Clipping’s new EP, NBC Plus, premiered last week, revealing an album of visceral R&B that blends the dark-soothing beats of Thom Yorke’s Radiohead’s experimental “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” with the psychedelic goth-pop of War on Drugs’ Scott Higham. The EP’s glimmering melodies feel like an outgrowth of a brand-new era: a time when rap-rock bands favor the freewheeling, psychedelically charged sound of 1990s indie rock.
Each of the songs on the EP comes with distinct lyricism that allows the listener to pick the “message” they are trying to send. Jeff Bert, Clipping’s frontman, epitomizes the collage technique. Consider “Breadwinning,” which deals with the dilemma of an urban man who cannot afford a steady paycheck. “What do you do after you mess up your work?” asks the narrator in a disjointed conversation with “anonymous friends.” “You smoke, drink or do drugs.”
But the tone shifts dramatically toward optimism as the track progresses and the narrator details his future aspirations. “The future is just taking care of the past,” he muses as ominous jazz fills the air.
Music producer/composer Brian Burton (aka Radiohead’s Thom Yorke) is the other half of Clipping. Like Yorke, Burton has long dabbled in experimental music, playing keyboards with the band that developed out of U.K. experimental rock band Portishead. (The band Burton led prior to Portishead, which bears his name, released a studio album in 2004.) Burton’s music is in the same vein as Kanye West’s confessional “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and Radiohead’s “In Rainbows.” But Burton’s quirkier, less post-modern sound lends his music a grungy edge that contrasts his former band’s mellow alt-rock sounds.
For this album, Burton, an avowed Trump supporter, provides Clipping with an original songwriting credit. (Yes, you read that right.) The song, “Please Be My Horse,” finds the narrator, prone to self-doubt, questioning his place in the fast-moving world. “Is this it?” he asks. “The only chapter I’ll remember?” (As it turns out, that book had as many entries as the entire DC Comics universe. Nonetheless, the narrator notes, no writer “ever goes home.”)
Watching the video for the new tune, it’s hard not to think of the recently discovered Atari 2600 game “Horse Race 2,” where a cyclist mounts a horse with the riders of a wealthy family chasing him.
While Burton has been defensive in recent months about critics who suggest that Trump’s supporters reflect a certain degree of white resentment, the lyrics to “Please Be My Horse” suggest that the author of the song is trying to construct a positive story about the president. “If you don’t think it’s the government,” the narrator asks, “what’s your excuse?” It is hard to avoid the distinct visual echo of the horse race imagery.
In the verses, Burton, who appears to be approaching his lyrics with the same meticulous intellect he brings to music, earnestly suggests that in an age when automation threatens to relegate workers to the likes of factory laborers, Trump’s promise to deliver jobs is the only encouragement a struggling American worker can feel.
“All the jobs of my youth went to machines,” the narrator cries at one point. “And one of those machines went to Trump.”
When, just as the single fades out, Trump’s campaign workers make their 2016 campaign rally caps bearing the phrase “Make America Great Again” the narrator asks: “How about doin’ the opposite?