Clara Engel has always thrown down the gauntlet to their listeners. On Their Invisible Hands, Engel’s fourth album in three years, they draw things out with an album spanning over 13 tracks and 72 minutes. These are the kind of the numbers that will make most of the new generation shudder in fear, but this is of little concern to the Toronto experimentalist.
Always creating new images and concepts of sound, Engel is one of the most interesting songwriters in this space, mixing electric folk wanderings with misty soundscapes, which creates an abstract, new world atmosphere. There is little doubt that Engel is a world builder, and what a world it is.
While last year’s Dressed In Borrowed Light and 2020’s landmark, A New Skin, showcased Engel’s new lockdown find, the cigar box, while still prominent on Their Invisible Hands, Engel adopts a wider array of sonic mechanisms; the melodica in particular featuring prominently. With the unnerving thrum of opener, O Human Child, Engel leads us through a foggy labyrinth of echoes and drones. And this milieu continues.
With Dead Tree March and later with Ginko’s Blues, Cryptid Bop, and Rowing Home through a Sea of Golden Leaves, Engel breaks up their own form of ‘conventional’ songs with a series of instrumentals that feel like a cold wind blowing through an empty town.
As with Engel’s previous works, there is heavy use of fantastical juxtapositions which project varying tones and blurred imagery (eggs hatching in the skies – Golden Egg; the fire’s tongue licking skeleton trees – I Drink the Rain; grabbing a donut on the way to heaven – Magic Beans). It’s evidence of a unique mind, as Engel conjures up vibrant snapshots like no other.
And the height of these beautifully bizarre contrasts comes in the way of High Alien Priest. For a start, any song with such a title can’t be anything other than good, and High Alien Priest is no exception. A story of an alien driving a convertible and showing up to a bar bearing bruises, it’s a wicked metaphor for a song containing multiple meanings, and one of Engel’s finest yet.
Following on, and while Glass Mountain and the Party Is Over sees Engel using the cigar box as their key weapon in a sequence of wispy static folk numbers, The Devils Are Snoring finishes Their Invisible Hands in a similar way to which it began. Through that murky maze of sound, Engel keeps us firmly entrenched in this fractured world of surrealism.
Their Invisible Hands is a record that draws from Engel’s finest elements of the past, tying them together in a series that, despite its length, would very much be the perfect entry point for those unfamiliar with previous offerings. In many ways it’s a record Engel has always threatened to make; now it’s here, those already absorbed in Engel’s vivid sound world won’t be disappointed.
Their Invisible Hands is out Friday. Purchase from Bandcamp.