As a music journalist I’ve had the privilege of listening to a lot of really talented artists in the past. I’ve encountered songwriters who could compose ballads that had the ability to emotionally move entire concert halls with one strike of the piano keys, and I’ve known singers that could belt out the most incredible harmonies you’ve ever heard in total spontaneity. It’s not often that I feel really stirred by emerging acts, but occasionally I hear something breathtaking, and I instantly fall in love with the sound. These artists are impossible not to gravitate towards; they capture our hearts and appeal to an unspoken sensibility that all of us carry deep within our souls. With that said, I feel like I discovered a genuine treasure recently in California’s Clare Means, a humble singer/songwriter with a reputation that’s as big as her home state. Based out of the Los Angeles area, Means’ new album, Sidewalk Astronomy, is unquestionably the most enigmatic, wildly original and provocative album I have heard all year (and possibly in the last half decade). Led by the prolific single “Guts, ”Sidewalk Astronomy is the kind of record that basks in its raw, independent packaging and fearless experimentalism. Not since I saw Justin Vernon some 15 years ago in a nameless town in the Midwest have I been so affected by an aspiring musician’s work.
“Guts” is an evocative, formidable sonnet that mourns the loss of a lover and the memories that were created with them, and exhibits Means’ most mature songwriting in her career to date. The track features a powerful string arrangement following the chorus that evenly compliments Means’ gentle, bittersweet lamenting with an energy that gives me the chills every time I listen to it. She takes us to a heart wrenching scene; two devoted best friends whose chemistry is unmistakable and can light up the darkest of rooms. A single heart they share, nevertheless to be split back into two pieces, with the former going off in this direction and the latter going off in another. However, the love that they was shared, the fireworks, for whatever torturous reason lingers and stays forever, even if the passion and the connection ultimately has faded away. The descriptive sonic textures of the track and the rich, ethereal manner in which she chooses to present them makes us feel like we’re front row to a full symphony orchestra embodied in a lone woman with a guitar.
You could definitely say that her prose is Dylan-esque, but Clare Means is much less irreverent in her method of expression. There’s a unique authenticity, an almost earthiness to her sound that is consistent throughout her entire catalogue. Her alluring, almost magnetic urban drawl is like as hypnotizing as a steadily swinging pendulum, and after first listening to Sidewalk Astronomy and “Guts” in particular, I found that I couldn’t get enough of her intoxicating melodies. This is pure gold if I’ve ever heard it, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything released in 2018 thus far that has the chops to stand up to what Means has produced in this elegant masterpiece.