Clara Hill - Walk The Distance

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2013-10-21

Berlin-born Clara Hill's fourth album is eclectic and free-spirited, even self-indulgent in the best way. Over the course of its 10 songs, she moves with ease, and apparently little consideration for flow, from emotionally numb midnight electronica to industrial-spiked folk and on to beat-heavy indie-rock and sleepy-eyed dream-pop. And she pulls it all off with consummate ease, as only someone who's truly focussed on making music they love can.

Perhaps the best comparison, especially given the Berlin connection, is with David Bowie's Low, since Walk the Distance also seems to present a series of emotionally desolate vignettes arrived at through open-ended, collaborative experimentation. That such experimentation has produced songs as accessible as the sky-gazing folk of 'Dawn of a New Day' and the shoegaze-y indie-dance of 'Lost Winter' is remarkable.

Working with collaborators including Schneider TM (best known for his exquisite reworking of The Smiths' 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out'), Hill consciously left room for mistakes and inaccuracies, but it's hard to identify any in the finished album, so self-contained and confident is the music here. The album's most thrilling moment, the way the foreboding scrapes and clanks which open 'Dawn of a New Day' resolve themselves into a wonderfully innovative backing for the pastoral folk of the song's melody, sound visionary rather than improvised.

Not all of the album is this forward-looking. The title track is a pleasant but slightly dreary slice of shoegaze. The tendency is definitely there for Hill to sound a little too self-focussed, uninterested in reaching out to the listener. However, when she's on form, she innovatively works the overlap between folk and electronica like a Germanic Bjork, as 'Heading Out' proves, its choral vocals and gamelan rubbing up against the heartbeat, womb-like industrial percussion, creating a thrilling sonic tension which she wisely leaves as unresolved as the journey depicted in her lyrics.

The album seems to have a loose theme of restlessness and travel in an icy, forbidding but beautiful landscape, which song titles such as 'Glacial Moraine' and 'Dripstone Cave' make apparent. Even when physically still, as on 'Insomnia' and 'Night Work', one has a tangible sense that Hill is still travelling psychologically, giving mental free-reign to her wanderlust. Its a journey, real or imagined, which she has realised so vividly in the music here, just as Bowie found he could use his music to depict the divided world he found in late 70s Berlin.

Walk the Distance is not the masterpiece Low is. It's a little too sluggish in places, a little too content with itself to really feel questing. But its artistic peaks are every bit as breathtaking as the snow-laden hills you can so easily imagine its creator climbing. Where will she journey next?

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