Wednesday 10 February 2016

Review: Clara Engel - 'Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss'

'Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss'


Pulling together contributions from fourteen collaborators, this record manages to become a fully formed organic entity, the third mind in action. There is no info on whether the contributors recorded their part in person or if they sent their tracks in via the inter-tubes, but from the first second the ambiance gives a vivid impression of the sounds having been captured in a bare room in an old house. The way this creates a space in which the listener hovers like a ghost is quite extraordinary.

Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss starts ravelling its threads from the first second of 'Swans', a sound poem of slow motion disaster enveloping like an inescapable dream. The beauty of the experience only serves to make the horror all the more poignant and profound. "Uneasy spirit let go of me" Clara Engel sings on 'Uneasy Spirit', but its grip is tight and cold, even as the sound is as hot as the breath of the hell-hound on our trail. The arrangement is deceptive in how it leaves so much space. Two guitarists, backing vocals, percussion and ambient sounds are layered the way a master painter will layer dozens of layers og glazes to create graceful and flowing image. On 'Swallow Me' Clara Engel's vocals hover above the martial pulse and portentous drone like an angel intoning promises that come across equally as threats as assurances. Salvation or perdition, what is held out to us, and which brings the greatest ecstasy? We don't know. The symphonic swell of violin, flute, saxophone, marimbas and vibes that build to the end impel the listener onward like fate.

Life on earth is a temporary, miraculous impossibility. Even the presence of life itself is a blip in the forward motion of space-time. 'I Love An Evil Queen' encapsulates the human condition using the  light of this thought in projected shadow puppet forms of handed down folklore. Our existing is impossible, humans plan and god laughs. In the wreckage even a malevolent monarch is loved. Herein is the promise of redemption that is eternal and wield a might even the expansion of the universe can not match nor outlast. Owls symbolize mortality in many cultures, and the sound of an owl is said to warn of imminent death or to bring messages from the realm of death. We feel this keenly from 'Once A White Owl'. The ghostly bird flies in and opens up the mind's eye to revelation. This is the last step in this world and the first step into initiation. Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss comes to an unsettling, eerie conclusion here, the following silence heavy with its echoes.

The space inhabited by this album acts as a power centre of intersecting ley-lines of disembodied stories that whisper into the ear of the listener. The characters weave through the shadows of the space, desiring to be heard. Also intersecting here in this quiet space are the traditions born in the Mississippi Delta and the Ozark mountains, feeding a powerful, slow burning creation. It is within the economy with which every aspect is built that repeated listens reveal the treasures the contained in the songs. Listening feels deeply personal while also gorgeously apocalyptic.

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