There is music that you put on to simply enjoy the groove, the rhythm, the melody. There's music you put on to have something in the background. There's music you listen to in order to relax and chill-out. There is music you put on to be exhilarated by the emotions it creates in you.
There is also a sort of music that conjures up images of strange places, melodies that bring to life sceneries you've not encountered previously.
Such type of music, I hear in the songs by Canadian artist Clara Engel.
Born in Toronto and currently residing in Montreal, she has been releasing music independently for several years now. She is also a visual artist and writer. The album I got to listen to, courtesy of Clara, is Secret Beasts.
Clara comes from a varied background, with her Quebecois parents having English Irish Scottish and Russian Polish Jewish roots. That's a great recipe for making some interesting music, eh? But seriously, this of course doesn't necessarily mean anything, particularly if one doesn't have both the talent and the drive to create music. In Clara's case, she has created something unique and beautiful. A mostly self-taught musician, she began toying with a classical guitar in her early teens. She mainly composes on guitar. She sings (or vocalizes, if you will) and does so in a very haunting manner with her deep, low to mid-range voice with which she goes up and down with and even comes up with scary half-screams (such as in Ghost Opera). The singing is at the forefront of her music (in this album at least) and sets the mood while being backed up by the rest of the lineup.
Speaking of lineup, the music is rather minimalist, hence the prominence of the vocals. The music can be scary, yet mostly, as I mentioned in my opening, it is slow and ponderous, odd and eerie but also hypnotic and intense, theatrical yet also with a raw and primal feel to it, as if coming from the very core of her being.
The music might sound abstract, but it is not; it is composed and while seemingly avant-garde (avant-singer/song-writer perhaps, wink-wink), it has roots in blues and folk (just slowed down).
Some high points on the album for me are To Be Without, Lick My Fins, Madagascar (a stunning piece with short passages of horns and an emotional climax) and Blind Me (perhaps the most "straightforward" song here with gorgeous choir singing).
In an interview for Subversify in February this year, interviewer Grainne Rhuad asked her this, which I found very interesting as I think of this often with regards to music - when is a piece you compose finished or not:
"Grainne: You describe most of your work as unfinished, sketches of a moment. Do you do this on purpose? Did you begin to recognize others filling in your unfinished work with their own stories? If so how do you feel about this?
Clara: I said that in 2009 I think. I don’t agree with myself now. My aesthetic happens to strike many people as stark. So I was trying to defend my work by saying: it may seem unfinished, but it’s meant to be that way. Now I don’t explain or defend the form of my songs, I just write and play them. I don’t work with musicians who are compelled to fill in every space. It’s a very abstract notion, to finish something. When your life is finished it means you’re dead. Maybe I just want my work to stay living, mutable. I love space, and silence is so important in music. I like it when people find their own meaning in my songs, and it’s thrilling when someone covers one of my songs and makes it their own. That’s happened a few times now, and it really pleased me. In terms of the openness of my work, I’d say that resisting a singular meaning or stance is a perfectly valid stance. I want my songs to remain open to new interpretations, not to be bound to a singular story, and they’re definitely not diary entries."
There is an additional interview here.
You can stream her music on her Bandcamp here.
Clara has set up a pledge fund (like Kickstarter in the USA and Pledge Music in Europe) to raise money to record her next album here.