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EP REVIEW: 'in the violet hour' - Saint Clair

When Saint Clair sings, she likes to close her eyes. It allows her to embrace the catharsis of the music. At least, this was the case last year when Saint Clair (born Emma Topolski) played a rare show at London’s Colours Hoxton. The venue was small but perfectly suited the intimate nature of the performance.

Saint Clair – 'goddess' — When The Horn Blows

(Photo credit: Flore Diamant)

Last month, Saint Clair released her deeply personal visual EP ‘in the violet hour: a portrait on grief’ directed by her sister, Tamsin Topolski. The sisters collaborated following the death of their father, the rowing coach and Observer journalist Daniel Topolski, while still reeling from a broken heart. 

With its four tracks, the cohesiveness of the EP  is such that the songs amalgamate into one stunning 18-minute piece. Saint Clair explores the different stages of the grieving process. What unites ‘goddess (chapter i)’, ‘violet hour (chapter ii)’, ‘elegy in c (chapter iii)’ and ‘better (chapter iv)’ are the running themes of loss.

Having released her debut EP ‘D1’ in May 2017 and supported British band Bastille on tour in 2018, the singer-songwriter has gone from strength to strength and ‘in the violet hour: a portrait on grief’ demonstrates her further growth as an artist and the maturation of her sound. The electro-pop tinged alternative pop tracks such as ‘Simmer’ and ‘Human Touch’ have been set aside in favour of a more sophisticated sound. There is also a more experimental mood to this latest EP, especially in reference to the eastern-inspired beats on ‘violet hour’. The tracks on ‘in the violet hour: a portrait on grief’ are still as catchy as her previous works, however they also showcase Saint Clair’s evolution as an artist.

‘in the violet hour: a portrait on grief’, named after a line from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, begins with a voicemail message. It is a pretty generic message (“can you please leave your message and telephone number and I’ll call you back”) but it is the voice of Topolski’s father, which makes it a hard listen. From the beginning, we are exposed to an underlying vulnerability. 

Saint Clair talks fashion 'in the violet hour' | LDNFASHION

Next, we follow a tarantula as it crawls from the living room into the family kitchen. The visuals are uncomfortable to watch in their disjointed nature. The lonely piano keys of the opening track are suspenseful and unnerving. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we find the ‘goddess’ dressed in a black couture funeral dress. This is also where the song really comes into its own. ‘goddess (chapter i)’ is an alternative pop track. “Heartache / What have you done to us?,” she asks. The question is direct and there is no closing of the eyes now. The chorus is upbeat yet Saint Clair’s lyrics are steeped in melancholy: ”When you’re lying on the kitchen floor / Nothing’s godly anymore”. Saint Clair sings about being “bulletproof” but also “afraid”. It’s a very honest track.

In ‘violet hour (chapter ii),’ she says she feels like she’s in a “daydream”. The visuals were inspired by Cillian Murphy’s character in the 2019 play ‘Grief Is the Thing With Feathers’. Saint Clair finds herself with feather-like wings. “You couldn’t be there for me,” she sings angrily on the R&B-influenced. 

‘elegy in c’ is the highlight of this already brilliant EP. We hear audio from private family home videos, reminding the audience that the memory of her father is at the heart of her work. The opening lines of the song are especially heartbreaking. “I only miss you when I’m breathing / I’d miss you if I’d never seen your face before”.  Her delicate, soulful vocals allow for understanding and encourage empathy from her audience. The chorus continues to describe her pain: “I couldn’t miss you any more”. Throughout ‘in the violet hour: a portrait on grief’ the lyrics are explicit in the sense that there is not left for interpretation. Her words are clear and direct. 

In the film, Saint Clair sits on the edge of a pristine white bathtub, dripping in purple paint and looking numb. Defeated. She washes the paint off in a scene which represents acceptance. Then, a change of tone occurs as she sings: “When I’m alone in the night / Is the time I ignite all the sad thoughts of you / And the memories too”.

Later, Saint Clair ritualistically burns her father’s possessions such as a gold medal. She actually did this which shows that there are blurred lines between her art and her ‘real life’. 

After the emotional heaviness of ‘elegy in c (chapter iii)’, ‘better (chapter iv)’ is sonically lighter but lyrically just as devastating (“Somehow you lost your way / Can’t find the words to say / Inside you feel that everything around you is breaking / But I’m better ‘cos of you”). She sings softly before showcasing her powerhouse vocals. 

She ends with a quote from American astronomer Carl Sagan: “In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and an epoch with [you]”. Saint Clair articulates the familiar feelings that come with grief in a relatable yet bittersweet way in this very real, non-romanticised look at grief.

‘In the violet hour’ is available on all major streaming services. 

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