Album review: Clara Hill – Walk The Distance

by Thomas Blake

It’s easy to compare Clara Hill’s fourth album to any of a whole bunch of recent offerings by genre-hopping composer-songwriters – the latest records by Julianna Barwick, Grouper, Colleen and, best of the lot, Julia Holter all spring to mind. On the surface, Hill’s vision is closest to that of Holter. Both artists cherry-pick from jazz, electronic dance music, classical and pop, and both lace their songs with simple, worldly lyrics and crystalline singing. But whereas Holter seems to have embraced a jazzier approach to arranging, Hill is moving away from jazz to a simpler, folk-based blueprint. On Dawn of a New Day a gently fingerpicked guitar predominates. It is the most singer-songwritery piece on Walk The Distance, but it is not short on experimentation, descending into a collage of sound in its second half.

There are other things that set Hill apart. Most notably her lyrical preoccupations seem to be less urban and insular than those of her peers. Dripstone Cave is pure rural dream pop, its metronomic dance beat (very cool, very European) the only hint towards Hill’s Berlin upbringing. The theme continues in Heading Out. ‘I’m on my way, heading out of town, I’m on my way to the woods’, she sings, as if it were an engagement rather than an escape. It is a song that gathers momentum naturally and unfalteringly, like an exodus.

So far, so simple. But there are surprises in store on Walk The Distance, not least Lost Winter, which rests on a ridiculously funky drum break and finds its feet with almost grungy guitars. And then there’s the lengthy Glacial Moraine, which shivers and crumbles like an icecap, submerging itself in eerie noise halfway through, becoming a completely different song, whilst serving as an anchor for the rest of the record.

With Walk The Distance Clara Hill has placed herself in exalted company. She more than holds her own by dint of her uniquely extroverted stance and her weird and wonderful range of influences, deftly splicing pop songs with experimental musicianship.

 

Walk The Distance is released 21st October on Tapete Records

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