Claire Cronin’s music plays like the ghostly sounds someone lost in the woods in winter, hungry, beyond tired, and bordering on frostbite might make. Her guitar chords, slow trudges that she seems to lean on for dear life, take listeners through a rural North America where reality meets lore. Her voice, disembodied but certain and sometimes in harmony with husband and multi-instrumentalist Ezra Buchla, finds itself somewhere between Brigid Mae Power and Neil Young. And often, her only other accompaniment is Buchla’s synth or violin, which lurk in the background, hazy, just out of reach, but integral to what Cronin is conjuring. To use a perhaps all-too-obvious but no less appropriate term, her music is haunted.
In many ways, Bloodless follows similar patterns as 2019’s Big Dream Moon; if you loved that record and wanted more, Bloodless will not disappoint. But the circumstances surrounding the making of this album bear mentioning, as they both feed its intensity as well as its feeling of the future’s certain uncertainty. Cronin and Buchla moved to Berkley, California, just in time for the pandemic to hit, followed by intense wildfires that turned their sky orange. Between those two ever-threatening scenarios and the horror show of US politics, the isolation they felt was powerful but not paralyzing.
All of this fed into Bloodless. It’s hard to imagine the lyrics to “To Ferry Across”, one of the album’s more hopeful sounding tracks (with lines such as “The ocean you wanted while the town was on fire didn’t dream you into feverish being…”) without knowing that Cronin likely felt a certain surrender to the messes of 2020. It’s the sound Cronin gets from her guitar that gives her music such portentousness. She applies just the right splashes of distortion, suggesting this is the best she can coax from a wheezing amp. It’s the sustained thickets of noise that buoy words such as “Sun is red / Cut my lips / The sum is death.” You know this is likely what she’s singing, even if you can’t make it out.
About this album’s title track, Cronin observed, “Much of the record deals with this desire to transcend myself and my body and the facts of existence. But in this song, I’m making the statement that we can’t do that. We can’t get out. We’re not bloodless.” It’s not hard to recognize feeble attempts at transcendence sprinkled throughout the album, and considering the circumstances that necessitated its raw, homemade existence, it makes complete sense that they’re there.