Norwegian born vocalist Ane Brun has proven something of a sensation the last few years, releasing a series of acclaimed and commercially successful albums, each successive one seemingly poising her for a significant breakthrough outside the European and Scandinavian markets. Brun even spent some time backing up Peter Gabriel and making something of a sensation accompanying him on “Don’t Give Up” not just in the live setting, but on his breathtaking New Blood album. The Kate Bush comparisons didn’t start there, but they did gain greater traction thereafter.
That’s a little unfair to Brun, perhaps, as she has a distinct voice and style of writing and it seems that there isn’t a female vocalist in the last 30 years committed to carving her own path who hasn’t been accused of cribbing something from Bush. But comparisons only go so far and we must all atone for our own art at some point and so Brun’s atonement must come on a record that just doesn’t measure up to her best work. There’s a lot of sound, specifically a lot of loud sound on this recording, and that loud sound often gets in the way of there being music and specifically music that catches on with the listener and captures his or her imagination.
The opening “Hanging” drifts on for nearly six minutes with Brun enunciating and emoting like a woman possessed and although it sounds as those she’s been captured by some passion or other that passion doesn’t seem to connect to the listener. What’s the song about? What do we remember about it after the first listen? The 13th? It turns out not much, other than there are some keyboards and that Brun has a nice voice. That’s OK for music that plays in the background of your local pizzeria while you wolf down your favorite gluten free vegan slice but for art? Methinks not.
The tendency toward making it sound like something’s going on but not revealing what that something is continues across “Directions”, a tune that with maybe a strong co-writer or producer dedicated to pushing Brun well beyond her comfort zone, could have been a real hit and maybe even lived beyond this moment in time. “Still Waters” opens with a cry of “uh-oh”s that begin to sound more like geese than a gifted vocalist who has shown us she can do better. That and the other tunes that close out the record also seem to be lengthy for length’s sake, failing to take us on a journey and failing to convince us that Brun can do more than pretend at these emotions.
This is all the more disappointing for those of us who’ve been waiting for Brun to make that record that sends her shooting into the stratosphere, the kind of record that will make a new generation of musicians aspire to be the next Ane Brun rather than the next Kate Bush. She is an artist capable of that but this is a record that isn’t. Best to return to something from her rich body of work before this moment or to wait for the next one.