Xander-Vi1 by The Clerk
North Carolina based vocalist and songwriter Caleb Hanks began his musical journey long ago when he started writing his own music before his thirteenth birthday and his talent has developed at a prodigious rate since those youthful days. His first solo release, Xander-Vi1, definitely doesn’t lack ambition, but the best part of it is how Hanks, writing and recording under the moniker The Clerk, follows through on his ambition with quantifiable results. The breadth of imagination fueling this fifteen song collection is inspiring, but there’s never any feeling listening to these songs that Hanks has bitten off more than he can chew. Instead, you will walk away from hearing this album for the first time likely convinced, as I was, that Hanks began writing and recording this release with a clear vision in mind of what he wanted to accomplish and you will be hard pressed to dispute the success of his work.
The album’s opening one-two punch of “The Sounds” and “Atlas_” illustrates one of Xander-Vi1’s hallmark qualities – its diversity. The former track is thoroughly immersed in electronic instrumentation, but it retains traits we associate with more common place musical approaches. There’s a clear vocal melody holding things together and Hanks’ voice has an appealing pop shine that pairs with the arrangement in an interesting way. The latter track incorporates guitar for the first time on Xander-Vi1 and it erupts with a fiery sound throughout the course of the composition, but the electronic elements are still an important part of realizing the song’s potential and the comparatively clean vocal approach is notably different than the opener without ever sounding out of place.
The sternum reverberating pulse of “Osia: (Separation Games)” features much different fare than the guitar infused histrionics of the earlier “Atlas_” and the vocal presentation veers between effects laden singing and clean, yet double tracked, passages. The drumming might be electronic in origin, but it has the snap of analog percussion and sets a definite tone for the performance. “Scanning the Infinity” is an even stronger electronic composition, yet it possesses an ethereal quality that makes it stand out from similar numbers. Vocal melodies are one of the key components making this a successful release and “Scanning the Infinity” is one of the peak moments for that included on Xander-Vi1. “Ghosted” is one of the album’s peak moments and, like all of the best tracks on the collection, remains open-ended enough throughout listeners can arrive at their own conclusions about its meaning. It also boasts some of the strongest dynamics on an album teeming with dramatic musical textures and structures.
The unusual percussion and accompanying synthesizer playing powering “Isolation001” provides a suggestive yet minimalist introduction for the song, but the track alternates between sections like that and wider, more assertive passages with authoritative percussion. The vocals for songs like this find Hanks sounding remarkably like Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, but the similarities end there. He sings with much more abandon during the late track “Venus88_0” and it illustrates, once again, how his vocal versatility stands as one of the album’s best features. The song, likewise, showcases another wide-ranging arrangement and how, despite the sometimes challenging sonic density and unusual openings, Hanks’ songwriting obeys many classic songwriting fundamentals. Strip away the electronic veneer surrounding this release and that’s what you find – a young songwriter who has mastered his craft in many ways but has discovered an unique vehicle for self-expression. Xander-Vi1 demands your attention as a listener, but rewards it in a way that few releases in any style do and positions Caleb Hanks as one of the more compelling singer/songwriters working today.