Published Jul 30, 2019The latest release by Toronto-based experimental folk artist Clara Engel is difficult to label. Where a City Once Drowned: The Bethlehem Tapes Vol. II combines elements of folk, experimental and drone music into a 34-minute experience that somehow feels both improvised and orchestrated.
Engel's songs are layered and complex, featuring a variety of string instruments — including banjo — that flit between steady guitar notes and synth hums. This is music for late-night driving or personal reflection; it is chill and thought-provoking, but never dull or boring.
The album's six songs share the same basic structure and tempo with variations in melody and instrumentation. The lyrics are reminiscent of Walt Whitman's free-form verse, full of abstract observations and themes that circle and double-back throughout. The album creates the feeling of being a witness to Engel's spiritual journey, rather than recipients of a specific message.
The vocals are slow, drawn-out contemplations that feel rooted in the moment. The album has an ethereal quality — appropriate for an artist who describes their work as "crepuscular hymns." Engel's album is chill rather than engaging, and is well-suited for meditative and passive listening. (Independent)