[8 October 2007]
I have a funny feeling that Clare Muldaur Manchon is a die-hard romantic. It’s hard not to get that impression listening to the Martha’s Vineyard-born singer-songwriter’s debut record, The Movie. And it’s not just because of the film noir album art. It’s in the sound of her voice, in her backing band’s delicate harmonies, and in the gentle swell of the strings that permeate nearly every one of the record’s eleven jazz-tinged indie tunes. By the time you’ve finished listening to them all, you’re left with the distinct impression that Muldaur Manchon is the kind of person who counts Casablanca among their favourite films, Edith Piaf among their favourite singers, and red wine among their favourite beverages.
Of course, you don’t even have to make it all the way to end of the record before you start to get that feeling. You could probably guess it right from the very first track, a string-soaked, starry-eyed ballad written to Pluto, lamenting its recent demotion to non-planetary status. “Pluto”, she sings, “I have some frightful news / In the New York Times / They’ve just reported you’ve been overthrown / From your solar throne / For good”. One track in, and it’s already obvious that Muldaur Manchon isn’t your typical indie songstress (after all, it’s not everyone who chooses to write sentimental songs about the official policies of the International Astronomical Union regarding celestial bodies and their ability to become gravitationally dominate in their orbital zone.) And as if that weren’t evidence enough of a romantic worldview, she ends the album with a French version of the same tune, “Pluton”. (“Pluton”, she sings, “J’ai eu mauvaise nouvelles ... “)
Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all sounds a little bit corny. And maybe it is, but for the most part, Muldaur Machon pulls it off. A healthy romantic spirit has been known produce more than a few good songs over the years, and you can count most of the tracks on The Movie among them. After a few listens, some of the album’s songs (“Under the Water”, “Go Back”, “Sugar in My Hair”) still blend into the rest of the record without making much of an impression, but by then others (like “Pluto”, “Alphabet City”, and “Rodi”, the first single) are familiar old friends.
Part of what helps them feel that way is that they’re dotted with little snippets of sentimental lyrics—in “Nothing/Nowhere” (“If you’re free / Come with me / To nowhere”), in “Alphabet City” (“3 am / In Alphabet City / A-B-C-D / Just you and me”), in “Cook for You” (“And I like to talk to you / While I brush my teeth / Because I have so much to say”)—and that Muldaur Manchon has equipped them with catchy, upbeat melodies. Beyond that, they’re also strengthened by a couple of notable guest appearances: Sufjan Stevens lends his vocals to “Nowhere/Nothing” and famed Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks helps out on “Love Can Be a Crime”, where you can only assume that he had something to do with the track’s gorgeous Beach Boys-style harmonies.
So, by the time you’ve made the trip all the way from “Pluto” to “Pluton”, you can’t help but think that Muldaur Monchon and her Reasons live in a world made of black and white films and young people falling in love. (It might be genetic: her father, a folk guitarist, recorded the classic, bittersweet version of “Brazil” Terry Gilliam used for his film.) Clare and the Reasons’ songs—earnest, but playful, never taking themselves too seriously—are all about the little, poetic moments in life. And if you, too, long for the world of Casablanca and red wine, then may I suggest The Movie—the kind of record a young person could fall in love to.