Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ü2K6: Long-Belated [The End Of It All]

Blame my disappearance on #10's game. I disappeared down that hole quickly and fast, and only now do I have time for other things, such as breathing.

1. Anna Ternheim - Separation Road

First off, I know you're thinking: Who? Just start off with this basic premise: Sweden's answer to Sarah McLachlan.

The commercially-oriented (signed to Universal) female singer-songwriter field is pretty cluttered. It has been for years. It's a weird horse to catch, too: while cluttered with packaged commercial products (Kelly Clarkson), the most successful veterans burn their own paths through the brush (Alanis Morissette). Similarily, it's an odd field from a critical perspective, focusing nearly completely on vocal talent from a critical perspective, and on personal attachment from a general listing perspective ("our [love] song", "my [theme] song").

I'd be lying if I said that Anna Ternheim was going to change all of that. I can, however, let you in on the fact that she's at least growing its' boundaries. Out of all the other albums on my top 25, the most similar is Isis' In The Absence Of Truth. See, what catapults this to #1 is simply that it goes after post-rock's headspace in the songstress' formula. Anna carefully balances love-based lyrics (subgenre staple) with the quiet ebb-and-flow shown in post-rock, the minimalist emphasis shown in the same, and yet reaches all over the spectrum for influences and ideas (like "Girl Laying Down"'s ragtime opening section). "Calling Love" is an excellent example of what's so good about this album: while it has an utterly mesmerizing chorus, the real quality that enamores you to it is the rising feeling, the beautiful crescendo it builds itself into before leaving.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "One To Blame", easily my song of the year. Unusual for the subgenre, everything is hung off paired string instruments: violin and guitar, guitar and guitar, violin and violin. Combined with an unnervingly hypnotic percussion section and an quietly humming opening, it conjures a completely original mood, one of a phantom symphony playing quietly, forgotten in an underground chamber, playing a lament that will go forever unheard. That's really what makes Separation Road so listenable and so unusual: while country influences and jazz influences are a dime a dozen, where every album must have the "we're in love" song and the "you go, girl" song, Anna Ternheim takes this tired old stereotype/formular/whatever you want to call it and makes it go places.

Still, don't be mistaken. There's nothing here that isn't about love or relationships, lyrically. There's no changeup for bitter hate or serial killer worship, despite the country of origin. But it is instrumentally interesting. It is vocally beautiful. There is something new on offer, and it's much less grating that Ys was.

Finally, this gem was only released in Sweden. This is a link to Amazon's imported copy, but I suggest you give it a listen before shelling out $40 or so, just in case this isn't your thing.

Postscript: I've been thinking up titles for this post for weeks now. Other favorites include: "Death Metal['s Backyard Antidote]", "Swedish Fangirlism", "Kidnapped By Xenosaga", "I Like This But You'll Hate It", "Worth It [The Arm And Leg, I Mean]", and "Roland Goes French, I Go Swedish". Pick your poison.

1 comment:

music is art said...

anna is amazing... i found her by searching randomly for something new last year. excited for her next release!

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