Last week, Bristol-based songwriter Clara Mann released Consolations, a four-track set that goes down as her debut release – although you wouldn’t know that it’s her first from listening to it. A naturally gifted lyricist and singer, Mann imbues her songs with microscopic details – both in words and sound – that suggest a seasoned songwriter who knows how to reel in a listener’s attention and keep it there as she unspools her delicate tales.
With a few exceptional collaborators helping her out, Consolations is one of the early highlights of the year; it may only be 15 minutes long, but there are whole lives contained within its words. Evidently, Mann has a gift, but it has been helped along the way by inspiring songwriters and an addiction to music. We wanted to know more about the sounds that have provoked her to this point, and she’s duly obliged with a quality selection of songs and albums she recommends. Before we jump into that, enjoy her excellent “I Didn’t Know You Were Leaving Today”.
Julia Jacklin – Crushing
I try not to admit my love of Julia Jacklin too loudly (no I don’t) because I’m worried people will think I’m trying to be her, but I just think she’s such a dream. In all honesty, this is my favourite album maybe of all time. I listened to Crushing through the whole of 2019, I cried to her music, I screamed along to it out of my car windows driving home at night, and in December of that year I both cried and screamed along at her gig in Kentish Town. Her voice is completely angelic – I read somewhere that she’s classically trained vocally, which makes sense, she has such incredible control but also such warmth in her voice. I love her, and this album will always be important to me.
Mirah & Ginger Brooks Takahashi – “Plink Plink Plink”
[K Records; 2003]
This is from an album called Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project – it’s a complete mystery to me, I can’t find anything about the project itself, but it seems to have been an experimental songwriting collaboration between Takahashi and the artist Mirah. “Plink Plink Plink” is an eight second instrumental track consisting of some plinky-plonky sounds played on some kind of xylophone-y instrument, and I listen to it a lot. I’d recommend the whole album really – it’s kind of strange sad girl/bop/ambient music.
Judee Sill – Judee Sill
Judee Sill was around at the same time as Joni Mitchell and Carole King, and was, in my opinion, just as brilliant, but she never quite made it to their level of fame. She had a sad and complicated life, was mixed up in Catholicism as well as hard drugs (both equally disorientating presences in her life, it seems), crime, and complicated relationships. She lacked the patience to schmooze or pander to people, as one sometimes has to to make it big in that world. Her music treads the line between between exposing and concealing the pain she carried with her for so much of her life – veiled in mysticism and metaphor, mostly religious, every line is full of feeling, and from her lyrical style to her swooping orchestral arrangements, I think both she and this album are completely extraordinary.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Thomas Bartlett – “All Good Things”
[Real World; 2019]
I listened to this all through summer, throughout the recording of the EP. Felix, who worked on the arrangements with me, introduced me to it – it’s the most incredible piece of folk fiddle music, it just sweeps you away in this wild cyclic melody. The fiddle parts on Consolations, that Mari (who plays on the EP) and Felix worked so hard on, were recorded over long summer afternoons, and in the evenings we’d put on music and cook, mostly listening to folk like this. It definitely seeped into the instrumentation, and I’m so glad it did.
Damien Jurado – “Newspaper Gown”
[Loose Music/Mama Bird; 2019]
I listen to this song almost every day, and have done for the last six months, since I discovered it in the autumn. It’s so brilliantly written – his story telling is subtle but powerful, and I feel like I’m part of the narrative somehow, an observer, watching everything unfold. It’s a tender song, about uncertainty and being tentative in love, and I just love it so much. Everything about it is understated and honest, the two things I really strive for and admire in any song – and then there’s his voice, the production, the images… it’s just a perfect piece of music. I feel so strongly about it that I can’t quite verbalise it – I hope it worked out for him and whoever the song’s about, I think about them often.
Clara Mann’s debut EP Consolations is out now via Sad Club Records – buy it from Bandcamp.