Anna Ternheim’s Leaving on a Mayday, the artist’s third release (second in the United States), finds her continuing to mature as a songwriter and musician. Produced by Bjorn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn, and John), the album is a quiet collection with an epic feel. This is perhaps the effect of Ternheim’s guiding aesthetic as she began crafting the songs on this album: making the lyrics and vocals unobscured by big arrangements or other sound. Take the album opener, for example—while it’s lyrically simple (“I hope you feel the way I do”), the sum total of the song is compelling, especially the vocals in which the Swedish Ternheim channels Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes.
Bat for Lashes is not a bad starting point for comparisons, in that Leaving on a Mayday is an ethereal album full of archetypal imagery that elevates songs about otherwise mundane human events. By “Terrified”, the instruments have become the dueling archetypes: sorrowful strings and a pounding drum coexist, bridged by Ternheim’s soft voice. “Let It Rain” sports a minimalist bassline not heard before on this album, which slightly detracts from Ternheim’s voice and lyrics. This is unfortunate because, as usual, her voice is what you most want to notice. Lyrically, this song is also a bit disjointed, with the chorus and verse seeming ill-suited for one another. That in addition to the weak chorus lyric: “Let it rain / That is how all things grow.”
“My Heart Still Beats for You” is the first appearance of Ternheim’s guitar work, and it is also a happy marriage of vocals and lyrics. The melody and vocal phrasings on this song are haunting, letting Ternheim’s voice and words synergize each other seamlessly. “No I Don’t Remember” similarly deploys a melody to permit entrance into the song, which has a lovely desert sensibility about it.
“Summer Rain” is another excellent showcase of Ternheim’s acoustic guitar, but this time there are vocal harmonies to further enrich the song’s texture. This song is simplicity at its best, working without a bit of sonic clutter. Despite the sad lyrics, the dreamy sound of this song evokes Mazzy Star and other classic makeout bands.
“Losing You” is the first danceable song on the disc, though it doesn’t come in until track eight (of ten). The late introduction of new elements is always a pleasant surprise, but it also interferes with the cohesive picture of the album that listeners already (and rightfully so) had well-formed. It’s a decent dancehall number, but certainly not on par with Annie or Little Boots, in part because some of the musical effects add nothing but silliness to the song.
The album closer, “Black Sunday Afternoon”, is another Bat for Lashes-esque song, the expansive beats giving a feel of open space as her fey voice spins its narrative.
Throughout Leaving on a Mayday, Ternheim’s voice is definitely a highlight, and Yttling’s skillful production finds many ways to showcase it. However, the album is somewhat repetitive, especially since Ternheim’s lyrics aren’t sharp enough to add tremendous distinctiveness to each song.