Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss
Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss is available at:
Folk; Experimental; Gothic Blues; Other
Uneasy Spirit– 9.4
Swallow Me– 9.5
I Love an Evil Queen– 9.5
Once a White Owl– 9.4
Swans; Swallow Me; I Love an Evil Queen
Minimalist avant-blues hymns originally recorded for solo guitar and voice, with contributions from musicians around the world.
Clara Engel voice on all tracks, electric guitar on 1, 3, 4, acoustic guitar on 2, 5.
Siavash Amini guitar drone on 4
Aidan Baker electric guitar and bass drone on 5
Bryan W Bray electric guitar on 2, 3
Tomathy Daly Chandler bowed baritone guitar, saxophone on 3
Leah Dolgoy autoharp on 5
Nate Greenslit percussion on 2, 5
Heidi Harris ambient sounds on 2
Thor Harris flute, marimba, vibes on 3, vibes and xylophone on 5
Dash Lewis modular synth, backing vocals on 1
Dominic Marion electric guitar on 4
Adam Matlock accordion, viola harmonics, backing vocals on 2, accordion on 3
Meg Mulhearn violins on 3
Armen Ra theremin on 5
Phoenix York: modular synth and field recording on 5
Engineered and Mixed by Mitchell Girio
All Songs Written and Performed by Clara Engel
Toronto, Canada 2015
A while ago I placed an embargo on the musicians…
of Canada- after receiving an influx of review requests. Being a subscriber to a Canadian music P.R. company- the name alludes me- so many bands were contacting me for reviews- all based out of Ontario, it seems! After a while I had to step aside from Canada and concentrate on acts elsewhere- which is something that will change today. Having unsubscribed from said P.R. company; today I get to feature an artist I am already familiar with- one of my favourite acts from the past couple of years. Before I introduce Clara Engel; I was promoted to mention new Canadian music; unique approaches to music launching- in addition to the melancholic side to music. For a start, Canada is one of those countries- which I mentioned in my review yesterday- that is under-the-radar at the moment. The obvious music candidates- the U.K. and U.S. – get all the spoils; other countries have to suffer somewhat. Given its proximity to the U.S.; it is baffling Canadian music does not get more exposure in the media. Maybe people assume (the music here) is not going to be effective or note-worthy; they have stereotypical views on Canada itself- that pervades their expectations. Over the past year I got the chance to review some fantastic Canadian bands and artists- they have such a range and nuance to the sounds. It is refreshing stepping away from home to discover new music; Canada does things differently when it comes to the sounds- something I will touch-upon a little later. Over last year some particularly strong Canadian bands were making their names known. Montreal-based The Franklin Electric and Vancouver’s Dear Rouge sat alongside Rueben and the Dark- Toronto’s Brave Shores were of particular note. Toronto- as with Vancouver and Ontario- are very busy and productive when it comes to new music. Sad-reflectors New Fries were making waves; Princess Century, New Chance and Jazz Cartier were impressive too- solo artists Ebony and STACEY dropped some incredible music. This year there is going to be a lot of great Toronto acts to watch closely. It seems the city has a unique way of working; a bustling and supportive music community that promotes ambition and difference- resulting in some incredible sounds and results. Whilst areas like Ontario are perhaps synonymous with bands coming out at the moment- there are some great Hard-Rock/Alternative acts emerging- Toronto is fascinating me with its solo talent. Sound completely alien and different to that of U.S. musicians; what you get is music of the highest caliber- really original and daring stuff at times. That is not to say nations like the U.S. and U.K. do not produce such great music- it’s just the case Toronto musicians cannot readily be compared with anyone else. Before continuing on this theme- and introducing a couple of new points- let me introduce you to my featured artist:
“Based in Toronto, Canada, Clara Engel is an independent, multi-faceted artist and musician. She has independently recorded and released eleven albums, and has collaborated with musicians and artists from the UK, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Turkey, Iran, and the US. Engel’s music has been played on Italian National Radio, as well as BBC Radio 2, making it onto Tom Robinson’s show “BBC Introducing” on several occasions. Her music has been described as “folk noir,” “minimalist holy blues from another galaxy,” and “sung poetry.” Her voice and guitar stylings place her singularly on the genre-map, somewhere between avant-garde torch singer and gothic-blues artist. Her influences span genres and media, amongst them are Vasko Popa, Virginia Woolf, Theodore Roethke, Jim Jarmusch, Arvo Part, Meredith Monk, Robert Johnson, Gillian Welch, and Jacques Brel”.
Engel is an artist that has seen her music played across the media and international radio- somebody with an assured and long career ahead of her. It is hard to pin-down her sound into a genre: some have described it as ‘Folk Noir’ others going for ‘Gothic Blues’- our heroine is an artist with a singular and unique sound. To be fair, the music she produces flirts with various genres and takes in a lot of musical ground- one of few artists out there that is adventurous and that ambitious. Too many musicians now tend to play in a certain genre without expanding their horizons and sights- it leads to a rather predictable career. I do enjoy seeking musicians out that have a singular sound and resonate in the mind; those that have authority and command whatever they play- I am always more compelled by artists that present something unexpected and cross-pollinating. When discovering Clara Engel- I first encountered her last year- I was amazed by her voice and the music she performed. There were dark and shady avenues; a lot of hope and light in those songs- poetic and otherworldly at times. There are few artists that do things quite like her. When it comes to lyrics, she has an intelligent approach that results in some wonderfully rich stories. Imaginative and immersive, it is impossible not to be dragged into the songs as they unfold. Backed by a rich and multifaceted voice- that can go from light and airy to grand and sweeping- make her music among the most essential you will ever hear. Canadian musicians impress me with their work ethic and way of doing things. When reviewing the bands Terrorista and Outer Rooms; I was amazed by a concept they produced: doing a split-cassette release. The two bands each took a lead on one song- whilst the other band did backing- and put that two-song production on a cassette-only release. I have not heard a band (recently anyway) that has released a cassette- it seems quite a strange thing in this digital age. A charming and unique way of selling the music; we need more acts like this. Clara Engel is releasing her new five-track E.P. on C.D. and cassette- another Canadian musician taking music back to its roots. Whilst her songs are available across SoundCloud and YouTube; I was impressed by the physical release decision- few other musicians are as forward-thinking and bold. In a time where every new songs seems to bypass C.D.s and makes it way onto music-streaming websites; I worry we have lost music’s heritage and anything physical. I love album artwork and the beauty of an actual product- something you can hold in your hand and play. When you get a C.D. you can spot the detail and work on the album cover; the time and attention that goes into its creation- something rewarding for the music fan.
Before investigating Clara Engel’s latest release; I thought it would be prudent to have a look back- and see how her older sounds compare. Violetta is a Mad Bird was unveiled a year ago and was a track that struck my hard. Such a haunting and memorable vocal; you get that spectral guitar propelling the song- creating an odd atmosphere and shadow entrance. That central vocal gives respect to the music- lets it play and create its atmosphere- before coming into the fray. A quivering and emotive performance; evocative imagery and an entrancing overall- you have a song that remains long in the memory. Demonstrating her lyrical prowess- able to fascinate and compel with few words- you have a song that is very hard to ignore or forget.
Harvest was released around the same time (as Violetta’) and shows that stunning musicianship and sense of drama. Our heroine wants to “feel the thunder”; she wants to taste the harvest- her words are elongated to create a wonderfully haunting atmosphere. I use the word ‘haunting/’haunted’ a lot; it is always a compliment- music that gets inside of you and stands you to attention. Gorgeous and funeral-like; the track is slower and more emotive than Violetta is a Mad Bird– you get contrasting sides to the Canadian songwriter. The composition has eeriness to it- quite subtle but hugely powerful- whilst that central vocal is utterly beguiling.
Turkish Love Song is another gem from Engel; it begins with finger-picked guitar and a beautifully tender mood. Our heroine has been crying- exhausted and in need of some hope and salvation- with that vocal once more becoming quite central to things. A track that shows openness and soul-bearing; it is never too personal or singular- every listener can get a sense of what is being sung. The track is quite minimalist and sparse- a lot of Engel’s songs are- which gives it an intimacy that few other musicians are capable of doing.
Over the past year Engel has increased in confidence and inspiration. Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss is more adventurous with compositions. Not betraying her past; you can hear that original voice/sound- instead new elements and threads are brought in. The new music sounds more fascinating and deep than previous work. Engel’s vocal is also more varied and nuanced too. The compositions take in more Blues strands to create something layered and different: existing fans will love the new songs; new fans will be drawn by the range and diversity that is present. With exceptional production values throughout; it is an E.P. that shows development and new sides to Engel- whilst retaining her individuality and core sound. This rate of progressions means future releases will be exciting indeed. I am not sure whether there are more releases mooted for 2016- or if touring and promotion is on the agenda- but I cannot wait to see more material from the young artist. Her latest release proves she is one of the most singular and stunning musicians in all of music.
The first notes of Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss come in the form of Swans. After initial distortion and echo a sharp and plinked electric string emerges- giving some initial urgency and fascination. As that introduction develops and continues; our heroine comes to the microphone to deliver one of her most still and sensuous (if that is the right word?) vocals to date. As with every Clara Engel composition; the lyrics conspire deep thought and interpretation. The opening lines talk about being “carried by swans” over “land and sea”- nothing moves beneath or above the trees. Those initial sentiments provoke some vivid images and dream-like scenarios. Maybe referring to some wracked emotions and helplessness- perhaps the song’s hero/heroine is feeling detached and alone- there is that feeling of being helpless and calm at the same time. One part of my thinks about serenity and entrancement- blissed-out and floating away- whilst the other looks at another side- perhaps there is a sense of self-destruction and anxiety that is being created. The composition consists a funeral electric string sound that creates quite a haunting and gothic sound. The vocal is queen and is allowed to reign free. The lyrics become more fascinating as the song develops. Into the next verse (the hero/heroine) is carried over “an oil slick beach”; the sky’s bright tendrils are torn “like a mandrake’s red howl”. The poetic and oblique nature of the lyrics gets me thinking about harrowing possibilities and the upsets of life. Our heroine separates herself from the lyrics- I am not sure who has influenced the song- and passionately projects her words. The song’s subject is “carried by thieves” and seems to be completely adrift- what has created this turmoil is not sure. Perhaps a relationship has broken down- maybe this is the vision of a nightmare- but you get gripped and enthralled by the lyrics. Lines such as “a plough runs through the fire” provokes some strong possibilities: maybe the subject is trying to achieve things they can’t; life is turning into something unexpected and unforgiven. Whatever the origins and truth of the song- whether there is any autobiography in there- you are captivated by that vocal-and-lyrics combination- one of the most affecting Engel has ever produced. This is one of the most straightforward of the tracks across the E.P.- when it comes to the composition; there is just that continuing electric sound- it does not vary or employ any new shades. What you get is a still and emotional tracks that draw you in and makes you wonder what it is all about- Engel demonstrates what an exceptional and intelligent lyricist she is. The song finishes off with our heroine proclaiming that we “are feasts for the birds”; swans will fill the sky- you get such atmospheric and dark images; something few other songwriters bring into their music. Whereas a lot of contemporaries go for simplistic and cliché ideas- looking at love and break-ups- Engel is more oblique and memorable; this song can mean so much- you are always trying to dig into its mystique and possibilities. By the closing notes you are still imagining those images and lyrics; what they are pertaining to- your head in spin. A triumphant and stunning start to the E.P.
Whereas Swans boasts a rich lyrics book of deep thoughts; twisted poetry and staggering images- with a simple and direct vocal/composition- Uneasy Spirit is a bit of a contrast. Engel chooses to use the sophomore track as a mantra of sorts- certain lines are repeated for effect and sensation. The initial moments are reliably captivating. A soft and building composition employs tender guitar strings and a pattered percussion. Being a song that exceeds six minutes- one of Engel’s longest efforts- it takes its time to build and breathe. The line “uneasy spirit let go of me”- the song’s mantra and gravity- is elongated at the very start; a breathy and overwhelmed sound that sees our heroine under its spell. With her voice smoky and gothic- ensuring every syllable and word hits the mark- you have a performance that is at once sparse and bare; you get plenty of emotion and layers to that performance too. Whilst Engel rarely directly talks about love and passion- keen to keep cards closer to chest- you get some semblance of love/heartbreak in the lyrics- maybe I am over-reaching once more? Our heroine wants to be laid in the sand; her heart has taken more than it can stand- is she talking about the dissolution of a relationship? Maybe life is getting heavy and suffocating; there is that desire to go somewhere tranquil and safe- be taken away and drift off. Whilst Engel does write lyrics that are darker and more anxious than most- a lot of the music showcases suffering and the need to escape- you do get redemptivenness and beauty in her music. That central voice is always intoxicating and dramatic; the lyrics are never one-sided and too literal- you can interpret events your own way and conclude your own mind. Mystical and spiritual; our heroine’s voice floats and hovers over the composition- again quite a bare-naked beat that drives things; otherwise it is just her. It is said (this uneasy spirit) is choking her; her lover cannot reach her- maybe the spirit is an uneasy feeling or argument? Whether she is using this spirit as a metaphor for life’s struggles and quibbles between sweethearts- or a vision that arrives to her when she sleeps- you sympathise with her and the intensity offered forth. In the final moments we get the vocal multi-tracked to create greater intensity and meaning- the song becomes more of a chant or battle cry as it develops. Camped out under the stars- “vault of stars and a petrol shroud”- simultaneously inspire romantic visions and something quite frightening. That intense-hopeful mix pervades until the final moments; the listener again wonder about the song’s origins- left breathless by the emotions and heartache being poured out.
For those looking for emotional relief- and a song with joy and uplift- might want to look elsewhere. Those that appreciate the true beauty and appeal of Engel’s magic; Swallow Me possesses plenty of stunning aroma and stark images; poetic beauty and entrancing vocals. Again we are looking at a first-person interpretation; our heroine wants to be swallowed whole- “your limbs will blossom into rain and snow”. Whether Engel is using herself in the song- and that need to be engulfed- or she is part of nature, I am not sure. One of the most vivid and dramatic songs across the E.P.; you get a performance that is completely in awe and immersed in the music. “Swallow me and your brain will bleed” it is said. You start to wonder just what those could reference- is it a relationship or emotional connection? Is it a nightmarish vision? With every Engel song, you are never given the true origins of the music- just left to arrive at your own decisions. As the track progressed, I became more invested in the words- those images really do stick in the imagination. This song sounds like a tribal call; something you would imagine sung around a campfire at night- our heroine alone and imploring to the skies; wanting space to take her away. We get snow and ice; we get tangles of eyes and wings- topped off with a “deep dust sea”. With every passing verse and arrival you get a progression of the story; a chance to interpret once more- Engel has some of the most nuanced lyrics across all of music. Keeping her voice fairly unwavering and straight- plenty of beauty and dreaminess to be heard in those tones- you get another song that is immediate and ethereal- that begs for renewed investigation. The composition provides some electronic howls and pseudo-bellicose percussion; simple and unadorned enough to allow that voice to rule and be heard. With the final verse in view- and promises of the trees speaking and the grass singing- I went back to thoughts of love. Maybe Engel is referring to a lover and the need for their heart/passion to swallow her- only then will the positive reign and she will grow as a woman. Maybe she is in a lonely place of confusion and insipidness- that burning desire to ignite a flame and be adored. The song continues to amaze and intrigue into the final moments- our heroine always desperate to find closure and satisfaction. I keep speculating what the ‘swallow’ part of the song refers to- whether it is a need to find great love or struggling with a harrowing dream- but that is the nature of her music. Another one of those songs that demands you keep listening again and again- to get to the bottom of its true mysteries.
I Love an Evil Queen arrives in typically still and calm manners. Our heroine loves an evil queen; she wants her kingdom burned- you start to wonder again what is being ascribed. “You can do whatever you please” is attributed to the evil queen- as she lets the kingdoms burn and freeze- and my mind started to look at an emotion being described- rather than another person. When singing about being overcome and submissive; perhaps our heroine is bereft and in need of some hope- perhaps overcome by the challenges being thrown at her. The composition here is more developed and stand-out than previous numbers. Almost on a level with the vocal; you get uplifted strings and flourishes that add light and deeper emotions into the song- something almost romantic in its own way. Pounding on the looking-glass; our heroine draws us into her fantastical and dream-like soundscape- another track that immerses your soul and begs you come along for the ride. Whereas previous songs have a heaviness and suffocation to them; I Love an Evil Queen seems a little more accessible to newcomers- a good track to start off your investigation of the E.P. When singing “Will you let me in before the hour has passed?’ you are almost drawn to images of therapy and session-in-progress. I jut away from hat pretty quickly but then stray to evaluate that decision. Maybe the song looks at depression and that feeling of being overcome and frozen. Maybe the song is an outpouring or confession; a chat with a trusted professional- a chance to make some breakthrough and find answers. Whatever your interpretation; you cannot ignore the hopefulness that comes out in the voice- perhaps a need to change things for the better and find some hope. Our heroine’s fevered cheek needs soothe and cold; she is reaching out to this force- my mind starts to wonder just what is being ascribed when these words unfold- and subject. Although our heroine loves the evil queen; it is almost counter-intuitive in its proclamation- always fascinating to try and unpick the mysteries of the lyrics. Those Blues guitars- quiet subtle but capable of producing a quiet storm- work wonderfully with the vocals; perhaps there is a pining for some urgent percussion- just to give the track that extra kick and acceleration. By the closing moments you are left wondering and conspiring once more- Engel never freely reveals her motives and truths.
Once a White Owl comes to bring the record to a close. In terms of introduction and composition we get a familiar sound and a consistency- ensuring the track builds and builds as it progresses. Tending to employ urgency in the lyrics (rather than the composition) you have a song that once more has detailed and fascinating lyrics. When the white owl came down we (the heroine and her subject; maybe the population itself) couldn’t see- the sun folded upon itself. There is an effective and atmospheric guitar that builds in the back; propelling the vocal and helping to drive the mood. In the first verse you get near-apocalyptic ideas and images; the owl came and made its nest- taking “your father’s eyes and your mother’s mouth”. Perhaps not as literal as it is intended- or maybe it is- there are again potential for dream-imagining and haunted emotions. The E.P. seems to be a collection of dreams and visitations; collections of poems with Gothic twists and entrancing ideas. Being led to a window ledge- coming down to give your life “another name”- you start to imagine this bird and what it represents. One of the wonders about Engel is the way she can write such poetic lyrics that have some common touch too. They are never intangible and too distant; you can always extrapolate burning emotions and something deeply human in them. The song looks at playing with fire and lurking danger- common themes across the E.P. – that is delivered with a typically assured and level-headed vocal. Our heroine never lets her emotions get the better of her; she seems almost Zen-like in her delivery- completely at ease with what is happening. The composition never overcrowds the vocal; instead you get another song that puts the vocal up top- allowing the song to truly resonate and affect. By the closing moments you take in everything that has come before and try to get to the bottom of things- a strong and mesmeric way to end a fantastic record.
Congratulations must be given to everyone involved in the album’s creation. From the autoharp and bass done to the E.P.’s closer to the modular synth on its opener- you get an E.P. that has stunning musicianship and performances from start to end. Each player- whether they provide strings or bass; electric guitar or classic touches- adds to the vibrancy and colour of Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss. The musicians on the E.P. have been sourced from around the world; you get a rich variety of sounds and artists- adding a cosmopolitan and universal touch to the music. Mitchell Girio engineered and mixed the album; bringing all the themes, instruments and vocals together- making it such a rewarding and nuanced work. With Engel taking control of the lyrics and music- bringing in a trusted and noteworthy name to mix the E.P.- you have a collection that seduces and impresses at every stage. The lyrics are among Engel’s most impressive and detailed. Each number leaves its impressions and compels the listener to dig deep and come up with their own interpretations- songs demands you listen again to try and get to the bottom. With vocal performances that mix haunted and overcome with hopeful and fighting- you have a musician that has spent a lot of time and attention on the music. I know these songs were formulated/imagining a while ago now- some began life in 2014- so there has been a long gestation. If you have not encountered Clara Engel in full flight; Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss is worth serious time and attention- a perfect place to begin.
Having been immersed in some heavier and more energised music recently; it is good to discover an artist that brings the beauty back. A lot of people seem to get put off when you describe an artist as ‘melancholic’ or ‘reflective’. They will instantly attribute those words to something depressive and off-putting. If you change your views and open your minds; you discover music that is incredibly touching and immersive; it goes deep inside the soul and provokes something personal- each listener will take something different away. Too many musicians get caught up in making impressions with sound and energy- rather than feel, depth and lyrics. Clara Engel’s new E.P./mini-album is a five-track collection that is expansive and immersive. Whilst the songs are quite long and in-depth, you get a true and detailed insight into one of music’s most fascinating writers. By the end of things you want the music to carry on- such is its effect upon the first listen. It is that combination of lyrics and vocals that really struck me. Engel is a poetic and intelligent writer who is capable of projecting epic scenes and wonderful imagery with very few words- one of the best lyricists on the block right now. As a vocalist you get such an entrancing and unique voice; no other singer sounds like her- although Engel is inspired by other singers and artists. Before wrapping things up I wanted to return to my previous points about Canadian music and a unique approach to music-making; finish off with the importance of beauty and depth. It has been a while since I have properly explored Canadian music- restricting myself to avoid being formulaic and predictable. With so much attention being paid to U.S. and U.K. music; more people need to focus themselves away from obvious areas. Canada is a musical economy that is not gaining the attention it deserves. If you are a fan of good bands; you have a huge array of stunning examples to choose from. If you want heavy and hard-rocking sound- you are sorted and catered for. Whether you favour something more Electronica or Pop-based; that is okay as there is plenty to choose from. Pretty much any genre you can like is represented in Canada- the sounds change from city-to-city. Whereas a lot of American and British acts stray too close to mainstream sounds- and lose their individuality- Canadian artists are much more determined to be unique and who they really are.
Engel is one of those artists that is hard to compare and define. One of the most impressive musicians emerging at the moment; her sounds are those that take you off your feet and somewhere quite wonderful. With so many vague and shallow sounds being produced; it is wonderful to discover artist with a real love for music and the effect it can have. Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss is a collection that shows huge confidence from the young Canadian; someone who improves and stuns with every new release. I was not surprised to discover such a force of nature based in Toronto: it is a city that is showcasing some of music’s most staggering artists. I have never visited Toronto- it is a definite place to see this year- but I am guessing there is a wonderful music climate over there. Given the acts and sounds emerging there at the moment; you can only imagine just how supportive and all-inclusive the music scene is. Perhaps (artists here) are not suffocated by media expectations and overcrowding- the same way artists in the larger cities are- which is leading to some astonishing music. Engel is an artist who fits into that scene and is producing music of the highest calibre. Having opted to – at the first instance anyway- release her E.P. on cassette and C.D. (before a digital release; if there is one); you get a musician that wants to bring music back to its roots- something physical and real. Given the fact her music is quite a physical thing anyway- and elicits something primal and soul-bearing- it seems only right she has made this decision. So much of music gets washed away and distorted in the digital machine. Perhaps it is that purity and soulfulness that gets taken away- I always prefer my music on hardware. It may seem like an odd thing to raise but a valid point none-the-less. I love music that has an energy and force to it; something that can get the feet moving and the head nodding. When it comes to the other side of music- and plumping for something more settled and beautiful- it is equally rewarding to discover something pure and emotional. Too many people assume melancholic and sensitive music will be hard-going and depressive- avoid it and go for something more reliable. If you think this way you will never really understand music and get a full impression of its potential. Clara Engel is one of those musicians that possess such beauty and seductiveness; her music digs into the soul and begs the listener to lose themselves in the music- why would you ever resist or ignore that? If you get a chance; please get hold of Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss– a collection of songs that sound utterly entrancing and essential. Check out Engel’s music and…
LET it take you somewhere magical.
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