Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Catherine Clarnette, an artist that released her debut studio endeavor in June. Entitled ‘Bold,’ the album most certainly lives up to its namesake. Clocking in with a dozen particularly dynamic tunes, the record is a refreshing jaunt through a remarkably talented young woman’s artistry. Clarnette defines herself as a talent very much worth keeping tabs on, and it’s probably an album to add to your listening queue. Let’s dig into it to figure out why.
Clarnette describes ‘Bold’ as “an eclectic collection of original songs, weaving through dark pop tunes, modern jazz arrangements, and introspective piano ballads.” That’s a tall order to fill in your first outing as a musician, but Clarnette does an impressively good job at doing so. Her liners boast an array of collaborators on the project, but it’s worth noting that she co-produced the album herself, performed vocals throughout, and even aided instrumentally on viola.
As an indie music critic, I usually have a flood of singer songwriters and introspective ballads coming across desk on a daily basis. ‘Bold,’ however, does stand out as an especially unique effort due to its presentation. The album is a contemporary jazz record, essentially, and there aren’t very many of those to begin with. To concrete its modern relevance, Clarnette jam-packs each song with pop sensibility, lyrics with a compelling flair, and superb performances on behalf of her backing band.
The opening of ‘Bold,’ ‘Couldn’t Let You Win,’ is, on its surface, a break-up song. “Have you heard of karma?” Clarnette croons in an accusatory fashion. “I hope it gets to you.” The stunning vocal performance demands one’s attention, but it’s worth noting that the piece is accentuated remarkably well by Russell Holmes on the keys. Producer Rob Agostini is also important to note - it seems he was instrumental in the creation of this LP.
‘Tango’ is, as one might expect, composed and presented in the structure of a tango. As a songwriter, Clarnette begins to spread her wings with this tune. It’s a composition that’s complex, but performed so well that it boasts an aura of simplicity. Clarnette’s vocal range is fairly extensive as well - a valuable tool for her tactful performances on tracks like ‘Tango.’
Once the listener arrives at the album’s third track, ‘It Won’t Be Me,’ a tonal shift continues to flesh itself out. The song experiments with employing a drum machine that Clarnette and Agostini sequenced together. This, of course, departs the classical-esque pastures of ‘Tango’ in favor of something that aligns more with contemporary pop. Typically, I’d be dismayed with this shift, but I think Clarnette’s conviction is poignant and masterfully executed.
With that said, ‘It Won’t Be Me’ is definitely familiar territory. It’s the whole, “don’t pin this break-up on my ‘coldness,’ I thought I knew you" shtick. We’ve definitely heard it before, and the same goes for the melancholy retrospective that is ‘Never Live The Same Way.’ It may go without saying, but the obvious contemporary parallel is Adele - someone who’s made a career out of both this style of music and subject matter. For a debut, this is just fine for Clarnette. There’s nothing wrong with sticking one’s toes in a few different tropes. One would hope the next outing doesn’t stick to the break-up themes, though.
‘Dangerous Game’ is one of the more interesting tunes in this collection. Its production is truly fantastic, and Clarnette’s lyricism is fantastic. Following a very trope-driven track like ‘Never Live The Same Way,’ ‘Dangerous Game’ offers some edge and diversity that’s much needed at this point in the album. That edge is exemplified on the next track as well. ‘The Only Words I Know’ is a borderline rock track… and it’s brilliant because of it.
‘Belong On My Mind’ is one of the piano ballads of the album. Hence, it’s definitely one of the softer moments of the experience. Paired with the foot-stomping ‘Back In My Own Bed,’ the two songs catalog the internal strife that Clarnette battled with in the aftermath of her relationship. In a contemporary sense, Clarnette’s songwriting is probably very relatable - she delves into the issues of attempting to remain friends, finding photos on smartphones, and so on and so forth.
‘You’re The One Who Left Me’ is by far the most ‘produced’ track of the album, offering a landscape full of reverb, heavy percussion, and dance-esque stylings. Because of this, I’m happy Clarnette singled it out to be performed acoustically as well, which you can watch above. ‘Elegy’ does, however, start to find some resolution for Clarnette as she comes to terms with her ending relationship.
To that end, I’d argue that ‘Elegy’ should have been the finale of the album. It wraps up all of the themes in the collection. Instead, though, there are two hard hitting tracks, ‘Role Models’ and ‘No Evidence.’ The former is a essentially a dissection of social media culture, the latter is a break-up tune that would have made more sense along with ‘Dangerous Game’ or ‘Back In My Own Bed.’
My few quips aside, ‘Bold’ is a very, very good debut album. It’s so well produced and performed, and Clarnette sets herself up to be one of the most noteworthy women in the independent music scene this year. I would caution her on her future music, though. ‘Bold’ is a fantastic outlet for her post-relationship emotions. To avoid a ‘Taylor Swift’ label, her next album probably shouldn’t focus entirely on that again.
Check out ‘Bold’ below!