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It All Starts With One
Foxfire Torch Songs
Ane Brun is the closest thing the female gender and Scandinavia has to Antony and the Johnsons. Her compositions and virtuoso vocals are often used in the pursuit of extreme, exquisite beauty. Both artists often take things so far that they arrive at a place that is beautiful, but almost grotesquely so.
Norway-born, Stockholm-based artist’s fourth album It All Starts With One might be that very point of arrival. “These Days” begins things with muted, churchy organs and Brun’s wounded soprano. The melody hovers nervously near life’s mysteries like a spirit that’s not quite ready to cross over. An extra chill comes from wondering, even at the end, if the song is really about a departed lover or something stranger. Each track that follow is every bit as brutally and eerily lovely.
Soulful flickers of Bobby Gentry and Loretta Lynn make her music, whether driven by guitar or piano, into a kind of modernist country folk. And, yeah, there’s some stock Kate Bush-ian over-emoting piano chords, but the piano can be forgiven; it just gets over-excited sometimes. “Do You Remember” could be a Jens Lekman number, while other tracks could be compared to Bon Iver, taking the singer-songwriter vocabulary into unexplored climes.
There’s an orchestral pop element to the album that gives it a big, expansive quality. And she’s not just slapping some strings or booming drums on a song, either. This is painstaking popcraft on the level of Serge Gainsbourg.
The refrain “revolution from dreams” on “One,” for instance, might give you shivers. She goes for spooky power and gets it. Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to get up in the middle of the night, look in the bathroom mirror and see her vibrato. Your hair would turn white. To be clear, we’re not quite talking Diamanda Galas scary. This is more like that quote from Rainer Maria Rilke about beauty being the beginning of a terror we could not endure. All these songs seem to be about love and letting go, but you get the feeling they’re always alluding to something even greater than the emotional states they describe.
Somehow Brun’s voice seems always bathed in light. The songs never seem to quite touch the ground, and the events she describes don’t seem to really take place in this world. It’s okay though. Rather than making them seem unreal, it creates the pleasant impression that there might really be some other world for things to take place in.