old living room on Fourth Street, and I’m playing acoustics and Adam playing a cardboard drum box with various other drums and bells and whistles, literally, âa Cottrell said in a recent video call with Hardy, who also lamented the missing but not forgotten Val Keyboard – an old keyboard with a Val Kilmer-like Batman playing card stuck to the top. âThere are all these recordings that we used to do that are very much rooted in acoustic recording and weird, lo-fi with avant-garde noises and stuff. This kind of vibe has always been a part of Cliffs.
This atmosphere continues until DNA, which features two acoustic tracks with a hearty tape whistle and found sounds: âIDKâ by Hardy and Cottrell’s instrumental pastiche, âInlandâ.
âI would work at the Ideas Foundry staring at my computer all day,â Cottrell said of the genesis of âInlandâ. “I found this guitar thing that I had done some time ago and just started to find different samples that I had recorded on my phone when I was in Europe and other times in my life and I started stringing them together while I was at work. ”
âIDKâ, on the other hand, is the result of a late night inspiration. âI was going through some weird shit at 3am, and something hit me,â Hardy said. “I was like, you know what?” I’m going to try and record a song on my phone that sounds like it’s not on a phone, but like it’s the early days of Elephant Six or the early days of Elliott Smith – those old lo-fi recordings where nowadays you can do it on a phone because your phone is more powerful than any recording equipment they had in the early 90s.
The rest of DNA features the loud guitars, big drums, screaming backing vocals and crumpled pop melodies that Cliffs is known for. Some of the songs, such as the title track “Block out the Sun / City Life” and “Radio,” are several years old, which made the band members reflect on previous eras in their lives.
âI see a person whose life was a bit chaotic. Their minds were much more chaotic and directionless. What I think about now when I hear ‘Blocking the Sun’ is like blocking something that could potentially be of use to you in order to stay in a more stagnant position, âCottrell said. “Maybe I didn’t even see this when I wrote it.”
“Radio” dates back to Hardy’s college days, when he wrote the song after a frustrating philosophy class. âThere was this person in class that I just didn’t like, so I kind of wrote it despite this person, calling him next to nothing,â Hardy said, quoting the song’s opening line. : “So being something is nothing / Or it’s just the way you perceive it / Because if something was nothing / Well, it will do something to you.
âIt’s a nice little pat on the back, but at the same time a hit with a knife,â said Hardy, noting how much the song has slowed down and become more thoughtful and Tweedy-esque over the years. “The pace we’re playing now and the way we’re doing it is a lot more Wilco-ian. Papa Jeff would be proud of that version.”
Cliffsloquialisms like “Papa Jeff”, “Cliffsgiving”, “Val Keyboard” and other amalgamations all fit well into the “bizarre making art” aesthetic of Cliffs, which has become even more varied over. DNA (including a hidden ’90s track that incorporates both Satan and Lou Barlow). âThis record is a lot more eclectic than things of the past,â said Hardy.
âI think there are elements of Adam and I that are undeniable in this recording, but there are also some very Cliffs moments that are the two of usâ¦ working together and understanding it together,â Cottrell said. “Call him DNA just made sense. The double helix.