Article by KevW
When we last featured Toronto singer-songwriter Clara Engel on the site it was for the release of two EPs in quick succession, and she hasn't slowed down a notch. Last year saw more new recordings, and 2015 has already brought the 'We Are Not Here' original soundtrack. This latest EP is one of the more interesting of all her releases though, comprised of home recordings with very little production. There was a time (and it doubtless continues) whereby hardcore fans of a band or artist would "much prefer the demos" - mainly because they knew almost every person they spoke to had no access to such material. Well, the internet began to snuff that privilege out years ago and bands often upload unreleased material in live or demo form. Then there's the whole lo-fi scene which has bombarded us with indie bands deliberately under-producing their music to try and be cool. Yes, sometimes this works, but often you wish they'd stop being so contrived.
What Clara Engel has done here is just that. These songs are sparse, raw, and most definitely lo-fi. But, you know what? They're all the more magical and otherworldly because of it. This isn't just the scree of some electric guitar and a heavily distorted vocal, this is an intimate glimpse into the working practices of an artist with genuine talent; she doesn't need to hide behind poor production and heavy effects to sound good, she sounds good anyway. 'Hey Mortal' is delicate and heartfelt and leaves you listening intently, a little bit like the cock-eared dog on the HMV logo. Einstürzende Neubauten's 'Sabrina' is covered in much the same fashion. You can hear the raw, untouched emotion in the voice and the gentle reverberation of the strummed guitar, and it's these attributes that make the song seem like her own. There's (ever so) slightly more to 'Undulating' as the whole song appears to shimmer like the most gentle wall of sound you'll hear. Again, you just stop and listen. Perhaps most intriguing of all is 'Down by the Salley Gardens' which is based on a WB Yates poem and is as ethereal as anything you'll hear this year. Appearing at first to be just vocals, the song is filled with an eerie echo of quiet noise that sits in the background as we're given a traditional folk tale that's sung and phrased as if to emphasise that it didn't come from Clara Engel's side of the Atlantic. All the lo-fi pretenders could learn a lesson here; no, you don't need glossy production, but neither do you need heavy effects. Real talent will always win though in the end.
Clara Engel's website
Stream or buy the EP
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