Clown Core’s ‘Van’ is artful absurdity

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Considering the variety of apocalyptic events this cursed timeline has brought the world, the lack of killer clown content in 2020 thus far has been surprising. Thankfully, Clown Core — the duo of edgy clowns who blend grindcore, jazz and electronic sounds with saxophone, drums and synth — are back. Two years after its 2018 release, Toilet, which featured music videos performed in a port-a-potty, Clown Core finds itself in a new confined environment — a blue minivan — for Van. Released Sept. 23, this 17-minute album features a series of 12 short songs, the shortest of them being the seven-second track “Mcdonalds,” which features little more than screaming.

As a project, Clown Core can be elusive. The duo’s identities have yet to be confirmed, but there is speculation that musicians Sam Gendel and Louis Cole of KNOWER are “Right Clown” and “Left Clown” respectively. In terms of content, Clown Core walks the unexpected line between crude, flatulence-inspired internet humor and high art, warranting both ironic and earnest admiration.

Van begins with screeching synth in “Flat Earth,” which — like much of the album — features unintelligible screaming sounds. Paired with intense drum, synth and saxophone, the tension of “Flat Earth” seems to build and break, the chaotic resolution leading perfectly into the heavy metal “Van.”

Clown Core as an experience is difficult to judge by the music alone. The music videos are not supplemental material; they are a must. The three videos released thus far feature both clowns confined in a minivan, clad in their navy blue work suits, while a comedically stoic masked driver steers. Whether they are parked in front of a Wienerschnitzel or driving around the suburbs, the juxtaposition of the high energy music with the mundanity of the setting add layers to the duo’s brilliance.

The karaoke-styled lyric captions also give much needed context: They convey that the muffled screaming sounds of “Van,” for example, actually translate to the repeated lyrics “I want to die in a submarine accident.” Clown Core lyrics tend to be simultaneously nonsensical and gross in a way that’s almost creative. 

Compared to the high energy of earlier tracks, “Song” begins with an oddly soft moment. Ambient keys are paired with the shockingly melancholic honking of a bulb horn before the track breaks into more intense breakcore territory. The following track, “Computers,” is a highlight of Van, moving from heavy synth with drums to a breakthrough smooth saxophone solo. 

It’s easy to see how some songs can feel repetitive, specifically “Van,” “Keyboard” and “You Are Pregnant.” Considering most items in the track list are two minutes or shorter, however, this does not pose a large problem, as there is an appropriate pace of movement from track to track.

“Existence” is a journey through nightmarish territory via dissonant keys, eventually leading to an eerie, cinematic finish — the chaos perhaps evocative of its title. Directly after, “End” is a surprisingly sincere, ballad-like piano solo. It feels entirely earnest, and listening to it, it may be hard to imagine two killer clowns on the other side of the gentle audio. Rounding out the project is “Infinite Realm of Incomprehensible Suffering,” which sounds like an ambient background music to a mall commercial — again evocative of its title.

Musically, Van is delightful. The softer, intimate moments on the album create a sense of dynamism; a song such as “Tears of God” could have easily been cheapened into a jump scare setup, but it is instead genuine. And aesthetically, Van, so far, appears to be less crude than Clown Core’s previous releases. “Bologna Penis,” the seventh track, is a pretty tame title compared to its earlier company of “I Ate a Luna Bar and My Dick Fell Off” from 2010’s Clown Core or “Google Your Own Leaked Nudes” from Toilet. 

Whether you consider Clown Core to be performance art making profound social commentary, a talented duo of musicians with a gimmick or even your own worst nightmare, they are undeniably difficult to ignore. Van cements this identity. The project reminds the world that Clown Core is conceptually unique, sonically sophisticated, intentionally grotesque and — most of all — a ton of fun. 

Contact Sarena Kuhn at [email protected].