The new solo EP from Clara Venice is a delightful puzzle, but ultimately can't be solved.
Love Riddle, by pop artist Clara Venice, is a seemingly simple but intriguing puzzle box of an EP, a smooth and slick little musical mechanism that displays surprising weight and complexity. It resists the ephemeral and the airy, fashioning an aesthetic that is hard, cheerfully solid, and glib. The tone of this EP suits its format, too: as well as a digital EP, Love Riddle has also been released as a line of wearable USB jewelry—candy-like hearts with a bit of cheeky circuitry.
While pop is often distinguished by its sleekness and attention to detail, the production on Love Riddle is particularly exquisite. The sound is hard and smooth as lacquer, glossy and deliciously reflective. Each tone is developed carefully, and any semblance of a sharp edge has been polished off—the seams are entirely invisible. The engineering is at once a dominant mark on the album and effectively invisible, thanks to excellent work from Kevin Hearn (Rheostatics) and Dave Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy).
If the production on Love Riddle is the beautifully wrought but understated setting, then Clara Venice’s voice is the jewel: warm without becoming buttery, a kind of darkness without any grit. She sings blithely for most of Love Riddle, her vocals flowing with casual ease. There are moments, though, most notably in “Ninja,” in which a note of longing catches and snags in her voice. When she allows herself to become vulnerable and emotive, even a shade, it is magical.
These moments are rare, however, and for most of Love Riddle, Venice hides comfortably behind a hard, almost carapace-like exterior, trading vulnerability for armour. Venice does much more than sing on the record: she is the composer as well, and plays Theremin, electric violin, guitar, ukulele, and glockenspiel. The instrumental elements are playful, but also a little bit alien, refusing to allow us to peek very far under the album’s hard shell.
While attempting to penetrate Love Riddle is extremely enjoyable, the album is a bit of intrigue that doesn’t want to give way. Fun to play with, it ultimately locks the listener out, keeping us at a distance. A lovely, and surprisingly lonely, EP, from a very talented performer.
Clara Venice will perform at the Peacock (365 King Street West) at 10:45 pm on Thursday, October 17, as part of Indie Week. Doors are at 8:30 pm and cover is $10. Braeden Mitchell, Find the Others, Coleman Hell, The Futureless and Typical Friday Night will also perform.