Clockdust, the third album from Rustin Man, the moniker of former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb, comes along as a bit of a surprise. It took six years following the last full-length by his previous band .O.rang in 1996 for him to settle into a solo career, with the release of 2002’s Out of Season, a haunted folk album recorded with Portishead vocalist Beth Gibbons. And it wasn’t until 17 years later when its follow-up, Webb’s first proper solo release Drift Code, finally hit the streets.
Buoyed by the same swell of inspiration that helped create Drift Code, this new collection arrives less than a year later. But it also appears colored by the death of Mark Hollis, Webb’s bandmate in legendary post-rock group Talk Talk, last February. There doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation between that momentous passing and the music and lyrics found on Clockdust—at least none that Webb has owned up to in the press material for this album. But what hovers over this lovely, late-night listen is the unavoidable passing of time: a nostalgic filter through which each groggy gem should be viewed.
Nowhere is that better expressed than in contemplative opening track “Carousel Days.” The title alone evokes rosy days of youth, but over a spray of piano chords, Webb sings of the body breaking down and hiding away from the world. By the time the rest of the backing track—a boozy shuffle tinged with muted trumpet and clomping percussion—slumps into view, he’s drawing up sunnier memories and then quickly undercutting them: “It was such a thrill / I don’t know how we could just lose it.”
That sets the tone for the whole album—an autumnal vibe marked by Webb’s downcast lyrics and cockeyed rhythms (provided by former Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris) that rarely get faster than a slow stroll. But for all the dark shades coloring the edges of Clockdust, the album never comes across as morose or melancholy. This could be attributed to Webb’s production acumen: By recording primarily in his home, he gave these songs the relaxed warmth of a fireside cuddle. Even at its most psychedelic (see: the dub blasts that cut through “Night in the Evening”), the album feels caught in the same hypnagogic swirl that artists like Pram and labels like Ghost Box call home.
It’s also something to do with Webb’s voice. He sounds entirely untrained and carries a tone somewhere between Robert Wyatt and UK TV presenter Jonathan Ross. But it’s exactly that strange, pillowy sound that helps temper the blow of his stringent lyrical sentiments. He sounds much older than his age (58), lending a haunted, sepia-toned quality to lines like “We were good before / Cooing and kissing and looking so fine” and “Let him lay out in his moment of doubt / Before his poor consciousness can regain.” It’s like sitting at the feet of an elder relaying bawdy tales from his youth.
Clockdust is also the kind of album that will likely get snowed over by the many big-ticket releases popping up around the same time. It was made humbly with zero expectations beyond, as Webb put it in an interview around the time of Drift Code, making a batch of songs that he wasn’t going to be annoyed with. And its release into the world follows suit, with only a video to show for his promotional efforts and concert dates that won’t happen until November. So don’t be surprised if Clockdust is the last new music we hear from Webb and Rustin Man for a good long while, and cherish this warm blanket of an album for as long as you can.