Clara Engel – A Pound of Flesh (In Particulate Shards)



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Look, I don’t like doing this any more than you should like reading it, but I’m writing this from the top deck of the 91 bus and time is tight. Besides which, these comparisons have merit so listen up.

This sombre thrum reminds me of Kristin Hersh’s “Hips and Makers”, although it lacks the distracting histrionics and breath-catching emotional leaps of that record. And that lack of dynamics may be the song’s ultimate undoing – its length and deep pulse link it to REM’s “Low” but even that doleful epic unleashes some power from time to time. There’s echoes of Maria McKee’s voice but none of the chaos or glam behind it. And I can sometimes hear a link to the gloomy balladeering of Nick Cave, maybe enhanced by some of the darkly evocative lyrics (“I watch the straw men burning”, “turn your heart into a blackbird”).

There is a pleasing rhythm all the same, a richness in that lowest note on the cello which presses each line home. That occasional plinking of the guitar (a technical term, underused) provides welcome decoration but I can’t help feeling the bass could have had a greater part to play. I remain unconvinced as to the need for the “particulate shard” as well. The mood is consistently conveyed, the playing solid, the production uncluttered. With some more contrast it will be interesting to hear what comes next.

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