When discussing the idea of the uncanny, or unheimlich as it is called in German, Sigmund Freud said “everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light“. In fact, we don’t need fancy definitions to explain the uncanny. The feeling, if not the idea, is something very familiar to all of us, even if we haven’t read the (quite belabored and, frankly, boring) writings of one Sigmund Freud. It’s that feeling you get when something familiar turns out to be something different than what you expected. It’s the feeling you get when your home, a place where you’re usually so comfortable and safe, suddenly becomes unexpected and scary in the faint light of the moon and the shadows playing thereof. It’s the feeling that real horror, the kind of horror that doesn’t let you sleep for weeks, relies on. The monster you can see is not that scary; you were expecting to be afraid even if it leapt up at you. But the monster you can’t see, the killer hiding in your midst, that’s the scary shit.
We already know that Clipping. are scary movie freaks; their previous release, There Existed an Addiction to Blood, was veritably drowned in references to horror movies, mafia flicks, and more. But that album, though excellent, seemed to approach the topic from an almost intellectual perspective (with notable exceptions like “Nothing Is Safe” or “Run For Your Life” which should have gotten your hackles raised). It was fierce and it was powerful but did you stop the album to look over your shoulder, feeling a thousand eyes upon you from out of the dark? Not really. It was more focused on making you angry, on making you fight back, for your life. But there wasn’t that horror viciousness to it. There wasn’t an alien feeling to it.
That feeling, that animal instinct in you rising up your gullet when something is just not quite right is what fuels Visions of Bodies Being Burned, the second part of the diptych that is this pair of albums. True to its album art, Visions (as we shall henceforth call this album) is all about the things that go gnash in the night, that lurk just outside your vision, that sever the body and spill its blood. After all, that viciousness we referenced above is often exercised on the body and that is no mistake; what is more uncanny than seeing the human form, perhaps the most familiar thing to you in the world, rent in the teeth of something wholly alien?
Visions is about the friendly and familiar suddenly turned wrong, suddenly strange, suddenly dangerous. In accordance with this different, more guttural approach, the music has also been pared-back, stripped of its presence to its core. All that remains are the tendons of sound flapping in the wind, crying their odd song into the night as Diggs’ voice races, delays, and intones the murder, mayhem, and pain that lies at the core of the album.
That’s not to say that the music is not there; it’s most definitely there but it’s like a faded map or a skeleton, mostly gesturing towards a concept or a sound, evoking faint feelings and memories at the tip of your tongue. You can hear it on tracks like “She Bad”. Where’s the music? It’s beyond the corner, crying in the form of a rusted gate swinging in the wind (“It’s 200 years of rust on a gate / It wind up like a toy when the wind plays”). It’s a whisper of a beat playing beneath the main verses of the track, only exploding into full manifestation during one of the choruses, smack in the middle of the track. This gives Diggs’ vocals a unique place in the “body” of the track: he is the storyteller. He is the narrator through which the tale of horror unfolds, in this case of a woman up the hill (possibly a witch) who descends upon the cock-sure teenagers to exact her…appetite? Revenge? Both?
This sort of narrative-first approach runs throughout the entire album and sets it apart from the last release, perhaps “jumping” its hurdle back to the concept-driven Splendor & Misery. While this album is not a concept album per se, and the previous album also had its share of stories told through song, it features almost exclusively tracks which unwind a story or a tale. In a way, this is a distancing technique: you’re listening to a story happening to someone else and this gives you an escape to safety. It’s not you up that hill or down that hole or in this mess. It’s happening to someone else. Which is, of course, exactly where Clipping. want you and exactly where they get you. Through that distance, Clipping. bring the story back to you, showing you exactly how horror, the uncanny, and fear meet you in your daily life.
They do this by returning, once more, to politics. Where There Existed An Addiction to Blood started, in many cases, from politics and tied them to horror, Visions begins from the story, the visceral details of it, and finds its way to politics. That’s what happens on “Pain Everday”. This track is a collaboration with Michael Esposito, an American experimental artist and researcher dealing with the paranormal. His contribution is EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena), recordings said to be of ghosts from the beyond. It’s no mistake that they appear on this track as it calls on the victims of lynching (“Death wasn’t really the worst part / Time spent floating above is”, alluding to the time it takes for hanging victims to die) to take their revenge on their white executioners.
In that sense, the track continues Clipping.’s penchant (also featured on tracks like “The Deep”) of giving a voice to the voiceless, in this case quite literally through EVP. And that’s where the politics come in: it’s not “just” that the track features the just and proper revenge of African-Americans victims against their oppressors. It’s that Clipping. weaponize horror to make that point. They conjure the uncanny through EVP, turning the track from something you’re familiar with (the voices of the living singing a song) into something weird, strange, unsettling. Something the same and yet different. Uncanny. You’re listening to a story that is ostensibly about someone else, someone far away, and you feel safe. But then Clipping. twist things around and slam the message back home: people are still being lynched. People you might know. People who need your help. People who deserve revenge and a voice.
Take all of this together, the essential. stripped-down musical presence that pulses through the album and manages to be both unsettling and satisfying (if “Looking Like Meat” doesn’t make you want to dance, you’re lost), Diggs’ usual lyric wizardry and intricate rapping (those time signatures on “Something Underneath” yeah?), the slightly off subject matter, the samples replete through the album (like the Ouija board spelling “he is here” on “Wytchboard”), put all of these together and you get a down-right unsettling album. That unsettling feeling is exactly where the political can come in because what is being unsettled, shook up, other than the regime, other than the way things are right now? What is being unsettled, on Clipping.’s Visions and, indeed, in good horror, is the very hegemonic order that tells us that the world can be understood, reduced, and exploited.
In this diptych, I love both parts of the equation equally (get it?). I’ll pick up There Existed an Addiction To Blood if I want to feel mad and emboldened in my anger, set against the injustice of the world and our tiny piece of it. But it’s Visions that I’ll pick up if I want to feel that ghostly chill or just that indescribable feeling you get when faced with real fear, with the uncanny. Guttural fear. Visceral fear of the strange world you thought was familiar to you but turns out: you were wrong. That world the powerful thought was reducible and explainable? In Clipping.’s version of it, powerfully displayed on Visions, that world is teeming with life just waiting for that slip up, the crack, to slither through and change everything forever. It’s a powerful vision (get it?) of the secrets we’d like to ignore, suddenly unleashed and having their way with the comfortable world that Western society has built for us.
Oh, and we ain’t talking about “Secret Piece” by the way. I don’t want to talk about it.