Their Invisible Hands by Clara Engel is an album you must hear, with its collection of engaging and immersive songs, and excellent musicianship.
Release Date: 15th April 2022
Label: Self Release (Bandcamp)
Format: CD / Digital
Clara Engel’s new album was recorded and mixed at home in 2021, with all the songs and instrumentals written and played by Clara, excepting the words to O Human Child which Clara notes are taken from W.B. Yeats’ The Stolen Child”. Clara plays an intriguing range of instruments on the album, including, cigar box guitar, talharpa, shruti box, melodica, found percussion, tongue drum, and chromonica.
The opening song O Human Child, with words by W.B. Yeats, sets out the album’s ambitious musical palette. There is an intuitive building of musical landscapes using voice and instrumentation, which seems able to distill human experience and emotions, and the context for these, in an unadorned and imaginative way.
Across the twelve remaining tracks, there are many highlights to experience. Murmuration has a shimmering refrain played on the cigar box guitar, accompanied by some stunning languid drone sounds (possibly the talharpa), that add a sense of dormant apprehension, that is always close to the surface of the song. Clara’s voice sweeps over this musical soundscape, cascading a string of beautifully evocative words, that seem to capture both hope and apprehension:
“starry basin/ silver minnows/ frozen rapture/ school of echoes
void and ocean/ drop your anchor/ light will move you/ just follow after”
The song builds to a dramatic instrumental climax, with eerie sounds flying out of the mix, and the bowed sounds of the talharpa elegantly bright in the forefront of the music. Clara has made a fascinating video about the equipment used on the album (the link is at the end of this review), and describes with Murmuration, utilising the Black Fountain guitar pedal which locks in a very rhythmic sound, and being “really happy with how that worked out.” The results are indeed exceptional on what is a standout song on the album.
I Drink The Rain has a dream like quality to Clara’s voice. Flowing with the brittle guitar and echoing and rumbling sounds that ascend and then fall in the lower registers of the sound mix, the words create a haunting and restless sense of being.
Cryptid Bop, one of several instrumental tracks on the album, has a hypnotic quality, with a badinage of percussive sounds, looped around a gentle melody. The gradually building stringed parts, commence in the background, and then almost imperceptibly come to the fore. The spaces left for the instruments to weave around the central musical motif is quite breath-taking and draws the listener in.
High Alien Priest is a lament, told in storytelling form, where the musical mix of deep bass notes, tumbling guitar chords and skeletal harmonium like passages, seems to conjure up a sense of deep hurt. Clara’s voice holds a matching emotional range, that is both expressive, and like another instrumental layer to the song. The Party Is Over, in complete contrast, has an engaging country and western mood. The vocal seems to convey a resignation and expression of disappointment with fleeting experience. The vocal performance here in fact is quite perfect, stretching out to make every note of the sparse instrumental backing count, and to ensure every word in the song has impact. Clara’s voice quite magically ascends as the music gently increases its intensity. It is a finely nuanced performance, and a track you will almost certainly keep returning too.
The Devils Are Snoring, is the final track, and is a wonderfully drawn ambient soundstage, where the instruments create a swirling musical mist, from which a simple vocal refrain emerges:
“it’s raining / it’s pouring / the devils/ are snoring”
This album is a rewarding and immersive listen, and the hallmark of an artist who offers an authentic and compelling musical vision. I hope this review will encourage you to seek out and explore some very fine music.
It is important to also note, that Clara, commendably, has taken a path of developing an independent space for their songs, music, and art, where the direct relationship with their listening audience is paramount. Utilising the Bandcamp and Patreon platforms, it is the type of approach that is developing new creative possibilities for musicians to develop their work and the relationship with their audience.
You can view the videos, for Drink The Rain (excerpt) from the album, and Clara talking about the equipment used on the album, here: