Behind today’s indie-rock curtain, crossover classical bands like Clogs have been shattering musical barriers by orchestrating instrumental arrangements for rock nerds. Over the course of four albums since 2001, this quartet has evoked everything from post-rock to chamber music to café orchestra, creating classic compositions with a bit of a rock or pop edge, using viola, violin, melodica, bassoon, piano, percussion, and guitars. Guitarist Bryce Dessner founded Clogs with Australian violist Padma Newsome, who easily draws comparisons to bowman Warren Ellis of Aussie experimental trio Dirty Three.
The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton is Clogs’ most rock-focused album to date. Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond sings on six of the 10 songs, her operatic falsetto fitting perfectly with Clogs’ classical vibe. The album is a medieval feast of sounds in which Worden plays pining princess backed by pizzicato strings and instrumental minstrels (from “On the Edge” to “The Owl of Love”). Newsome wrote the album in homage to the rich gardens of Lady Walton, the widow of late British composer Sir William Walton, so it’s as over-the-top and pretentious as it sounds, and it sounds pretty damn good. Newsome saves the best moment for himself: “Red Seas” sounds as good as Sufjan Stevens (who himself helps croon track 10, “We Were Here”). Creatures shows Clogs bridging the gap between musicians who met at the Yale School of Music and symphonic pop stars whose friends are in bands like the National, Arcade Fire, and the Books, the pitch and pedigree of today’s independent rock evolving with tomorrow’s classical music. — Keith Gribbins