Clara Engel: Where a City Once Drowned: The Bethlehem Tapes Vol. II (REVIEW)

Where a City Once Drowned: The Bethlehem Tapes Vol. II is an album from Toronto singer-songwriter Clara Engel. The record has an experimental sound that is equal parts dark folk and drone. Each of the six songs are melancholic but also laced with a twinge of hope.

 

While listening to this album, I kept thinking how similar the tracks were to Chelsea Wolfe’s quieter songs especially on the album The Grime and the Glow. Clara’s vocals are just as haunting and captivating as Wolfe’s but also seem to push the boundaries of experimental music.

 

The opening song “Mayfly Day” has an eerie sound that makes the listener feel both reflective and uneasy. Clara’s voice is ethereal over the chimes and drone of the guitars. The line: “Mountains of bone sleep under cement” creates an ominous feeling that things are not right but maybe that is ok. “At Night They Race Through the Stars” is a lovely song with a mellow guitar riff that blends in with the gentle sounds of the cello. Clara’s lyrics are striking in how they are able to create a story in the listener’s mind.

 

“Baba Yaga” is a haunting track that is named after the supernatural being or witch of Russian folktales. The song has a spooky feel as Clara’s vocals rise and fall over the soft picking of the guitar. “Land Animal” finds Clara’s vocals in harmony with Tsinder Ash who plays the banjo on the track. Their vocals produce an atmospheric ambiance to the track that is quite a pleasure to hear.

 

“Metamorphosis” opens with the quiet strumming of the guitar before Clara’s vocals enter. You can faintly hear the sound of strings in the background but the focus is on the guitar. The lyric “Scrabbling and clawing for love” truly caught my attention especially with the intense emotion that is coming from Clara’s voice. At the end of the song, the gentle humming aptly closes the track. Clara effortlessly paints various pictures on the song “Open a Door” as they set vivid scenes that you can clearly see. My favorite lines are “Open a door there’s a pulsing red-lit cathedral/ the heart is buried underground/safe from the breath of frost.” 

 

Where a City Once Drowned: The Bethlehem Tapes Vol. II is an album that is perfect for cold winter nights or dark rainy days with its pensive and somber sound. Clara does a great job of constructing images that the listener can distinctly see on many tracks throughout the album. The guitar is the driving force behind all of the songs and sets the mood for the record. Overall, I recommend this album and I know I will be listening to it again as the fall season approaches.

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