This blog started with the intention of sharing records that more people should hear, and I think that's more the case for this record than any other thus far. It occupies a strange mid-point, both in visibility and in the context of the artist's body of work. It's been reprinted a handful of times, and its Discogs recommendations include acts as disparate and big-league as Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Tracy Chapman, and Prefab Sprout (begging the question, who exactly is listening to this record?). Claire Hamill debuted on Island Records, opened for Jethro Tull, and made several very big-budget albums. She dabbled in folk, synth pop, and electro before landing on Voices, which has been (somewhat confusingly) labeled as new age. It's perhaps owing to that very difficulty in pinning her down or understanding her body of work that her work itself, with its dazzling high points, seems to have slipped through the cracks. We missed the trees for the forest.
But backing up: after an audition for Island founder Chris Blackwell, Hamill released her debut at seventeen, an impressive folk record that belied her age. It immediately drew comparisons to Joni Mitchell and was advertised in Time Out with the tagline "When most girls are frantically hunting husbands, starting work in Woolworths or learning to type, Claire has finished her first album." (Happy International Women's Day, by the way!) But despite her label's high hopes for megastardom, her records continued to fall flat of large-scale acclaim. After a few more folk-rock efforts on a new label, Hamill ended up on CODA Records, Beggars Banquet's "new age" imprint. She released Touchpaper, an ambitious electro-sophisti-pop record about which there are some great notes here, and then, while living in the English countryside married with a new baby--"a sweet time in my life"--decided to make a record out of just her voice. Entirely self-written, self-produced, and featuring just a bit of synth and drum machine, Voices feels like a pared-down predecessor to Camille's Le Fil. She uses her voice not just as a choir but as strings, as as keyboard, and as texture, all the while staying attentive to inclusions of inhales--they're emphatic, but never oppressive. Songs like "Harvest," which so clearly evokes a chorus of women singing while reaping wheat, manage to worldlessly distill the bucolic ethos of what Aaron Copland need an entire opera to do. Despite repetitive motifs and loops, nothing ever slogs. Everything moves.
What's really shocking about a first listen, though, is how clearly you can hear threads leading directly to and from so many important artists. At the risk of sounding like the token music journalist who compares every female artist to every other female artist, you can explicitly hear the Celtic-tinged multi-tracking that Enya would go on to make a career out of, Kate Bush's emotional fluency, a Cocteau Twins cavernous goth sensibility, Julia Holter's polished baroque, Virginia Astley's loving chronicle of the English countryside. Nothing folky, but totally pastoral. A (mostly) worldless spectrum of feeling. There are jewels to be found throughout Claire Hamill's career, but Voices is her strongest, and perhaps most unsung, stroke of brilliance.
A note that while I always encourage you to buy records you love whenever possible, Claire has been personally funding her continued independent music-making, so if you love this as much as I do, please consider buying it!