Clara Bond may have her roots in British Country but she has grown far beyond its borders. The Exeter-based singer-songwriter has embraced a confident pop sound mixed with RnB and rock sensibilities to make her a truly cross-genre artist. It means her latest EP, ‘Backtalker’, is that wonderful blend of atmospheric soundscape and affective lyrics. The music always serves to tell the story of the song with such precision as to envelope the listener fully into its world. In the case of opening track ‘Misbehaving’, this means Clara’s very own mind.
She says of the EP as a whole that it is “like an honest reflection of what was going on in my brain at the time”. This first song gives an almost-detailed analysis of her innermost thoughts in a time of lockdown. Yet in spite of its contextual origin, anyone who has experienced poor mental health will recognise its central theme, as it touches on universal feelings of fear, anxiety, depression and loss of identity. It is extremely raw, with music that threatens to drown the words at times such is the overwhelming sea of emotions contained within it.
‘Wish You Were Her’ seemingly breaks the “endless circle/ downward spiral” with a punchier beat that reflects a strength of mind unseen in the first track. It takes as its subject the guy who has not got over his ex-girlfriend yet, and the character in the song will be familiar to fans of Catherine McGrath and her hit song ‘Wild’. Whilst there, “she always comes up in conversation”, here, “You talk about her like she’s magic”. In both cases, the guy is distracted, not yet ready to move on; absent in the moment except in his attempt to see his ex in the eyes of the girl now in front of him. But just like he’s not fooling Catherine – “I knew you wanted her when you looked in my eyes” – so it is with Clara, as she declares, “You think I don’t see/ you looking at me / thinking to yourself/ I wish you were her”.
‘White Confetti’ then adopts something of the fragility and brokenness found in the first track in its sonic, almost folk-like sound. There is an air of Gabrielle Aplin in this slightly off-piste piece, in both the music and the lyrics. There is a vulnerability unveiled, containing real sadness, that is really relatable. It is like being caught between a dream, a memory, and reality; not quite an embodied experience but a viscerally-observed recollection nevertheless, of “You and me, the city, white confetti trees… everything hung up like a dream… falling at my feet”.
‘Backtalker’ causes the EP to change gear again as it returns to the heavier vibes of the second track. It finds Clara back to her damned best as she takes on the patriarchal culture of the music industry. Drawing on her own experiences of being shunned and ignored by producers et al, the harsh chords of the electric guitar in the chorus especially reverberate with the rejection of the narrative that men are responsible for making her music. There is even what could be described as a tongue-in-cheek reference to her own ‘Pink Wine’, whether intentional or not, in the chorus’ refrain, as if any evidence were needed of her ability to write superb songs.
They don’t come much better than ‘You’, the final song on the EP. It is by far the most classic of Clara Bond songs, harking back to her earlier releases, with a greater emphasis on the words, which take primary place here. They convey the story of how her parents got together, undercut with a simple drumbeat and occasional guitar that serve to add a sense of wonder and beauty to its romantic nature. It is even better when listened to alongside the accompanying video; and is a track that becomes especially poignant when performed acoustically, as can be found on YouTube. It is a reminder that, at heart, Clara remains committed to the storytelling principles of country music, even as she has successfully ventured outside of the genre to find her own particular sound.
Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on January 21st 2022.
Featured Image (C) Clara Bond