EP review: Clarice Jensen – ‘Identifying Features’: a second, delightful leftfield venture into filmic cello

The Breakdown

Always beautiful, Identifying Features is, until those closing melodies, oftentime detached but always nuanced, textured, deliciously sonorous - corresponding with the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, a landscape seemingly without end. It's another winner of an EP.
130701 8.0

WAY BACK in January we took a dive into Ainu Moisir – our full review can be found, here – a deft, brief quarter-hour of exploratory cello and electronica meshing and also a first entry into the world of the soundtrack for Clarice Jensen, the artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

The titular film in question was a coming-of-age tale set in Northern Japan, in which a community‘s livelihood depends on performing ancient traditions for visiting tourists; and the tensions arising from that for a young man both born into that tradition and seeking to chart a course for himself in a nation also famed for its hypermodernity. Across the quarter of tracks she composed, she brought lo-fi piano shimmer, cutting-edge cello flame, languid tonal apricity. It was a beautiful, concentrated moment, of which we were moved to say: “Each piece herein suggests many hours’ worth of other directions which I’m so eager to hear pursued. Brat that I am, I need these five tracks to last, oh, would a couple of hours be OK with you, say?”

Her path into soundtracks began as cello gun for hire for artists as gilt-edged and disparate as Michael Stipe, Taylor Swift, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter, Björk, Stars of the Lid, Joanna Newsom, Arcade Fire, Blonde Redhead, Frightened Rabbit, Beirut and Nick Cave – and that’s not even a complete list.

She released only her second album under her own name last year, the glimmering, cyclical dronescape of The experience of repetition as death, her debut for FatCat’s experimental classical imprint 130701, which also issued Ainu Moisir.

Now, the year darkening to its end cycle, she’s sallied forth again to provide the music for a film; this time out it’s the Mexican independent feature Sin señas particulares, or Identifying Features, to give it its alternate, Anglophone name. Both written and directed by Fernanda Valadez, it looks at immigration across the Mexican/US border and the tragedy of those who either die or disappear en route north.

Most of the film’s main characters are mothers desperately trying to track down their lost children. Magdalena is one such mother; she hasn’t heard from her teenage son Jesús, who set off to make the crossing months before. In attempting to discover his fate, she becomes unwittingly enmeshed with cross-border traffickers and descends deeper into that dark, criminal underworld. We’ve a short trailer for the film for you down below, and underscored, of course, by Clarice; it’s been garnering acclaim globally, looks beautiful; sounds beautiful, too.

Once again Clarice presents a quartet of tracks, 19 minutes in all, this time; it was recorded at home in Brooklyn. once again plays across the interface of cello and electronica, and is gorgeously dronesome.

Clarice Jensen

It begins in a return: “Back To Mexico”, the attempt to cross, presumably, short-lived; to which Clarice brings low, sonorous, ominous tones, in call and response, at first, those sombre, rich and woody frequencies answered in a brighter, higher scale, and there’s all that luxurious overtonal decay to explore, the track paced as slow as breath; eventually, the two mirroring streams converge to form a mighty flow of drone-tone, subtle shifts in the current pulling at your consciousness, surge and placidity, surge and placidity lapping with increasing, glorious intensity before resolving in one powerful, undulating humming sea of bowed strings.

A shorter corresponding piece is the following “Back To Miguel”, named for the missing, errant son; a sketch of less than two minutes’ duration, there’s a lot herein, both inside and outside the pocket; curlicues of echoing, descending melody fall within a still landscape of sustain and drone and subtle dissonance. As with Ainu Moisir, there’s a sense that this piece stretches way out either side of the window we’ve been permitted to eavesdrop through.

“The Devil”: parched, shifting, sands of drone evoke a towering stillness, releasing with tempered power in bass, panning and moving across your vision, humming with latent malice, and crumbling beneath your feet as you look skyward to prettier, singing melodies above. There seem, at points, to be lost souls singing a lament within the tones: the vanished of the border tale. The sun of the cello is inescapable, inexorable, out here in the liminal zones of the country, with the occasional oasis of sad melody here and there.

A second, all-too-brief EP of excellent, nuanced evocation concludes (of course) with “The End”, which fizzes with a kind of dark calm above a hazy, optical illusion of resonance, hot air rendered liquid and kicked up among the dust, slowly diminishing, pulsing, rising again in staticky bass tone. sudden new flourishes of rich melody seeming to offer something much more humanistic to step out and away on.

Always beautiful, the EP is, until those closing melodies, oftentime detached – corresponding with the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts that the border bisects; a landscape seemingly without end, subtle yet unrelenting, seductive; swallowing.

Identifying Features is another winner of an EP, so deep where others may be more concerned with maximum temporal bang for one’s buck. Both Clarice’s soundtrack EPs are only available digitally at the moment, but you’d hope there was scope for a compilation of them in the offing on physical formats at some point in the not-too-distant. That would be a lovely thing; a lovelier thing, fashioned from lovely things.

Clarice Jensen’s Identifying Features EP will be released digitally by 130701 this Friday, October 29th, and will be available across digital streaming platforms.

Connect with Clarice elsewhere on the web on FacebookInstagram, and at her website.

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