OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Trying to define the sounds at play on Clare Costello’s newest release is an uphill battle.
Stretching back years to the earliest releases as simply “Costello,” she established herself quickly as one of the most creative and unique guitarists in the state, with parts most often drowned in fuzz and distortion, but the songs back then fell much more easily into the “garage rock” label. Guitars were overdriven and spitty, drums trashy, and the energies and attitudes more straightforward.
Her voice has always been a different story.
From day one, Costello’s vocals have had a soaring, operatic quality, layered with reverbs and ambiance. But she utilizes and exercises it in such idiosyncratic ways as to bring to mind Kate Bush or Tori Amos and their abilities for tossing their voices and for reaching for, and finding, entirely unexpected notes and textures.
That combination of haunting, ethereal, and even erratic vocals with the kind of raunchy garage-rock of those previous releases made for a powerfully unique and singular sound, especially for the Oklahoma scene.
Music and Film
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And yet, there remained something to be desired in the near-infinite potential of an artist so clearly willing and able to embrace some strangeness and, for lack of a better phrase, get real weird with it.
And that’s exactly what we get on the new “Cups EP.”
Dropped unexpectedly on Bandcamp on New Year’s Day, the new release offers up five new tracks spanning a wide range from head-banging intensity to glittering, floating atmospherics, all while remaining primarily built around drums, bass, vocals, and her trademark fuzz-drenched guitar.
Opener “Carnival” comes crashing out of the gate with a rhythmic wah-pedal riff that would make Hendrix proud, but the sound and presentation is immediately different. The rock here is almost more “arena” than “garage.” There’s a confidence and a fist-pumping quality that draws you in and all but guarantees that you’re unprepared for the first vocal entrance. Coming seemingly halfway through a phrase, Costello’s vocal hits with a surprisingly “Eastern” melody followed by an alarmingly Bjork-ian reach, with an intensity in her voice perfectly matched to the Icelandic legend herself.
Costello not only dives headlong into new sounds and creative arrangements, she also infuses the songs with more space than maybe ever before.
The title track is propelled by a syncopated start-and-stop drum beat (provided by producer and collaborator Steve Boaz) that adds exactly the kind of creative, left-field rhythm that her songs have been practically begging for on previous releases, but also leaves much more space and airiness in the arrangement. Same with closing track “Where,” which eventually builds its way to a massive, wall-of-sound conclusion, but spends much of its time finding the rich, fleeting harmonics and textures in and around Costello’s trademark guitar sound.
These songs have room to breathe.
This is never more evident, of course, than on “Strip Malls,” a show-stopping minute-and-a-half of nothing but Costello’s voice, multiplied, shifted, and affected into something striking, both chilling and gorgeous at once. It’s a perfect internal monologue made audible, exploring all the uncertainties and staggering inadequacies we may feel at the outset of the new year with all of its possibilities.
“Indecision riddles my mind,” Costello sings. She wants to connect to the world, and at the same time, she wants to run away. It’s a perfect and accurate sentiment for life under the never-ending pandemic.
At barely over 15 minutes, this EP is short and sweet, but it represents a major step forward in Costello’s production and, more than anything, creativity. The sense of renewed adventurousness and vulnerability on display in these 5 tracks is enough to ensure that she’ll be one of the most interesting artists in the state to watch going forward.
“Cups EP” by Clare Costello is available now on Bandcamp at costellobandok.bandcamp.com. For music, updates, and yoga tips, follow Clare on Instagram @clare__costello (that’s two underscores.)
And … this!
OKC Museum of Art’s Noble Theater is hosting the new indie drama “C’mon C’mon” through January 9th. Joaquin Phoenix puts in his latest attempt to secure a Best Actor nomination, but this time he’s not swinging for the fences and chewing scenery in face paint.
Instead, he’s on an introspective, black-and-white road trip with his nephew in this understated offering from writer/director Mike Mills, following-up his outstanding and unforgettable collaboration with The National for the album and short film project “I Am Easy to Find.”
Last Updated January 4, 2022, 7:39 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor