In addition to being a classically trained violinist, Claire Watkins is an earnest sponge of both fringe and pop culture. Her new EP Image Fiction under her Scout Ripley moniker is a tapestry in part woven by her impressive knowledge of all things from Ingmar Bergman films to Arrested Film: the name "Image Fiction," itself comes from one of the late postmodern darling David Foster Wallace's essays as a meditation on an artist's inability to be genuine and also be "good," to make things simple.
Scout Ripley began as Claire's home-recorded tracks from a looping pedal, but has grown to include Ian Young, of the Chicago group Morning Arms. Image Fiction is obviously a more sophisticated and produced product, though it retains the ineffable "Claire-ness" (forgive me for that) that made the first recordings so special.
Often, as I've spent the last few years talking with artists about music, I've come to the conclusion that as long as a piece of work is genuine, then it has value and is thereby "good" - I think that the critical view of music has been long overdone and honestly does more to exclude great artists than inspire new ones. I think Claire would agree with me too. The thing about Image Fiction is that it does seem to do both of the things that DFW, who'd appreciate the acronym, juxtaposes in his notion of "Image Fiction." But the "ironic vocabulary" he says artists are raised in is different for Claire. Sure, there are hints of Owen Pallett, Andrew Bird, and other chamber pop artists, but Claire's vocabulary is more studied, and it's worth pointing out. She's played countless classical symphonies with the Depaul orchestra and has accumulated a deeply impressive, and honestly a little intimidating, knowledge of classical music.
Central to the urtext of Image Fiction would appear to be Claire's violin, and though I'm a huge fan of well-layered chamber pop, I actually find myself focusing more on her vocals, which are pure, gentle, and honest. On songs like "Midwestern Image Fiction," Claire focuses a feeling of nostalgia and missing while watching a sun rise through holes in a ceiling, with a pensive outlook on how we interact or have interacted with people, and more seriously, whether or not we have the right language to interact with people or geographical locales. It's a heavy question, the kind that can really freak you out for a few hours if you spend too much time thinking about it, which is exactly why it merits revisit occasionally.
So it's a work that rides on the desire to remain one hundred percent authentic and also be something that people will like. Does it succeed? Absolutely! Are you out of your GotDamn mind? It's great!
P.S. Recommended for listening on the Skyway from Chicago to Indiana on a cold night - the old factory towns make great backdrops for the music.