Posts Tagged ‘singer-songwriter’

11th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Elanor Moss seems to be drawn to water, but not necessarily in the most soothing of ways. You’re more likely to find her gradually sinking than floating on the crest of a wave of soaking in the soothing ebb and flow of a coastal tide. Her debut release, the five-track Citrus EP finds the York-based artist reimagining Millais’ ‘Ophelia’ for the twenty-first century on the cover art, while the video for ‘Soundings’ finds her awash and adrift in a bathtub, water threatening to plunge into her mouth as she sings of her ‘Drowning / the sound of my heart / As I’m sounding / the depths of this whisky jar’.

If the metaphor is obvious, it’s also highly effective. The sensation is relatable. When things become too much, and you start to feel overwhelmed… drowning is the closest simile in the common vocabulary. While few of us have actually experienced drowning, there’s an innate sense within all of us of what it would be like – struggling for air, to stay afloat. Most of us have felt that way at some point, and the beauty of Moss’ art is articulating it so succinctly.

According to the bio, ‘The Citrus EP is a collection that addresses the tension that arises within yourself when you need to muster the courage to will yourself well again. The protagonist in this collection of tracks is someone teetering on the edge of pulling themselves out of a hard time, resisting ‘getting better’ with force. You go with her through a series of unfortunate events; each one she knows full well what is happening but does anyway. But this is not a hopeless record, not at all. Their reflections from the other side and recorded from a place of empathy, strength and kindness towards a bruised past self.’

I’m not about to press the alignment of art and artist, and knowing nothing of Moss beyond her art, I’m in no position to comment on whether or not her life informs her art, but it very much feels like she’s speaking and articulating and assimilating her experiences through her songs, where certain themes recur, subtly, but undeniably. ‘I want to drink ‘till I’m too drunk to think’, she sings on ‘Sober’, while on ‘Soundings’, she croons that ‘this whisky is burning’. ‘His breath was like a heart attack / the whisky stung me like a slap’ she recounts on ‘Citrus’. But not to dwell on this unduly, the songs are ultimately positive, empowering, and the realisation of the songs is magnificent, balancing sparseness and directness with multiple layers of vocal harmony and reverb. It’s a slick production, but one that doesn’t impinge on the intimacy of the songs and their delivery, essentially centred around acoustic guitar and voice. Only a fraction below the layers and reverb is a collection of acoustic folk-flavoured songs that are raw, sincere, and relatable. Citrus is bittersweet, and-pretty special.

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20th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

More than I dislike talking politics or sport with colleagues and strangers, I feel most uncomfortable talking about music, because unless their leanings are, it’s almost guaranteed that we won’t hare similar tastes or knowledge. Usually, it’s a case of my hating everything they love, and their not having heard of anything I listen to. There’s no middle ground there: even if I feign an interest, nod and smile, where is there left to go?

And so I do often wonder about press releases, specifically the influences artists cite. In the more fringe fields of obscure metal, ambient, and electronica, esoteric reference points abound, perhaps because to an extent obscurantism carries a certain coolness and cachet. In more commercially-leaning circles, the opposite tends to be true. Artists aiming for a broad acceptance tend to cite artists who are well-known to the point that they’re essentially household names.

This isn’t to single out Jack Caine by any means, but his listed influences – Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Arctic Monkeys, Joni Mitchell, The Smiths – feels incredibly ‘standard’. Are these really his influences? Maybe – it could really be that most people who make music listen to the same well-known artists. I also have a personal discomfort with citations of The Smiths, a band I loved with a deep passion in my teens, but have since struggled to relate to in my thirties and forties, and with their memory sullied by the colossal twat Morrissey has confirmed himself to be.

Of course, even music that is very much an evidential sum of its parts should be judged on its own merits, and while ‘derivative’ clearly bears heavily negative connotations, the assimilation of tropes and absorption of influences is, in itself, no bad thing per se. It’s all in the delivery, and for all this, ‘All in a Day’s Work’ is an accessible, melodic middling tune with hints of classic vintage indie and pop when pop wasn’t slick, manufactured, mechanised, digitised – and it’s well-executed. It has spirit, it has soul.

Building from a muted electric guitar played clean, over which Caine paints a kitchen sink scene, the bass begins to get twitchy and the muffled drumming begins to push things along and you just sense it’s going to break sooner or later… and then it spills. It’s a great single, with dynamics, energy, and emotion, and hooks.

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5th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ontario-based singer, guitarist, songwriter, and visual artist Clara Engel has been keeping busy: Hatching Under the Stars is their thirtieth release, and follows just over a year on from Where a City Once Drowned – The Bethlehem Tapes Vol II.

Engel’s songwriting style is subtle and understated, but there’s detail in the arrangements, and they imbue each composition with undercurrents that belie the soft, smooth surfaces. Many of the songs on Hatching Under the Stars share a common theme that links in with the title, with oviparous creatures – mostly birds, as represented by ‘Oiseau Rebelle’ and ‘Old Feathered Devil’, but also the occasional reptile (‘Baby Alligator’) – dominating an album riven with wildlife, ranging from ‘Little Blue Fox’(foxes are notorious raiders of nests for eggs) and ‘Any Creature’.

The instrumentation is sparse across the album’s nine lengthy songs (most it between six and eight minutes in duration), placing Clara’s exquisite voice as the focal point, although there’s a delicate and wistful-sounding slide guitar break and the song builds in both volume and depth in the second half.

‘Oiseau Rebelle’ is slow and haunting, the elongated notes undulating approximating an otherworldly birdsong that sends a chill down the spine. Departing from the album’s overarching thematic, the acclaimed early Modernist artist Marc Chagall is the dedicatee of ‘Preserved in Ice’, a sedate, reflective piece built around a cyclical guitar motif augmented by woodwind.

‘Let me out of this cage,’ she pleads in a soft croon on the eight-and-three-quarter minute ‘Old Feathered Devil’. ‘Let me run around the growing lake / until the morning comes / and I’ll be on my way.” It sounds like a sly deception, somehow, and Engel’s lyrical mastery lies in their ability to slide into different personas. Deftly, and by stealth, they ‘become’.

The version of ‘Little Blue Fox’ here is a completely different recording from the ‘Little Blue Fox’ EP: over a minute longer, it’s slower by miles, and more ethereal, subtle harmonic notes peak above the rolling picked strings while distant beat rumbles almost subliminally in the background.

While Engel’s majestic vocal is the most captivating feature on the album, it’s the way they work it around the quietly hypnotic musical motifs that makes Hatching Under the Stars so special, and listening to the album and allowing it to flow through conjures a reconnection with nature. Listening now, locked down and closed in, recalling stumbling over a urban fox on my way to work early one morning less than a month ago, the creatures of the wild feel like another world.. but as Engel reminds us on the final song, ‘The Indifference of Fire’, ‘mystery will carry on without me’… and so does life. And through it all, nature always wins.

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Ici d’ailleurs – 27th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Matt Elliott’s solo work released under his own name is a world apart from his output under the Third Eye Foundation moniker. However, as the press release reminds us, he’s ben flying solo for a while now: The Calm Before, released four years ago, was his seventh solo effort. Farewell To All We Know is not the storm his previous album, The Calm Before alluded to, but nor is it an entirely mellow affair either. There are currents that run deep and perturbed in Farewell To All We Know, an album that leaks a certain sense of despondency which is often hard to define. It’s all in the mood.

The title track, which arrives after a brief instrumental introductory piece, is representative of the album as a whole: sparse acoustic guitar is the primary accompaniment to Elliott’s Leonard Cohen-esque growling drone. He sings low and mumbles his lyrics, but there’s something appealing about this gruff unintelligibility. Oftentimes, the vocals are emitted in monosyllabic breaths, breaking the words down to simple sounds, at which point they become less about linguistic meaning than the conveyance of a feeling, a mood, an emotion.

Flamenco favours and understated piano colour the instrumental slant of the album, giving it an almost continental hue. The soft, vaguely romantic – but bleak – stylings of the compositions are charming, sedate but with an undertow from currents that run dark and deep.

‘Can’t Find Undo’ is dark, stark, and brings a rumbling ambience as a prelude to the almost nursery-rhyme sing-song melodies of ‘Aboulia’ and the scale-driven ‘Crisis Apparition’ is easy on the ear but still drags on the soul.

Farewell To All We Know is a lugubrious and at times slow to the point of dragging effort, but one feels that’s the intention: this is not a pop album. Or a rock album. Farewell To All We Know is bleak and harrowing, but also charming and enjoyable in a dark, dark, dark folksy way.

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