How do we cope with the gulf between us and those we’ve lost? On The Land Beyond The Light, the debut full-length album by Claire George, the Los-Angeles artist reckons with questions of addiction and loss, while exploring new sonic vocabularies in which to house them. The result is an achingly human document of life; an album in turns ecstatic and elegiac.
While Claire’s first release, the 2018 EP Bodies of Water, was notable for its wide-eyed celestial synth-pop, The Land Beyond the Light, delves deeper into her swath of dance and pop influences, especially “the organic-sounding, predominantly European electronic music that I love so much,” she says — house, downtempo, UK garage to name a few. These influences bubble up throughout the record, from the syncopated pulse of “You Don’t Feel The Same” and “Pink Elephants,” to the breaks that run throughout “Northern Lights” and “Particles in Motion.” The album also finds Claire featuring guitar and bass prominently for the first time. The dreamy wash of guitars on the chorus on “Islands” and the steady thrum on “Medellín” add new depth and texture to her polychromatic synth sounds.
The Land Beyond The Light was initially conceived as a break-up record, largely inspired by a tough split Claire was going through in late 2019. She wrote the album opener “You Don’t Feel The Same” in the immediate aftermath, charting a course for a record channeling her feelings about the dissolution of relationships. “When that relationship fell apart, I felt really angry,” Claire says. “As I set out to write this album, I envisioned it being much harsher, being fresh off of the break-up.”
The tone and tenor of the writing process changed, however, in the wake of another personal tragedy: the death of one of Claire’s close friends and ex-boyfriends as a result of substance abuse. “Everything changed when he passed away,” she says. When Claire returned to the songs she had written for the album, they took on a new meaning filtered through her grief. “So many of the songs, whether they were about him when I first wrote them or not, are about him now. And this record is for him.”
One of the tragedies of addiction is that it can make us feel lost to those who are suffering, even before they’re gone. “What can you do when there’s an ocean left between you?” Claire asks on “You Don’t Feel The Same”—a question she continues interrogating across the album’s nine tracks.
“Most of these songs express the desperation of wanting to help someone you love, but who you cannot possibly save from themselves,” Claire explains. “There is this thread of desperately wanting someone to break free from their afflictions, and the heartbreak associated with knowing you cannot change someone.” On “Pink Elephants,” she acknowledges her own struggles with substance abuse, articulating it this way: “I don’t blame you, I know how it feels / with tusk and teeth gnawing at your heels.”
Claire’s writing process coincided with her grieving process, and the spirit of her late friend was stamped indelibly onto the album: memories of their relationship, imagined what-if scenarios, her competing feelings of gratitude and grief. Album closer “Particles in Motion” in particular addresses the naggingly human questions regarding death. For example, physics outlines the conservation of energy as one of the laws governing our universe, dictating that energy can neither be created nor destroyed—so where does it go when you die? “You’re still part of my poems / You’re still particles in motion,” she sings, “But where’d you go?/ I just don’t know when.”
“Particles In Motion” is also about the complexities of bereavement; the awkwardness of death, and of carrying on in its wake. “It was shortly after my friend’s death and I was still struggling to write about it, but didn’t feel like I could write about anything else either,” Claire says. “I learned to stop trying to force a solution to grief. To just be quiet and sit with the loss. To allow myself to be speechless and to allow for things that can’t be fixed to exist in their new forms.” In the song, she concludes: “Some broken things don’t need fixing.”
The album’s centerpiece is “Northern Lights”— a hushed and imagistic tribute to her lost friend, where lyrics offer glimpses of their shared memories, honoring the small moments that populate a relationship: dancing with your best friend’s mom, lost and driving in a strange town, sharing the exact same dream. These memories come in flashes, “flickering like the Northern Lights.” She sings: “I’d give anything to turn back time / Begin again / before my life without you.”
“Northern Lights,” twinkles with the same soft aura its title suggests. In many ways, it captures the essence of Claire’s artistry that’s woven throughout The Land Beyond The Light: a multi-layered and lovingly human narrative about marveling at life and the beauty of the world around us, even in its most tragic moments. It’s a song that reminds its listeners that some of the rarest phenomena are also the most natural. All we can do is stand and watch, in wonder, until it’s over.
By the time Claire debuted her first solo material in 2018, she had already made a name for herself as a topliner, contributing vocal features to a number of electronic and dance artists. Intent on learning how to make her own music, in the winter of that year Claire decamped to the woods outside of her hometown in Seattle and spent weeks teaching herself audio production, taking classical piano lessons, and honing her songwriting skills.
She emerged from the retreat equipped with a new technical ability, and also with her debut EP, Bodies of Water. Released in late 2018, the EP’s ethereal pop productions underscored Claire’s striking vocal talent (Stereogum, for one, noted “her sinewy vocals stay mostly to an aching whisper, but occasionally reveal powerful, Lorde-like creases”). The EP’s five tracks were also imbued with a sense of cosmic wonder—you can hear it in Claire’s voice on the single “Orbits” when she sings, “Everything you are is a miracle.”
Following the release of Bodies of Water, Claire accompanied DRAMA (Ghostly International) on a nationwide tour and supported The Midnight, Diane Coffee and Kllo on shorter runs. During these shows, she would punctuate her set with the stunning piano-and-voice ballad, “Alone Together,” regularly silencing the crowd and commanding their attention with her powerhouse vocals. She released the single “Alone Together” in fall of 2019, alongside an alternate uptempo rework of the track. In early 2020, a Yumi Zouma remix of Claire’s song “Where Do You Go?” was prominently featured in the opening scene of the Netflix original movie All The Bright Places, introducing her music to a brand new audience of fans.
The Land Beyond the Light, Claire George’s debut album, is out May 21, 2021 on Cascine.For tour dates and more visit: www.claire-george.com/