“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I won a helicopter in a crossword puzzle competition? There is not much hope though I am afraid, as they never give such practical prizes.” – Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet
Expecting Songs for Leonora Carrington from Toronto based guitarist and songwriter, Clara Engel, to fully capture the bizarre and inspired genius of her album’s titular author, painter and sculptor, is like expecting to win a helicopter from a crossword competition. With a minimal set-up she has made an album that, while not immediately reflective of Leonora Carrington’s work at a superficial level (it has none of the dream-state obliqueness), is very successful at evoking the darkness pooling beneath the bright absurdity of her art. The guitar playing is sparse and vulnerable, delicate sombre twinkling melodies burnished with plodding heavy-headed bass lines. The songs have the slow persistent repetition of Low songs; hypnotic and loaded with emotional weight. Skeletal drum patter and the occasional electronic whine complete Clara Engel’s musical tools. What Clara Engel has achieved in these songs instead is to capture the dark essence of much of Leonora Carrington’s work, the shadows cast by her vividly weird creations.
Vocals are a tremulous counterpoint to the hesitantly advancing songs. Songs which don’t so much progress as coil ever in on themselves, revealing a new facet with each revolution – guitar notes becoming frayed, vocals becoming increasingly echoed, the intrusion of drums into a previously percussionless space. Clara Engel’s compositions thicken, growing denser with each minute creating a heated, heavy night-mood as a result. Lyrics are repeated mantra-like, particularly effective on the trap of ‘if you never leave, I’ll never clip your wings’ from Sanctuary For Furies. The burning bees and wolf-headed woman on Anubeth’s Song (Burn Eternally) are the most explicit references to the reverse-anthropomorphic populace of Carrington’s fiction, as well as the blurring of ’inner and outer worlds’ that nod towards her place in the surrealist movement.
Songs For Leonora Carrington is not a psychedelic freak-out conjuring the copulating human/animal hybrids and lake-drowned moons in her work. Clara Engels employs a solemn method of interpretation, a consistently midnight-dark exploration, each song like a figure in Ulu’s Pants, entering a dark maze.