Updated: Jan 1
Winter Solstice / The Great Conjunction 2020 (December 21st)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Folk Noir / Holy Blues / Singer-Songwriter / Dreamscapes 🌌
They provide introspective poetry and phantasmagorical soundscapes for us to survive the long nights to come.
How does Clara Engel continue to craft astonishing gorgeous works romanticizing the dark reality of things through fantastic folk noir? I can’t say for sure… certainly physical experience, sharpening their mind, and maybe a touch of cosmic aura! With all things considered, 2020 was a wonderful year for them within the recording realm with two full-length albums: April’s Hatching Under The Star and, being the focus of this review, December’s A New Skin. Clara’s music floats in a mist, honest and true, providing hidden wanderlust passages of yearning, majesty and rejuvenation. This latest instalment incurs us into a deep ethos of self, especially with challenges evermore.
This album is for everyone... no matter your musical preferences are. At the time of this writing, we are closely surpassing Year 1 of the COVID-19 global pandemic. I believe a common feeling found in us all is that we are losing connective humanity in ourselves through certain ways than none. You will find no better calmness or contemplation in solitude with the pieces Clara as collected together on A New Skin. But really, you would not be alone metaphorically while listening by candlelight with the winds of winter brushing outside, contemplating the essence and importance of life in quarantine and separation. These songs bring an introspective hope and a mesmerizing sparking to the shrunken temporal plane.
A New Skin perfectly encapsulates this isolated paradigm, as Clara Engel plays and records all the instruments themselves at home, a complete reversal to the collaborative nature of Hatching Under the Star. The sound spectrum is no less tarnished with lack of diverse timbres, only highlighting the creativity Clara has using their voice and electric guitar as the main purveyors. It brightens forth evermore the surrealism in their genre-evading experimental folk songs. The unique usage of melodica, harmonica, the new addition of cigar box guitar, along with the simple effects applied to them, rises the haunting radiant atmosphere to strange thought-provoking lands, all to support their vocal performance and beautifully surreal lyrics.
The beautiful perplexing collection begins with “Starry Eyed Goat” [Watch the music video below]. Clara entrancing us with their rich strumming chimes from the cigar box guitar and their luminous warmth of a voice, spinning verses of time eternal in a macabre scene. We can see the ghostly figures drift and vanish across their words and their calls refract their existence through the melodica.
Time and nature are recurring themes bonding A New Skin together, as we see in our slow walk beside frozen diminished plants in “The Garden is Sleeping”. Electric guitar resonates with hope and tranquility across the sleeping flora in winter. Clara gently reassures us of the majestic flowers’ living phenomena with enchanting contours. We need patience for life and wonder to return.
“It’s a sad and beautiful world.” A phrase that holds so much truth to it. “Little Alien Lost” has us wonder the ethereal unknown woods of emotions, set in an arrangement with simple voice and guitar accompaniment. This shows that a minimalist environment can be elusively mighty, and Clara has the ability to conjure it. As if finding clarity in Wonderland, the melodica returns as the love-lost alien searches for that miracle in the distance.
Down the rabbit hole of our psyche, we fall into the darkened dream-state dance of “Gossamer Knives.” Clara Engel plays guitar effected with bounding delays and textured low and mellow in an aqueous heavenly state (It is among my favourite timbres on this album). Unconsciously connected, Clara serenades us on the acceptance of the finite and our mortal coil, and not to dabble on what can not be made perfect. An otherworldly yet real experience if I have ever heard of one.
“Night Tide” partitions A New Skin to new destinations, starting with a romantic threnody for the departed at sea. Washings of reverberated waves are prominent beside Clara’s guitar finger patterns, singing of the caring nature of the underworld queen with harmonic siren cries at their back.
“Thieves” takes us away high into space above the upside down world, and we dance with them in an elegant waltz of solar and precious jewels. Darkened guitar keeps the 3 beat time shining with distant harmonicas giving out comet trails and twinkling sliding cigar box guitar. Clara has exceptional vocal expression, lingering on words, reaching cathartic peaks, wavering tremolo notes and delicate usage of melismas, and “Thieves” is a good song for us to hear this in the void of outer space.
In a royal and gentle manner slit with ominous violent lyrical undertones, Clara opens us to new perspectives and the reversal of fortunes in “On Nightingale Wings”. A dichotomous overlapping is heard here: moonlight shimmers and shivers from the guitar’s soul bleeding into a lavish soundscape on the horizon, while Clara speaks of seeing enraged chaos of inequity in the eyes of the Queen of Hearts with a simple melody phrasing.
We end our experience with the powerful title track “A New Skin.” Raining emotion from their essence, Clara sings of personal strength and resistance, protection and preservation. All the attributes of the songs before it are collected and grow together here, giving birth to a substantial blossom, gently opening into a sensational poem of uplifting catharsis. We are allowed to be enveloped within the harmonic progressions between vocal passages and to imagine the visual cues Clara gives us. And halfway, they give use a spring in magical serenity, with a change in harmony and the materialization of a multi-track choir! We are allowed to sing along if the feelings drive us to for the remainder of the song, as the instruments fades and rests while keeping the choir paramount until the very end.
An effervescent spirit in this spatial plane, Clara Engel is a kind expressive soul who composes mystical vibrations and prose on the twilight border of reality and fantasy. Within A New Skin, we are presented with their ever-changing visions and rationalizations at a cold uncertain time… and what a beacon of soft-glowing light it is for us to cherish 💖