Todd Clouser is a gentle spirit. In conversation, he’s measured, choosing his words slowly. To this point in his career, his music has patiently and pointedly blurred genre divides. So upon hearing The Naked Beat, the obvious question emerges. What’s to account for the carnival-barker-on-an-LSD-bender who metamorphosizes before our eyes and ears on this latest outing? And yet, if you’ve been paying attention to Clouser’s artistic evolution, you may have somehow seen this coming. In 2009, the Berklee School of Music graduate left Minneapolis to pursue a jazz career in Baja, Mexico. On his debut album, he paid tribute to Curtis Mayfield with a noise-guitar, space-rock freak-out. On his album 20th Century Folk Selections, Clouser interpreted The Velvet Underground, Malvina Reynolds and The Beastie Boys among others side by side. He even dared, and succeeded, to record and release three albums over the span of 12 months in 2012. When seen in context, his fearless vision has been unfolding all along, only this time he’s given a literal voice to the songs.
The Naked Beat, produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Danny Blume (The Klezmatics, Sexmob), marks Clouser’s vocal debut. He’s joined by his core band, A Love Electric, with special guests, including trumpeter Steven Bernstein and pianist Dred Scott. As the album unfolds, Clouser’s influences ranging from William Buroughs to Tom Waits, Frank Zappa to Prince, Nels Cline to Jack Kerouac, collide in a perfect storm of spine-tingling guitar riffs, zig-zagging rhythms, sanctified choruses and subversive lyrical prose. The Naked Beat opens with “Wake and Shake Your Heart,” perhaps the first great existential rock song of 2013. As the album surges forward, it takes the listener on a journey of thought and sound, reinventing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” as a howling at the moon, spoken word sermon, while re-contextualizing American history with “4th of July.” It brings the listener South of the border on a dark stretch of highway for “Ride My Radio” and opens to the door to his psyche on “Mad World.” The Naked Beat is Clouser’s art life on full display; a snapshot of the young artist in creative flight.