The songs of Clara Engel gradually accumulate in empathetic weight. The guitar repeats a single sentiment until I understand it, patiently waiting as I acquaint myself with the rhythm of the fingers and the grave pendulums of melody. At the core of each of these five pieces are kernels of profound and bleak truth, which drive themselves into my stomach through persistent assertion, solidifying as they recur again and again. These are the haunts that won’t leave; the doubts that seep into the folds of the mind, humming ominously during sleepless nights. Is she indulging these troubles in order to exorcise them? By embracing each of the melodies in turn – tilting and turning inside ballads of morbid, slow-motion blues – is Engel allowing them to pass through?
If this is the case, Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss captures the moment of greatest burden: the point at which Engel acknowledges the emotional weight in order to identify the strength required to lift it. Instead, I hear the morbid thoughts take root; drones anchor themselves in the pit of the stomach as violins and synthesisers flower softly into the chest, branching out from the central refrain like tangents of troubling thought. Drums hammer the melody into the ground like a nail. Ghostly voices echo and prolong strings of lyricism. Theremins and marimbas billow into the head and cloud the power of reason, like a fog that obscures the path of recovery. As solemnity consumes the body, Engel’s powerful voice wilts into vibrato and empty breath, battling to stay on note as the music drags at her ascents of pitch. And yet, even though she bears the marks of emotional exhaustion, there is a formidable strength to her delivery. Each vowel rumbles with the energy of acceptance and resignation, deriving power from the act of admitting defeat.