Clara Engel: Your Halo is a Swarm of Bees
Polar Seas Recordings

Clara Engel's six-song EP is about as stripped-down as music gets, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying on listening grounds. In her own words, Your Halo is a Swarm of Bees is the sound of the Toronto-based songwriter “improvising on electric guitar one afternoon and hitting ‘record' on a field recording device. These lo-fi unpremeditated sounds chronicle my mind's movement as I wade through the demoralizing dregs of 2016.” Issued by Polar Seas Recordings in a limited, fifty-CD-R run as a hand-numbered card-stock booklet, the eighteen-minute release complements the musical settings with four lovely pen-and-ink drawings by Engel, the cover image representative of their style.

Citing influences from Virginia Woolf and Jim Jarmusch to Meredith Monk and Jacques Brel, Engel's work has been referred to as “folk noir” and “minimalist holy blues from another galaxy,” but with the EP being vocals-free it's the latter characterization that more applies in this case. Even if the six pieces (untitled save for Roman numerals) were recorded in the afternoon, they often exude the lonely mystery of middle-of-the-night reveries; it's easy to picture Engel sitting in a darkened room gazing out on a deserted Toronto street at 3 A.M. with no sound present but that of her quietly resonant guitar, its reverberant strums and tones wafting gently through the air. The mood is generally peaceful and the effect soothing, and even when a track such as the fourth is no more than a minute-and-a-half long, it still manages to tell a compelling and memorable story.

January 2017