Our musical landscape needs more artists like Claire Morales. Her songs are weird. And great. But weird. The baritone flutter in her voice, the chordal structure and spatial arrangements, the lyrical prophecy of something like “too rare so far / you can't remember what you are / you need someone to show you what / this cosmic dust is doing here”. Yeah, what the hell is it doing here? Her videos are truly weird too, cosmic dust or not. But, again, they are great. All of it tends to straddle uncomfortable in that way in which draws you to artforms like music in the first place. Or at least the kind of music worth listening to. And this is coming from a shamelessly unapologetic pop music geek. I love all kinds of accessible tuneage, but Morales hits me where the love for musicians and song-makers lives. There are chances taken and moods explored here. There is this off-kilter diversion of her songs that rattles around in your head as if it is something you could fully comprehend but cannot, and that is the bare bones to someone like Claire. It is rare or “too rare”, and rare is weird and that is, well, great.
Let me just say much of what I have to share about the 29 year-old North Texas singer-songwriter is going to sound reminiscent of what I wrote about Wild Pink last year. Morales tends to shift sonic paradigms much in the way Wild Pink does for me: Hard to pin down, atmospheric, almost sensory threats. Her songs are funhouse mirrors, if funhouse mirrors were in place of say your rearview mirror as you were tooling down the West Side Highway at seventy mph at midnight. Asleep. Or that quasi-sleep feeling you get when sleep escapes you. I wouldn’t say wicked, or sinister, but definitely witchy.
And that voice; something akin to Aimee Mann sneaking into a Mazzy Star rehearsal channeling Jim Morrison. What? Exactly. Listen to something like “Sibylle” off her 2018 album, All That Wanting. Go ahead. Put it on. Let is wash over you. Better yet, get a blanket and put it over your head and turn out the lights. Then put it on. “Would have been your tongue / Woulda told everyone about ya / Gone without a sound / Without…”
There are more songs on that record that I can write volumes on, but what’s the point? Listen to “Diana I” and then “Diana II” and tell me this is not what makes absorbing expressive sound worth all the other stuff you do ten-fold. I goddamn love those two songs and I think I know why; because no one else is writing or performing anything like this. Kind of. But not really. Claire sure is, and that is weird and great.
At the risk of overdoing my comparisons of Morales to other artists, I cannot get Chrissie Hynde’s detached charm out of my skull during repeated spins though her latest single, “No Telling” (forgive the music writer his idiosyncrasies). And making detachment charming is definitely a feat worth achieving. My podcast co-host Adam Duritz once mused that listening to Talking Heads was an evolution for him. He needed to hear it, not unlike a Picasso painting, by “tilting my head a certain way” to absorb it properly. I had not heard that before, although I had a similar, almost wakey-wakey experience hearing David Byrne work his slanted way through a song, both musically and vocally, at a far tender age, but all this time having passed did not prepare me properly for Claire Morales.
I’ll take a moment to tell you that Claire has been playing and singing since the tender age of thirteen and then after the (if these songs are any indication) obligatory angst and emotional turmoil of her teen years, developed enough material from all that to start a band in 2014, and how on her debut in 2015 titled Amaranthine (a word I heard once in a literary class in college about immortal plant life and Greek muses or some such) she played with the Tex-Mex country-feathered phrasing of a young, raw, transcendent Emmylou Harris. In fact, I am fairly sure had Harris spent a little more time with the crazed beauty of Graham Parsons before he went off the rails this is the type of music she would have made. If you bottle a song like “Lie I Love” (the album’s second track) and sent it to Nashville in the early 1970s, it would have turned more than a few heads. But that would be completely missing the point of what I hear now with Claire.
That record, and everything in between those four years leading up to All That Wanting (including a covers collection with several of her contemporaries and two Halloween-themed records, Harmony in Hell and Neighborhood Creeps in 2015 and 2016 with fellow Texan, Daniel Markham) turns out to merely be a foundation for what emerges like a Shaman from the desert after meeting demon-heads and serpentine goddesses and coming back with this music that is so self-realized and disturbing (and I mean that in its most positive sense, as in you need to be shaken from your stupor, pal) it has to be seen live.
And that is the best part of writing for this site and having a part in the Underwater Sunshine Fest and playing songs on this crazy podcast I get to do with Adam each week. Claire Morales, and much of her ilk, if there is any of her ilk, needs to tussle things asunder and put us on notice. We’re here to provide that forum. That is what this Fest is all about. And it will be so for Claire Morales. Very weird, but really great.