Alicia Clara is a dream pop prodigy working at breakneck speed — after last year’s triumphant EP Outsider/Unusual, the Swiss-Canadian songwriter holed up in her apartment to begin work on Velveteen, a lush and breathlessly tender four-song sequence conceived as an homage to her teenage self.
Out on October 28 via Hot Tramp Records, Velveteen is a high-water mark for Clara’s young career — filled with winks and nods to childhood obsessions like Prefab Sprout and Talking Heads, whose dilapidated Long Island City loft she briefly called home before moving to Montreal.
Clara’s move to the city was short-lived, however. Within weeks of her first single release, the pandemic set foot and the artist’s coming-out party was put on indefinite hold. “It was a dark time for a lot of us,” Clara says. Tours were scrapped, band practices cancelled, blog momentum was funnelled into sedate livestreams instead of live shows with her band.
Clara soon left town to stay with relatives a few hours north of Montreal. “I planned to come back within a couple weeks,” explains Clara, who ended up spending several months exiled from her new home and bandmates. Determined, she eventually returned to the city and released her first EP to widespread acclaim, then set off on an unforgettable first tour which included an appearance at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival.
When her Swiss father saw her play the legendary stage, he said “I feel like I just woke up from a dream.” Clara herself was jerked awake — inspired to work on her songcraft, she wasted no time resting on her laurels.
On her second EP, Clara revisits those months spent in isolation with her uncle in Trois-Rivières after years of living in big glamorous cities. Velveteen is a portal into Clara’s most inward and vulnerable self: the bedroom-self of her teenage years. She dwells on lost loves, crises of self-doubt, the longing for community, childhood dreams, the agony of accepting one's flaws, the beauty and power of coming into one’s own.
Clara then launches into “Only Fools Wish For Love”, a wonderfully supple number that examines her tendency to fall into toxic relationships with deceptive lovers. A summiting lap steel guitar pushes the song into a new and exultant orbit — before the final verse takes a despairing return to earth.
Velveteen is an intricately-woven tapestry, hypnotic and poised, a midsummer night’s garden embroidered in moonlight. And while Clara’s lyrics often depict a self that is unsure and lovelorn, this EP is her most assured and alluring effort to date.
– Joe Bagel