Clever Girls – Constellations Album Review

Egghunt Records – 2021

Vermont based indie quartet Clever Girls return with the follow up to 2018’s Luck and there’s certainly been a long wait for its arrival. Originally writing began before the band even released their 2018 debut, surrounded by months of tiresome touring supporting their debut. Then releasing the first single “Remember Pluto” back in 2019 and now nearly a year and a half later they have delivered the finished product.

One of the biggest themes of this album is lead singer Diane Jean’s journey of self discovery and questioning their identity, something that eventually lead to them coming out as queer and gender-nonconforming person. On “Stonewall” they sing “I don’t feel as good as you” as they question their role within relationships as someone whose assigned to female at birth. You can hear the despair and longing in their voice, Jean has even said that they recorded the vocal take in one go in a sleeping bag. It’s that realisation that the relationship you’re in isn’t equally weighted from both parts, but the roots of the problem lie deeper in the way you are raised. This lack of worth within a relationship returns on closer “Fried” as Jean sings “Wanted to seem like I’d picked up my pride, turn down the bed and switch off the lights, go down on you anyway” over woozy melancholic piano chords. Sharing this intimate moment as to them it feels as though it’s become a necessity rather than an actual desire. “You exist in a place that I never did, And i’ve never forgiven” they repeat on the chorus, further emphasising the disparity.

This sense of isolation is fully realised on “Baby Blue”, as although the guitar riff may sound hopeful and uplifting it’s juxtaposed with a journal of Jean’s solitary. “I’ve been standing on the corner, I’ve been sitting at home, I’ve been pacing the floor boards and spending too much time alone” they sing. Although this track was written nearly 3 years ago, the message seems even more relevant now. On “Saturn” however Jean is taking a look at the ways she can change her life. “You keep me falling, meet me in the middle” Jean repeats on the first half of the song, showing how they feel tied down to their current situation. Come the second half Jean is being reborn, moving forward and upward as they sing “Spit me back up, i’m a killer”. Taking the reins and finding a new lease of life.

From the opening moments of this album you realise that although Jeans’ vocals are often tender and intimate, the soundscape that backs them has a tendency to burst out into full blown rage at any moment, mostly when you least expect it. On “Come Clean” the song starts with an uneasy drum beat and gentle guitars. Then around the 1:20 mark the song explodes into a wall of cacophonous sounds, as if the inner emotion that Jean is feeling is trying to burst out. This trope is explored many times on the album, like on “Womxn” where the track builds through creepy and sleazy chords and melodies until it detonates into its epic ending of chaos and controlled erraticism.

This tendency to move into this heavier sound however does leave the album becoming somewhat stale at points and almost lacking in textural depth. Jeans’ vocals are the guiding force through the journey that this album takes you on, however at many points they almost become unintelligible. The band may have been trying to tap into more of a lo-fi aesthetic at these points but it comes at the cost of any memorable moments. Like on “Baby Blue” the sound becomes so blown out and full towards the latter half of the track that everything feels like it’s being submerged in a muddy mix of contrasting ideas. It does lead into the atmospheric and dream like title track “Constellations” that adds a bit more sonic range to the album but it’s all too short and sweet; a fleeting glimpse of something more.

That being said this is certainly an enjoyable listen and showcases the bands potential for dynamic songwriting, and will surely be exciting in a live scenario. The storytelling is intimate and Jean’s voice acts as a comforting companion through this journey of self exploration.

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