VISITORS ARE ALLOWED ONE KISS by Clara Engel
Genre: Psychedelic Folk, Singer/Songwriter
Favorite Tracks: “Swans,” “Swallow Me,” “Once a White Owl”
One of the hidden pleasures of Bandccamp 2016, Clara Engel’s VISITORS ARE ALLOWED ONE KISS is a haunting sunset reverie. A self-described composer of “crepuscular hymns,” the associations of twilight carried by that descriptor couldn’t be more accurate; this is liminal music in the best sense of the word, caught between a rugged rurality and the unsettling scope of a magnificently incomprehensible spirituality. The blues, which are a clear influence upon Engel, have always carried a certain intimation of dark mystery, crafted in the nigh impenetrable Deep South, where the dying dregs of several strands of folk mysticism still manage to hold onto life. Engel is able to tease out this sense of raw, archaic faith into a powerful release that is as gripping as it is deeply unnerving.
“Spiritual” is a description that gets applied far too arbitrarily to modern music, but upon hearing the first notes of “Swans,” listeners will realize that there’s really no other way to satisfactorily describe Engel’s release. Feeling as if it were recorded in the moss-covered nave of a church long left to rot, Engel’s intimate, smoky vocals quietly spin a tale of vaguely ominous imagery over a sparsely plucked guitar and slight touches of drone. It’s a deliberate, understated start to a deliberate, understated album, but while VISITORS ARE ALLOWED ONE KISS may lack a sense of urgency, it more than makes up for it with its construction of a steadily shifting and hypnotic aural palette, as both “Uneasy Spirit” and “Swallow Me” can attest to. The former starts off with a masculine tribal beat with an accentuated low end before a modest guitar riff joins the festivities and slowly builds to a climax of vocal layers and fervent ambient noise. The latter begins with a rattling bass drone highlighting Engel’s dark, sacred voice before hypnagogic synth flutters and a somewhat Carnatic horn instrument round out the sound. All three songs are utterly captivating and sound like nothing else that’s been released this year.
Considering its sparse tracklist, VISITORS ARE ALLOWED ONE KISS could only afford one misstep, and thankfully, it’s a minor one. “I Love An Evil Queen” is the most traditional song in both the sense of its roots in the intimacy of the blues and the general presentation of a singer/songwriter, but what makes Engel stand out on the first three tracks is the fact that she’s able to add so much additional substance to these more traditional formats, rendering this particular track’s runtime a bit of an effort to get through. However, the issue is immediately resolved with closer “Once a White Owl,” a gallows march to the hangman’s noose that makes use of a melancholic guitar riff and ghostly, ethereal harmonics that could have walked off of a space age pop record. It’s a perfect end to a strikingly minimalistic album that proves that you can make impactful music with just a guitar, a voice, and a little help from your friends.