It’s been a minute – ok, three years to be exact – since Anna of the North, Norwegian/New Zealand duo of Anna Lotterud and Brady Daniell-Smith first turned heads with their single “Sway”. Since then a run of their songs have been streamed over 60 million times before they even released an album. That has changed. They’ve emerged with Lovers, an album of stellar song craft, transcendent vocals and set pieces that touch on a feeling that’s hard to put into words.
With the album opener, “Moving On,” you’re immediately transported somewhere that’s not exactly clear. It’s something that feels recognizable but not altogether clear – sort of like catching a familiar melody on the radio or half-watching a commercial on TV. But through Daniell-Smith’s cooling synths and Lotterud’s lithe vocals, it comes into focus: this is the expression of heartbreak. She is consoling someone we do not hear: “Darling, I know, sometimes it's hard to take/Believe me, I know, you're gonna make it through the day”. It’s an excellent table setter, and is almost deceiving when it comes to next track, the upbeat glistening “Someone”. While the guitar heavy, splashy synths sound great for a summer night’s drive down the highway, with lyrics about drinking and looking for something like love, there’s a little more here – it’s about loneliness and the desire to snap out of a routine amidst the mess.
Then there’s “Lovers,” which is easily Anna of the North’s most recognizable song to date. It strikes the middle distance between the remoteness of “Moving On” and the glide of “Someone”. The title track conveys feeling lost and “in the dark,” but the ascending synths feel hopeful, as if they’re hinting for what’s to come in the future. It’s this duality between Lotterud and Daniell-Smith’s abilities that make Anna of the North’s songs so immersive. Her voice feels fragile and uncertain, while the soundscapes behind it feel they are in conversation with her.
“Always” is a great example. Lotterud sounds weary and says “I’m tired of being in love/always in the background,” but the backdrop sounds a little dizzy and more playful than she’s letting on. So many artists can just drop a backing track behind a vocal, but here it sounds far more intimate. This continues on the late 80’s bounce of “Feels,” and the dance-hall lite of “Fire”.
But as we near the end of the album, it sounds like Anna of the North is ready for a new chapter. The slinky “All I Want” sounds like love instead of living in those disorienting days without it. Lotterud may say “We don't have to start a fight/It don't even matter anymore who's wrong or right/But can you stay the night?” Those words seem a little dubious, but that’s okay. Life expands and contracts. Permanence is unrealistic. Lovers, though, will be forever.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.