A cursory glance at the music catalog for Toronto, ON singer-songwriter Shawn William Clarke may leave you believing that he pretty much disappeared from the face of the earth following his acclaimed 2017 album, “TOPAZ.” Dig a little deeper (that’s right, don’t be lazy and consider ‘Spotify’ the gospel for all things music), however, and you’ll find both his foray into the world of ambient music (recorded with David Gluck under the moniker ‘Will Moor’), and a compilation album titled “In Basements, In Isolation” (a modern era version of the mix-tape, released exclusively through Bandcamp) earlier this year. But wait, there’s more – as those infomercial hosts love to declare late into their sales pitch – Shawn also released a little-known EP titled “Spectral Acoustics Vol 1” back in late April, also exclusively through Bandcamp, with a very limited audio cassette version available too.
“Softly á la belle province / With tremulous refrain / Tomes underneath each arm / Lorca & King James / From last lament of Joan of Arc / To quiet servitude / From the wars against disorder / To suggest or allude.”
Not unlike the dilemmas faced by all independent performing artists, Shawn saw his career and livelihood turned upside down by the arrival of Covid to the North American shores back in the spring, and knew very quickly that he needed to adapt to these new found constraints placed upon us. No social gatherings meant no regular live performances around his Toronto home, in turn drastically reducing his income potential from ticket fees and merchandise sales. Turning to Bandcamp made perfect sense, given its reputation as one of the most artist-friendly online music platforms, but like most outlets, the potential remains limited – your audience still has to ‘know’ where to find you. Audiences seeking Shawn’s latest EP can rejoice, however, as he formally expands the availability of “Spectral Acoustics Vol 1” across all major streaming sites commencing today.
“The highways are empty now / In New York and Berlin / Yearning sound from synagogues / Beckon from within / Suzy yells “its’ closing time. / The wait staff are all vexed. / I wish you could sing one more song. / Of love, or faith or sex.””
“A couple years back I went up to Curries Music in Gravenhurst, and recorded a handful of songs, with only one or two takes, and limited overdubs,” Shawn responds, when questioned about the origins of this project. “When the pandemic hit, I found myself with a lot of time, so I mixed and reinvented the project at home.” One of the most noticeable features on this EP is the inclusion of soundscapes that not only connect the five tracks as a cohesive whole, but create a more emotional listening experience. “I’m always recording snippets of my life … pulling out my phone and grabbing a minute of ambient noise, wild life, water, crowds, sort of audio postcards from my travels and experience,” he shares. “I got surprisingly emotional [the] first time I listened back. Especially the crowd noise before The Tourists. It really hit home how much I missed being with people.”
“I hope you passed near a forest / Somewhere near your pen / I hope you passed in loving arms / With letters from your friends / I swore I heard them singing / All the way from Clinton Street / I know they’ll lock the Chelsea now / Drop the keys at your feet.”
Drawing upon both his traditional folk leanings and his recent experimentation with ambient music, the EP opens with “Hearts Are For Strumming,” an instrumental composition that would not be out of place on “TOPAZ.” Three of the remaining tracks are reworked versions of previous releases, notably “The Tourists” from “TOPAZ,” “Ten Years Ago” from his 2014 album, “William,” and “Song For Kathleen,” which dates back to his 2010 “Like Birds Too Tired To Fly” release (and features an added Bossa Nova flare for this interpretation). The highlight of this collection, however, has to be “Leonard Cohen,” a tribute to the life and music of a Canadian icon, and written by Shawn on the very night of Cohen’s death in 2016. Four years would pass before Shawn formally recorded this homage to his musical idol, yet he knew from deep within his own heart that the timing had to be perfect to release onto all musical platforms, and purposely chose to coincide with the fourth anniversary of Cohen’s passing. “This tune was considered for 2017’s TOPAZ, but didn’t quite fit,” Shawn offers. “A year later, we tracked a few songs … I used a 1967 Arcangel Fernandez classical guitar, tracked live, only using a couple takes.”
“It’s not too long, Marianne / I shall see you soon / It’s not too long Marianne / We shall see you soon.”
“Leonard Cohen” is a contemplative finger-picked ballad that alludes to the songs and themes of his life, recorded live off the floor at Curries Music with just one microphone – delivering a poignant, intimate, and reflective tribute to the artist. Shawn further demonstrates his passion and knowledge surrounding Cohen’s music, composing this track in one evening, whilst simultaneously dealing with the rollercoaster of emotional turmoil we encounter when hit by such devastating news. The lyrics are included here throughout this article – just how many connections can you make to Leonard Cohen’s catalog? Just last Friday, Shawn shared a new lyric video for this song. Be sure to check it out below, and then hit up your favorite streaming platform to check out the entire “Spectral Acoustics Vol 1” EP – you shall not be disappointed.
“It’s not too long, Marianne / I shall see you soon.”