Clara Engel – Sanguinaria: Album Review

New album Sanguinaria is another creative landmark on Clara Engel’s always fascinating musical journey.

Release date:  Available now 

Label:  Self Release (Bandcamp)

Format:  Digital/limited edition CD and Cassette

Clara Engel’s Bandcamp page has a really apposite quote from the artist: “I’m not writing the same song over and over so much as writing one long continuous song that will end when I die.”  With the new album Sanguinaria, musician and visual artist Clara Engel, from their Toronto, Ontario base, continues a uniquely distinctive journey, that with each release guarantees a never less than brilliantly immersive and intriguing musical experience, underpinned by a dazzling range and level of skilled musicianship. 

Sanguinaria, contains a suite of songs, written, performed, recorded and mixed by Clara, playing an array of diverse instrumentation including, electric cigar box guitar, acoustic guitar, talharpa, gudok, cajón, wooden trunk with soft mallets, tongue drum, and melodica. In a wonderfully reflective written introduction to the album on Bandcamp, Clara describes the resonances and symbolism to be found in the music, describing the songs as:

 “Songs that reach beyond themselves, with a longing to be transformed, reabsorbed, to transcend the boundaries of self, social order, interpersonal pain, and become part of a more boundless and mysterious whole.”

Sing In Our Chains opens the album. Musically, the listener experiences a gently swirling ambience that flows around Clara’s poetic vocal. The instruments seem to gently move to the front of the mix and then almost imperceptibly recede back. It creates a meditative pulse to the song that is completely irresistible.  Poisonous Fruit, speaks to some aspects of the conceptual title of the album, Sanguinaria, and in particular the complex interaction between humanity and nature. It is a more rhythmically defined track, with plucked and bowed musical phrases accentuating Clara’s blues-tinged vocal, which also has an elegiac quality. The result is a musically and lyrically compelling lament that lingers on, even after the last notes have drifted away. 

Deathless, the lengthiest track on the album, is a quite marvellous song. The harmony vocals are quite superb, and the hypnotic instrumentation offers resonances of the great musical pioneers Can, at their angular best. The more than six and a half minutes allows the instruments to breathe and develop, and effortlessly fill the spaces around Clara’s voice with a pastoral wistfulness and pinpoint rhythmic patterns. 

Extasis Boogie (Interlude), featuring Brad Deschamps on lap steel, adds into the musical mix, a soulful pop sensibility, that quite thrillingly has a dance ambience. It is musically very upbeat and engaging, and evidences this album’s ability to excitingly change pace rhythmically and harmonically, in an ever-developing musical palette of sounds and vocal stylings. Personne, in contrast, has a beautifully languid build up, where echoing and bass driven instrumentation pushes towards a crescendo, as it sympathetically accompanies a perfectly paced and spoken word-like vocal, that sprinkles an intriguing series of metaphors over the song. 

The closing track, Larvae, is a lovely conclusion to the album. It features Clara’s unique ability to organically fuse together multilayered vocal and instrumental arrangements into an exquisitely flowing song.  This then is another very fine album by a very gifted artist who has the courage to follow their own creative vision and trust their artistic instincts. It is highly recommended, and if you are not familiar with the work of Clara Engel, a splendid introduction to their music.  You can be assured that once acquainted with this artist’s remarkable musical creativity, there will be more superb music to explore, both from a great back catalogue and of course future releases.                  

You can view an early video for Poisonous Fruit here: 

For more information about Clara Engel: Bandcamp / Facebook / Twitter

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