Anna Von Hausswolff — “Singing From The Grave” Album Review

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My first encounter with this artist was in the January 2016 issue of Prog Rock Magazine and my attention was caught by her comment about The Pink Floyd and how she’s a Huge fan and been so since she was 16 and that their records live inside of her. So naturally I had to see what her music is all about. The album art I found to be initially striking and reminded me of something from a horror movie like, The Grudge or The Ring etc. Something scrawled out by some mad person in a dark and dank cell at the end of the back of the corridor of some deranged asylum at the turn of the century who’s harrowing screams are heard all over. Certainly avant-garde art that is often dissed away by critics but I find it an absolute apogee to the music found contained within it’s artful walls of the CD sleeve.

A Gothenburg, Sweden native she began her career around 2010 and was born in a period where the 80’s were all but almost over by 1986 so she was spared the wretched tail end of the glitz and glam that was splattered all over the airwaves and television screens around the world. She missed the inception of MTV and Much Music(Canada), not sure what Sweden had to offer but I’m sure they tried their best to avoid any global interference to some point. I was surprised she was influenced so much by The Pink Floyd considering a country that gave us the likes of; ABBA, The Cardigans, Ace of Base and Roxette to name a few. So compliments to whoever exposed her to Prog music to give her a wider diversity of sound.

The opening piano notes leave a somber feel that carries throughout the album as it’s the main instrument played on the album and for the most part the only instrument on some songs. The album plays out like a requiem for the disturbed masses of cynics and quiet numbers of people who see the world for what it really is beyond the walls of their mental safe houses tucked away behind their eyes. Anna’s voice is striking and prominent in every track as she utilizes her vocal range to become an extension of the instrumentation that helps grade the tracks becoming a solid composition every time. Her voice; she doesn’t leap and bound with it but keeps it self-contained in a shadowy torch like tone. At times I’m recalled to the days of listening to Renaissance and the vocal talents of Annie Haslam. Anna doesn’t go to the five octave reaches that Haslam hit but she doesn’t have to, Anna finds her self well grounded in her own range and tone keeping it consistent and applying it to each track appropriately as the song dictates her to. Moments of mid-seventies choir country music ensembles creep in to the chorus of the song “Above All” as it has that sweet scent of the Grand Ole Opry on Sunday night teley. Showing that she’s not afraid to venture in to territories that stray from the norms and prerequisites of what Prog is and/or should be she gives command performances in each song on the album.

Minor chords and downtrodden tones ring throughout the album but don’t leave you feeling saddened by her timbres of music but relaxed and calm as it waves you onward deeper in to the album. Drums, guitar and bass are more incidental instruments here than dominant players and her voice and piano regale in the forefront. Some of the songs come across more Gaelic and traditional UK Folk music from the Highlands than a mid-twenty something girl from Sweden, a pleasant encounter and feeling. Songs aren’t terribly long on this album and again goes against the grain of the Prog recipe but who’s really counting calories here right?! Her latest album offers up a more darker Gothic tonality to it that grabs the seedier side of Prog by its proverbial horns. We’ll look at that album another time though. It can argued whether this album is considered to be Prog or not, well, “To Prog or not to Prog, THAT is the question!!” Well it is certainly progressive in the sense that it’s a great segue to the world of Progressive Rock Music. Perhaps not “Rock” in the traditional sense but definitely a “Prog” album that has a place here and should be heard. Stand out tracks on the album are #03 Pills and #08 The Book. Pills walks out through the rain from the get go of the songs opening piano riff. Anna’s voice electrifies the song like a strike from a storm before the drums thunder in the distant background never altering to go in to that typical snare and hi-hat song and dance. Her voice can quickly startle you which gives the song and a couple of others she does on the album a wake up call for you to listen. The Book being the longest track on the album shows that Anna has it in her to be Prog at length and in sound. The latter half of the song changes tempo and shifts its gears to an embarking journey conjuring up visions of going across fields and mountain ranges through valleys and over rivers. Her voice echoes in and out as the song till it slows and winds down and she sings out its final notes to sleep away in the ground below.

The more I listen to this album the more I am in awe over it and held in rapture by every note played. As picky as I am about female vocalists because a lot of them are made to fall in to that subterfuge of “how” women should sound on record I am captivated by Anna’s vocal range and use of the tones within it. Sure there are other artists that have used piano as a main lead instrument, (i.e. Elton John, Billy Joel, Queen, Tori Amos et al) but none of them play the way that Anna has displayed here on this album. Of course it’s not the same kind of music but when you hear how the notes are executed you can clearly tell that. Anna plays each note with sincerity and a disdain for pop culture expressionism choosing to be herself on each track, choosing to ignore the pressures of the commercial world and for that she has manifested herself as a Prog musician. Closer listen to the albums she has released post “Singing From The Grave” will detail out more of how she has PROGressed on and upwards. Very much a film noir, dark wave or dark jazz feel to her music with elements from all over have created her sound giving it that torch girl style crooner voice only to compliment the brilliant and often dark music she gives us.

 

http://annavonhausswolff.org/

 

~fin

 

 

 

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