Review: Clever Hopes, “Artefact”

Clever Hopes - Artefact

“I sit in one of the dives / On Fifty-second Street / Uncertain and afraid / As the clever hopes expire” (W. H. Auden).

First and foremost, before you do anything to kick start your Tuesday, go ahead and pause for a moment.  Take a look at the two prominent words from the quote above in particular: Clever Hopes.  That’s right, go ahead and stare at those two words some more.  Okay, now take a deep breath.  Say those words a few times, in rhythm with your breathing: Clever Hopes. Clever Hopes.  Good, good, your exercise is complete, and those words should now be locked away into your psyche, something you’re not likely to forget.  And just like the music from this recently formed duo, once savored, it’s something you’re not likely to forget.  Clever Hopes may not yet be a household name, but trust me, their journey is only just starting.  So, go ahead, grab your ticket and jump aboard this train right now, and prepare to be whisked away on a truly magical and unforgettable new-music adventure.

Last September, we were keen to share “Made You Mad,” the debut single from Clever Hopes, but having been provided with a pre-release teaser track titled “Artefact” too, we felt inspired to devote equal space to both of these excellent first impressions.  Their second single, “Shadow Waltz,” followed in early November, and suddenly, many were starting to take notice of these new kids on the folk, rock, and roots-Americana block.  If you are looking to know more about who these artists are, and how they came together to collaborate, please refer back to our September GDW article – otherwise, here is a Readers Digest worthy summary:  Clever Hopes are Andrew Shaver and Eva Foote, whose debut album “Artefact” is released this Thursday. 

Hailing from Edmonton, emerging singer-songwriter Eva Foote (acoustic guitar/vocals) currently resides in Montreal, where she met (global) award-winning Canadian actor and aspiring musician Andrew Shaver (acoustic guitar/vocals), who directed her in the musical production of Once.  “After far too long hanging out on the periphery – quietly writing songs and then forgetting them – I was directing a play full of songwriters and musicians, including Eva,” Andrew shares. “As they all played their songs into the wee hours post-show every night, it started to really break my heart that I felt like I had nothing to contribute.  I decided that were we all to get together again in a year, it would be a different story. I set myself to writing.”  

What transpired in Andrew’s personal life shortly after was documented in that September article, culminating in the purchase of a cheap guitar, an Australian adventure, and an eventual random call from his long-time friend (and musician) Matthew Barber that brought him to Toronto.  “Artefact is a collection of conversations, arguments, and memories of two passionate people wading through the fiery demise of a deeply rooted love,” Andrew recalls. “It encompasses its painful valleys and epic peaks, always with its sights set on moving on.”  And during a coincidental late-night jam session with Eva Foote in Toronto (and over a little chicken stew), Clever Hopes was born – the name taken from the poem, “September 1, 1939” by W. H. Auden.  “I wrote the songs, but they only really came to life when Eva brought her voice and perspective to them,” he adds. “Sometimes the universe really does conspire with you. Those nights in the theatre feel like a lifetime ago.”

Recorded and engineered under the watchful eye of Chris Stringer (Briar Summers, Jory Nash) at Union Sound Co. in Toronto, and mastered by Heather Kirby (Caroline Marie Brooks) at Dreamlands, not only is “Artefact” a stunning collection of ten original songs (all written by Shaver, except “Interference (Test 1, 2 & 3)” – co-written with Foote), but is also a project brought to life through an extended family of highly respectable peers from their music community.  Produced by Matthew Barber (who also adds farfisa/vocals), the studio ensemble could be considered a true dream-team: Joe Grass (guitars/pedal steel/mandolin/vocals), Justin Rutledge (guitars), Noah Reid (keys/vocals), Kev Foran (brass), Steve Zsirai (bass), and Marshall Bureau (drums) – and on a debut album, nonetheless.  With this band behind them, and the studio crew at the helm, I am standing tall behind my 2021 year-end selection of Clever Hopes as THE emerging duo/band to watch in 2022.  Andrew Shaver and Eva Foote are primed and ready.

Clever Hopes

It was the olde-world country music charm of the track “Artefact” that first stopped me dead in my tracks back in September (and would be shortlisted in my “20 Fave Canadian Singles” list), thus introducing me to Clever Hopes.  My focus should have been aimed towards their toe-tapping debut single, “Made You Mad,” which was gearing up to be released at the time – but as a sucker for that vintage sound, I found myself spending much more time with the ‘teaser’ than with the release.   It comes as no surprise, therefore, that it took me several spins of the album’s opening track, “Interference,” before I moved on to hear the rest.  Once again, it was the sudden throwback sounds – the notable bass line that dictates the pace, the gentle acoustics, and light roll of the keys – that grabbed my attention, before the perfectly timed arrival of pedal steel pretty much proceeded to reach inside and tear my beating heart from my chest.

“Interference” is not only the track to commence the listening experience, it is also the first song that the duo recorded, and laid the groundwork for what would follow.  “It’s as close to a straight ahead old time country inspired song as any on the album gets,” Andrew shares. “It’s the only track on the album Eva doesn’t sing on.”  “Static whisper, whisper, whisper / Dance on the line / I can’t tell, no I can’t tell, I swear I can’t tell / Is that your breath of mine / It flickers / It flashes / The white noise crashes / Your whispers grow fainter.”  The song effectively bookends the album, revisited with the closing track, “Interference (Test 1, 2 & 3),” and with a passing of the torch to Eva and her own unique flair.  “I asked Eva is she’d reinterpret [it] as though it were a forgotten song from a long time gone,” Andrew adds. “I like the idea that the version … that starts the album could be confused as a cover of her timeless beauty.”

Naturally, there is much more to this debut album than old country charm, and you’ll very quickly appreciate that neither Andrew or Eva are mere one-trick ponies.  Flashing plenty of rock n roll Americana with “Made You Mad,” and some slower, dual part harmonies during “Shadow Waltz,” prepare to be dazzled by the remainder of their collective pieces later this week.  “The Other Side,” for example, has an energetic beat to get idle toes tapping quickly, while timing shifts and the inclusion of additional instrumentation at pivotal moments serve constantly to convince listeners that this is anything BUT a debut album.  Stick around for the grungy, distorted guitar rings heading down the stretch to further intensify those vocals, before the final refrain seeks out that early energetic rhythm for one last hurrah.  And for those who loved the inclusion of French language found in the title track, be sure to pay attention to “Chez Simone,” written back home in Montreal about seeing an ex-lover again for the first time. “This song lives in a bar on Parc Avenue,” Andrew adds. “People talk about songs floating by and gifting themselves to you. This is as close to that feeling as I’ve come.”

If only there were time and space here to discuss each and every track in fine detail, but alas.  I insist, however, that everybody spends some time with “Corner Hotel,” a slower, self-reflective track that showcases everything that makes this duo click.  Excellent harmonies.  Natural Chemistry.  Great studio support on both sides of the console.  And, of course, Andrew’s impeccable attention to detail when expressing his compressed memories following the close of his relationship, and his gift in turning them to lyrics.  “The song takes its initial inspiration from a note that was left under a table for me at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne by a woman I hadn’t yet met, but who opened my heart to falling in love with Melbourne,” he recalls.  “The recording process birthed an entirely new version of the song.  Going into the studio – my first time doing so – my buddy Glen Hansard advised me to be a ‘kind shepherd for the music and allow it to show you where it wants to go.’ Corner Hotel had plans all of its own.”   “If you find this know I’m dead / And I’m sorry that I missed you / It’s really such a shame / That this all happened before I met you.” 

With “Artefact,” Clever Hopes unleash an absolute corker of a debut album, and shall stake an immediate claim to the variety of genres awaiting your discovery here: from folk-roots to country, and from Americana to even a little jazz.  And I personally don’t make a habit of attaching ‘breakthrough artist’ tags to every new band that comes my way (and let’s face it, plenty of new music and artists find us here at GDW), but I’m standing firmly behind my convictions for Andrew and Eva’s creation.  Released this coming Thursday, I’ll switch out any final thoughts and instead offer a simple suggestion: go ahead right now and pre-save this album in your streaming platform of choice, and take plenty of time away from your routine later this week to truly savor and enjoy this beautiful collection of songs.  And thanks to that exercise we conducted to kick off this article, I’m confident that you won’t be forgetting the name Clever Hopes anytime soon.

Photo Credit: Ian Lake

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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