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.
“I Let My Plant Die”, the first song on her EP, is festooned with heartsick flutes that recall the baby plants Clara left to smoulder in her abandoned apartment in the pandemic’s early months. With impressionistic lyrical flair, Clara imagines futures that will never come to pass: the spring that never arrived, the roadside lemon trees left unpicked.
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.
The ballad “In Ten Years” is quite literally a coming of age number: the song was originally written by Clara a decade ago about a troubled teenage love interest. Befitting the EP’s theme, Clara decided to honour her teenage self, gilding the song with fresh flourishes and the support of a full band. Honest and guileless, the recording examines her lover with a new and curious kindness — the sort that only comes with the passage of time — before the chorus soars to anthemic heights.
The final song, “Velveteen”, is a song about romantic paralysis. Addressed to a potential lover, a shamefaced Clara depicts herself clad in velveteen — a deceptive fabric that imitates velvet’s lush appearance while being stiff to the touch. Uncertain whether she wants her lover to see her or not, Clara hums and haws, her voice bathed in dreamy atmospherics.
It’s a fitting finale for its namesake EP: 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