'Deathbed'- Track Review
It is the combustive sound of a modern and agile talent, and the pleasing tones and childlike beauty of Kate Bush.
Availability: 'Deathbed' is available now at: http://soundcloud.com/cityslang/anna-von-hausswolff-deathbed
There is another shift happening in the female solo market...
at the moment. Well, maybe not a shift as such, but a definite segregation of tonality and quality. There is a- unfortunately majority- section of female singers who have quite fey and listless voices. I'm thinking of the like of Ellie Goulding and Lucy Rose. There is a mutated subsection, that begins evolution along the same aesthetic lines; then layers of makeup is applied, garish clothing is adorned, and purulent nonsense, and meaningless fluff is emanated forth. I am referring to the likes of Katy Perry, Lady GaGa and their ilk. Within that subsection there is a little redemptive quality, such as Little Dancer. The other, less subscribed group comprises the powerful and intriguing. Reigned by current head of state Adele, there are successors to the throne such as Jessie Ware, Laura Marling and so forth. The former have an inherent planned obsolescence. They suspect they will not be on the scene for a long time, choosing to spend their sojourn of creative existing creating high-energy and so called 'feminist' and 'empowering' songs. They are fooling no one. For anyone who can read or hear, the songs and combined discography amounts to seldom more than sub-par Madonna posturing. The latter fare better; possessing impressive and diverse vocals, able to write provoking lyrics, with a keen ear for simplicity and effectiveness. The one thing I would say about this crew is that there is little.... shock. Good shock, that is. Rarely do you drop your head with exasperation and awe; eyes watering and mouth a rictus of catatonic glee. Of course that sort of visceral reaction is hard to come by; but when it does occur, it is worth talking about.
Having garnered some recent positive press from The Girls Are and The Quietus, Anna von Hausswolff is a seductive siren, with a business plan that contains a very promising profit and loss statement. She hails from Sweden, as you may have guess from the fore, and surname. She is incredibly striking, projecting a safe and seductive aesthete of a girl-next-door, but gorgeous and alluring as well; one suspects she could make men drop to their knees, from a shy look alone. Having just been signed to City Slang records, she is riding a creative and professional high. This label houses the likes of Arcade Fire, so you won't need me to tell you that her music, is not exactly going to be sound-tracking an episode of One Tree Hill. She is a 26-year-old goddess whom has wowed and intoxicated her native land with her beguiling voice. That is something I will get to anon. Her debut E.P. 'Track of Time' was released back in 2010, and followed it with the album 'Singing from the Grave'. Critics and fans were a combined mass of admiration, with notable comparisons made to Kate Bush and Antony Hegarty. Obviously there is a ferbile approximation to the latter, but it is the Bush comparisons that are most relevant, and spellbinding. I will add more depth to the analogy within the main body of the review, but you cannot help but to shake off that same breathless wonder you receive after witnessing a Kate Bush vocal turn. There is the same accumulative super-naturalness and infantile innocence, that strikes you hardest. Anna's new album 'Ceremony' will be released on June 17th, and promises to stagger, bludgeon and woe you with an eclectic and heady mixture of that voice, fertile and inspirational compositions, and acute and memorable lyrics. As you may have guessed from the subsequent and previous album and E.P. titles, there is a funereal motif and uniformity to Anna's work ethic. Don't go expecting any Joy Division morbidity or suicidality to her personality, or ambitions. She is more than the sum of any predefined and prejudged parts. There is a parts Nick Cave, P.J. Harvey and Elizabeth Fraser to her, and the lead-off single 'Deathbed' promising, perhaps more than anyone would or could possible expect.
Any sort of safe and common adjectives that I was going to use, in order to give my initial impression of the track, have been struck through, and repatriated. The opening notes are produced by an ominous, yet intense. It is a church organ, that holds and floats magisterially above the congregation, and there were a number of avenues, perhaps, the song could take. The sound of the organ hold is similar to that heard on Wild Beasts' track 'The Fun Powder Plot', only invested with darker, smokier flavours. I was curious if there would be a similar nimble vocal performance forthcoming, or something more restrained. With only a minuscule hint of quasi-modulation the organ holds for well over a minute. It is haunting, intergalactic, and reverent, in the way it shifts, confounds, intrigues, ennoculates and aneasthitises. Just after the 1:1o marker, there is a trippy and odd sounding guitar blast. If you listen to the end of Queen of the Stone Age's 'Make It Wit Chu', it manifests a similar romantic stoner echoing. With a running time of 8:38, the track has the ambition of a '70s rock classic. The guitar throbs appear as a counterpointed punctuation to the organ, which, although possessing less volume now, is an unerring and emotive element. Switching from emotive-less and monotone, the guitar becomes an ambiotic and more distressed animal. It wails and howls; cries and calls out to you. If you were to visualise the therianthropic brood of the track, I, for one was transported to a dark and damp street. There is nobody around, aside from the occasional passing car. The streets are dimly lit, and there is a noxious tension in the air. I am minded to clutch tight to my meagre possessions, in fear that they will be absconded. The tension is nauseating, and there is a relentless smell of tobacco smoke in the doorways. As I walk towards a familiar neon light, nestling between a closed bar and a theatre, there is a narrow alleyway, protected by a beaten and sturdy blue door. A pale woman stands by the door and nods with familiarity. The weather is becoming more hostile; the rain beating savagely, the wind is numbing and totalitarian. The sonic sound-scape really does conjure a myriad of strange and nocturnal scenes. There is an unpredictable and swaying aroma of dis-calm; tattooed with converse virtues of puritanical respect and voyeuristic bravery. It is what Byron would have created if he were a musician, rather than a poet. Around 3:20 there is the hallucinogenic buzz saw sound of flat organ; as a marching band drumbeat, with no consideration for the laws of the Doppler Effect, heralds a sea change. There is a lightning buzz of electrics, infusing the song with a Pirc Defense of structure. There is fuzzy, scuzzy guitar; withdrawal effect of organ; an ellipsis before a bullet hole drum slam. The guitar becomes more cohesive; there is a bluesy, beautiful string articulation, building a sense of Prog Rock-cum-'60s psychedelia. The vocal then arrives, and the unquestionable Bush memisis is an axiomatic tautlogy. It is evident there is influence, but the previous musical orgasm, combined with an alliterative lyrical tone, suggest that face value overrides skin deep, in any stereotyped summations. There are elements of 'The Dreaming/Hounds of Love'-era Bush in the vocal style and adventure. The fusing of vocal balletic and musical pioneering is similar to P.J. Harvery and Massive Attack. The words employ a sense of emotional fatigue and love-gone-bad recollection: "I gave all/I gave in". Anna has a glorious sweetness, but also a gymnastic and supple elasticity to her range, capable of portraying an anagrammatical array of emotions and shades. She can growl, and sigh; scream breathy, and dominates the mood with omnipotence and conviction. In the same way that Wild Beasts' front-man Hayden Thorpe combines tenor and countertenor; barking, trilling, screaming, angelically growling, Anna has a similar talent, able to operatically summon up a riot of passion and pain. After the vocal passage, there is a gorgeous swim of organ and drum which is parts Groove Armada, parts The Doors. The organ continues to ride and purge, carrying the song to its exhausted conclusion.
It is not just the song as a whole which overwhelms you entirely; it is also the general unexpectedness of it all. I have written an 8:01 song called 'Vanity Mirror', in the- somewhat ambitious- mould of 'Paranoid Android'. It consists of 7 distinct phases and parts, and combines interchangeable music and a lot of vocal. If you were to look at the running time of 'Deathbed', you'd imagine that there would be: a short but building intro; a traditional chorus-verse-chorus structure, complete with a large proportion of vocal and musical interplay. Anna's masterpiece consists of 90% music, compared with a fleeting, yet ecstatic vocal interjection. The song is all mood, build, intrigue and eliciting the maximum amount of emotional resonance, from sparse organ and drum (and guitar of course). There is a sense of humour at the wake, and never a sense of dirge, depression or self-flagellation. It, instead, is magisterial and empirically stupendous. Anna proves that she has a remarkable voice that can blend influences seamlessly, yet never leans too heavily. It is one that is full of mystery and wonder, imploring you to fall still under her spell. The star of the show, may even be the music itself- which is unexpected. It is consistently engaging and hypnotic, leaving you spellbound and sweaty after the first listen.
Iceland produced Bjork, and near-neighbours Sweden have not produced a huge amount of similarly fascinating and gripping artists over the last 15 years or so. Anna is going to be hot property very, very soon. She may have gained a predominately localised fervour and adoring fan-base, thus far; yet has shown on the evidence here, she can deftly conquer and crush the comparatively meagre competition. She shares only a collegial relationship with her counterparts, and in a media scene with such much schadenfreude present, I am going to be one of the first to proclaim that her forthcoming album will be on the lips and tongues of many reviewers, critics and fans alike come June. If my proclamations and words have seemed like rank psychologism, I apologise, but rare are the occasions when one is presented with such a stunning piece of music. Perhaps it is a subjective viewpoint, considering my combined love for the likes of P.J. Harvey, Nick Cave, Kate Bush and the like, but the song spoke to me, and has genuinely inspired me. My pet projects and much-amended songs have been infused with new relevance and inspiration, and I personally cannot wait until the album is released. In fact, I may explode before then. For the time being I shall calm my nerves with a dose of liberal, restrained U.K. artists, and only dream of what Anna's album will contain. If you are skeptical as to the perceived popularity that Anna has gained, I will referee. It is by being bold, different, and outside of the nucleus of modern music that herald the most incredible long-term rewards. To those uninitiated and virgins to this style of chamber music-cum-progressive pop, then it is quite normal to be afraid of the dark. It is perfectly normal, but I shall leave you with a quote from philosopher Herodotus: "Great things are won...
... by great danger".