Haunting Gothic Americana from Clara Engel
Toronto dark folk songwriter Clara Engel has put out a series of excellent singles and short albums over the past several years: her new one, The Lovebird’s Throat is her best yet. Four track on it, all of them streaming at her Bandcamp site.
Not Knowing is just spare skeletal fingerpicked guitar and vocals. It’s the closest thing here to your standard singer/songwiter fare, but it works because it’s a mystery. The person Engel’s so worried about could be lost in the woods, washed into the river…or on their way back to to the death camp with some potatoes or a barrel of kale. Song to the Sea Witch (Disembody My Voice) is a suicide ballad that vividly calls to mind early Patti Smith. Engel artfully adds reverberating, atmospheric layers of acoustic and electric guitar, keys and bells as the song builds from hypnotically haunting to imploring and insistent:
A girl is crying in the racket of my nerves…
Disembody my voice
Let the river fly up to the stars
And I’ll never look back
And I’ll never look down
The two remaining tracks are even darker. Married to the Bone begins as a gothic folk dirge and then rises with Engel’s elegantly echoey, reverberating guitar lines against Humanwine drummer Nate Greenslit’s stark, funereal tom-tom beat and a relentlessly macabre low cello pedal line by the ubiquitously interesting Valerie Kuehne. Engel’s flurrying dead-girl choir midway through will make you jump because you’ll never know it’s coming. The final, slow anthem, Lovebirds sets Engel’s surreally menacing lyrics to stately broken chords played through awatery Leslie speaker effect, with pump organ, creepy music-box piano flourishes and spiky banjitar that mingles rustically into the mix. As gothic Americana goes, it doesn’t get much darker or more interesting than this.