Clare and the Reasons' Berlin Adventure
Clare is Clare Muldaur Manchon, daughter of Geoff Muldaur—a name older readers will recognize from his time with Maria "Midnight at the Oasis" (D'Amato Muldaur. The then husband and wife team were regulars on the 60's Boston coffee house circuit and had a breakout hippie era album on Warner Brothers called Pottery Pie.
So Clare comes from a musical family and judging by this album she's married a quite brilliant arranger in Olivier Manchon. The couple and bandmate Bob Hart spent the better part of a year in Berlin absorbing and reflecting in their music the city's bifurcated cultural atmosphere, much as had David Bowie years earlier.
The album is named after the 1968 Schwalbe moped pictured on the album cover, but by now you're saying to yourself "I don't care about the album title or the motor bike, what's the music like?"
Well first there's Clare's voice: an ethereal, sometimes chid-like delicacy that resemble's Joanna Newsom's both in timbre and emotional intent. Then there are the arrangements: often orchestral (the Orchestra de Paris) but even when not, ear-pleasing and eclectic, filled with electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, banjo and assorted synthesizer.
The arrangements by husband Olivier are models of exquisite subtlety—even the more spare ones like "Bass Face," which has the most rhythmic drive, but only in sections. Most of it has a gossamer lightness shared with the rest of the album, even though lyrically some of the songs can be quite dark.
The opener "The Lake" is about a breakup. An odd way to begin an album, but other songs mirror the same theme. "Bass Face", the album's most danceable tune, features a fuzz guitar line seconded by a subtle string glissando. The juxtaposition is fantastic.
"This Too Shall Pass" is about the empty feeling after the breakup and its mood and rhythm are appropriately oppressive and Teutonic. Most of the songs deal with emotional conflicts and not such pleasant thoughts though "Step in the Gold" offers imaginary encouragement to Lotte Lenya!
Rather than go through every song, all I can tell you is that even if at first you don't pay attention to the lyrics (you can read them at clareandthereasons.com), you will be captivated by the arrangements, which owe some to Van Dyke and Sufjan even though they don't play on it, but are mostly original and utterly inspired.
The orchestral sessions took place live in an old movie theater and it sounds it. The engineering and mixing by Paul Pilot are both superb, and of course I'm sure 100% digital but sound very rich, full and warm. The further you get into the album, the more of its dreamy landscape is revealed.
Yes, we love our audiophile reissues of familiar, classic albums, but when I hear people say that nothing new is good, it's easy to point them to so much worthwhile indie-rock like this. This could not have been inexpensive to produce but more importantly, with touring, not record-making being the only way bands can make money, it is a daring enterprise and a major achievement.
I don't know who mastered the vinyl but I suspect it was pressed at United Record Pressing, not because my copy was pressed on noisy vinyl—it wasn't—but because whoever handled it out of the press really didn't give a shit because it came with a few noisy bruises that mar an otherwise decent sounding pressing. You can find this magical album on Frogstand's website for $15.00. Buy it, play it late at night and I guaranty you a really, really great listen and many more thereafter. I have played this every night since I bought it and each play reveals heretofore hidden in plain sight nuances. A lovingly crafted, sonically meticulous work that's easy to recommend.