[16 October 2008]
Ane Brun, a Swedish-based Norwegian singer-songwriter, runs a record label and writes music and, through her songs at least, has the kind of uniquely formed outlook that humbly invites you to take notice. Once you’ve fallen for her, you can’t imagine her songs not accompanying your own life. And three albums into her career, she’s showing no signs of losing creative inspiration.
Album opener “The Treehouse Song” is a quick favourite, this low-key, quirky country vibe with flashing phrases that catch attention—“We were gonna bury our ex-lovers”. Brun shares something with Natasha Khan, the singer from British art-folk group Bat for Lashes—a certain vibrato, and a certain distance. Despite the fact that Brun’s recorded close to the microphone, almost to the exclusion of the other instruments, she conveys the sense of existing in some alternate world, full of deep symbols and layered meanings. This solidarity with Khan’s most obvious, perhaps, on “The Puzzle”, which could make a surging piece of gothic electronica. Its propulsive syncopation and binary structure is eerily effective.
Echoes of other giants of the art-pop world are clear inspirations, really throughout Changing of the Seasons. Bjork, Blonde Redhead, and even Fiona Apple—different as those artists are—embody the kind of idiosyncratic take on pop music that Ane Brun aspires to (and mostly achieves) here. Brun is more understated than Bjork, less strung-out than Blonde Redhead, and less, well Apple than Fiona Apple. What she does particularly well is to twist melody in unexpected directions, keeping the listener guessing with non-traditional harmonic progressions.
Even when she’s being relatively straightforward, as on the essentially pop “Ten Seconds”, Brun’s quivering voice brings a new, thrilling perspective. And the Scandinavian lilt, only occasionally allowed to come to the fore, gives her songs that flavour of foreignness that is still (despite our inundation by Swedish popmusic) somewhat refreshing. And now on her third full-length album, Brun’s songwriting is assured, her arrangements—from simple acoustic guitar to piano waltzes—neat and confluent.
When she lets herself drift into more traditional acoustic folk waters, Brun is less exciting. Songs like “My Star” and “Lullaby for Grown Ups” spin forward prettily enough, but fail to ignite more than a passing interest. You can’t expect everything to stick, though. Just as often as they float by, as some inventive phrase (“I’ve got my best shoes on, I’m ready for it all”, e.g.) nails momentary insight. “Linger With Pleasure”, which closes the album, is another subtle twist of the simple ballad. True, the music does linger, but it undermines the ‘pleasure’ of the title with Brun’s characteristically unexpected tonality. It’s an unsettling and effective ending. It leaves the listener slightly anxious, but eager for more.
It’s one song I haven’t mentioned yet, though, that struck me most off Changing of the Seasons. The song’s called “Round Table Conference” and, on first listen, it’s nothing much—a touch of country twang, a touch of dignified pop. The song’s all about the different people coming in and out of the singer’s life, a “round table conference” going on in her living room. That conceit’s somehow charming. In a way not easy to describe, it’s the modest inventiveness of a charming artist. One who’s well worth your time getting to know.