6th June 2017
Mention Surrealism and the chances are Dali will be the first – and perhaps only – name mentioned by many. Breton, Ernst, Magritte may follow, but the chances are few would likely mention Beat luminary Brion Gysin, who was ejected from the Surrealists on the eve of a major exhibition. The fact of the matter is that Surrealism covers a broad territory, and is represented by myriad lesser known – although by no means lesser value – artists in all media. Leonara Carringon may be competitively obscure – as, indeed, are most women in Surrealism – but the English-born Mexican artist was both a painter, and novelist, who not only received an OBE but is also notable as being one of the last surviving members of the 1930s Surrealist movement, living until 2011.
This album (originally released by Wist Rec) is based on Carringon’s works, and the accompanying text quotes lines penned by Carringon: ‘Ice ages pass, and although the world is frozen over we suppose someday grass and flowers will grow again. In the meantime I keep a daily record on three wax tablets. After I die Anubeth’s werecubs will continue the document, till the planet is peopled with cats, werewolves, bees and goats. We all fervently hope that this will be an improvement on humanity, which deliberately renounced the Pneuma of the Goddess.’
Clara Engel, meanwhile, has built quite a body of work, and has also featured on a number of other works, including Aidan Baker’s Already Drowning in 2013. This is album is not overtly Surreal in its sound or delivery, but then again, it does forge an atmospheric depth that reaches into the subconscious and the further reaches of the listener’s psyche.
From the chiming minimal post-rock leanings of ‘Birdheaded Queen’ to the delicate, almost folky ‘Anubeth’s Song (Burn Eternally)’ (although it’s more the arboreal, ancient folk patina of latter-day Earth than anything most would recognise as ‘folk’), the album’s five compositions explore the spaces between the notes and use them to pull the listener in almost imperceptibly.
Soft piano notes and delicately-picked guitar are the primary instruments which provide the backdrop to strong imagery of animal devourment, transformation, and otherworldliness, not to mention infinite intangibles depicted in the most visually engaging of ways. Engel draws together a mesmerising, magical vocal style with compelling yet understated approach to arrangement and lyrical composition. Simple motifs and structures accrue power through repetition.
‘Microgods of the Subatomic Words’ is a splendorous work, brimming with rippling, shimmering electronic atmospherics over a solid but restrained rhythm. ‘The Ancestor’ is slow and sparse and ponderous: echo-laden guitar notes ring out into the thick air and hang, slowly resonating.
Engel’s voice conveys emotional depth, is rich and possesses an ethereal otherness, a kind of disembodied, abstract spirituality that’s haunting and deeply evocative. Exquisitely played and beautifully nuanced, it all combines to make for an album which is subtly strong.