Prolific songwriter Clara Engel has stretched and discovered her mastery and potential over a span of eight releases, each more sure-footed and stunning than the last. Laying her unique voice and vision in just-so and free flowing ways, each bearing a masterpiece’s humble flaws and timbral expeditions worthy of a Tom Waits comparison, in spirit if not in roughness of tone. Her latest EP, The Lovebird’s Throat is no less a heart-rending work of compelling and candid beauty. Unabashedly earnest, while maintaining an aura of strength and barely constrained power, these four songs roll out before the ears like a dark and complex diorama. There’s an arc here, one that is gratifyingly human and naked while keeping behind gauzy layers the suggestions of dissonance and mystery, a modernist fantasie that hushes and stills the petty anxieties of an urban day and does what music can do best, transports the listener into another frame, the guide of a skillful hand and voice taking the soul farther into uncommon lands.. a perfectly paced and emoted release.
Opener “Not Knowing” is a spartan song, using only closely mic’ed vocals and electric guitar, lyrics dealing bluntly with the simple and universal feelings of loss and yearning for contact from a lover. Listening to this simple and gorgeous tune, I realized it is for all that a country song.. one could even imagine a version sung by Lucinda Williams. Following this candid lead, we take a small step back and watch the curtains draw wider on “Song to the Sea Witch (Disembody My Voice)” . As the song begins, we’re introduced to Engel’s second tier of vocal ability… which is ample, but what really strikes is the play between restraint and emotion, something that really appeals to me and something I’ve always loved about some of my favorite singers like Peter Murphy and Michael Gira. The instrumentation becomes denser and darker, as a gothic guitar motif first is adorned with mellotron-esque strings and then a sudden drum beats appears, builds and the song is propelled over the proverbial mountain. “Married To The Bone” is a hypnotic, ever-building spiritual. How she manages to incorporate didgeridoo and percussion on this track and sidestep the inherent cheesiness of say.. Dead Can Dance (sorry!).. is beyond me, but wow does it ever work here. I think the vocals, which bare some snarly punk teeth halfway through offsets the palette so all elements jive perfectly. The voice swoops into psychedelic discordant siren calls at some point, definitely offering frissons. As I said, in Engel’s music, surprises and mystery are always at play. As the penultimate track ebbs from view, closer “Lovebirds” starts mirroring the simplicity of the opening song, yet with leslie effects oscillating the guitar. Bit by bit through this glacial, elegiac coda, adornments are introduced; some kitchen percussion, a single piano note, a banjo riff (and not once, thank fuckin’ god, is there a glockenspiel) uplifts in major resolving key into a brighter, more open place than where we began. The interlocking placement and repetition of themes in here bring to mind Ladies and Gentlemen -era Spiritualized.
In four deceptively complex movements, the curtains close and we feel like we’ve been somewhere.. The Lovebird’s Throat , achieves that perfect balance of introversion and universality. It has huge appeal but in a candid way, a way that commands attention and patience. This isn’t music to drive do the dishes to.. Clara Engel continues on this latest release to invite us to take part in her own brave and adventurous forays and create what’s almost become an anachronism of late: music that is meant to be sat down and listened to. This should be heartening and anchoring to most that this is possible and we are lucky enough to share in this gift. You can purchase The Lovebird’s Throat straight from http://claraengel.bandcamp.com/