Like an elegiac cheesecake baked to perfection, Ane Brun’s third album is simultaneously rich and enriching, insanely moreish, and deliciously indulgent. Frosted with a resilient pathos that never seems to rub off even when ravished with greedy attention, Changing Of The Seasons is orchestrated ear candy for grown-ups.
Too old to be hailed as a wunderkind, Brun seems an almost matronly figure of battered wisdom among some of the more headline-grabbing artists emerging out of Scandinavia. She’ll still peel your skin off, but she’ll do it with the precision of her glassy notes and uncommon control of her tremulous, but never timid, phrasing. “It’s hard to be safe, it’s difficult to be happy,” she breezes with such considered acquaintance on the title track, it’s hard to resist being swept up in her pretty, doleful reverie.
Brun has always been a (reluctant) poster girl for the woebegone, but her forlornness is redemptively shot through with an unmistakable Nordic resilience. Her last album, A Temporary Dive, was a sensitive, passionate discourse on bitter disappointment, depression and outsiderhood that won her many prizes in several lands, not least the prestigious Spellemannprisen in her native Norway (sort of like Best Album at the BRITs, only voted for by people with taste). In many ways, it’s Brun’s rejection of what might swallow her wholesale that provides Changing Of The Seasons with its power to induce compulsive listening behaviours. At her most luminous, Brun combines her trademark vulnerability with a devastatingly fresh perception, sometimes switching between observer and narrator within the same song.
‘The Puzzle’ is a creeping, spiralling wonder of emotional intensity that plays to Brun’s many strengths; her quavering soprano wends its way through passages of exquisite despair and patient resolve, curling almost seductively around the ghostly marimba and Malene Bay-Landin’s cinematic string arrangements. The unbearable lightness of loving also befalls the album’s first single, ‘The Treehouse Song’, instantly memorable for its shuffling rhythm and Brun’s deceptively perky insight into an arboreal romance turned sour. To mean everything and then suddenly nothing to someone is the highest branch to fall from, but Brun imbues it with such cushioned matter of factness and hard-won serenity that it still feels like a victory.
Valour in love is a major theme, but like all good writers, Brun allows herself and her characters a humanistic weakness that they can choose to be absorbed by or to defy. There are no closed doors. Going back to the title track, Brun surprises by twisting what seems at the outset to be a standard, if well observed, portrayal of a straying man into bittersweet unspoken atonement, marking her out as an elite singer-songwriter at the height of her powers. And Brun has picked her collaborators wisely; the cohesiveness and subtlety of Changing Of The Seasons owes much to the production of Valgeir Sigurðsson, the man behind Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s similarly immaculate The Letting Go and CocoRosie’s richly textured The Adventures Of Ghosthorse & Stillborn. But while Ane’s press release inexplicably likens her to such freak-folk progenitors, in reality her music is greater indebted to more traditional Americana and the very particular slow jazz that Norway seems to specialise in (Brun’s father is a jazz musician himself).
As if to underline this, ‘Gillian’ is a heartfelt tribute to revered roots maiden Gillian Welch, using snippets of her lyrics and song titles to contextualise her influence. In truth, it’s marginally edged out as the album’s weakest track, but in the face of such fierce competition that’s hardly a slight. Gloriously free of filler, it would be an easy and enjoyable task to eulogise every track on Changing Of The Seasons but it seems a little brash to over-stamp opinion on such an individual and immersive listen. While the UK bonus track covers of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ (from the Sky+ HD TV ad) and Alphaville’s ‘Big In Japan’ are generous extras and a surprisingly unforced continuation from the original closer of ‘Linger With Pleasure’, Brun’s own deep catharsis is what will draw you back to this album.
The idea of Ane Brun as a chart-topping awards magnet may be hard to imagine in this country, but for those of us who self-medicate through music, Changing Of The Seasons is just the ticket, whatever the weather.
[DetErMine; February 2, 2009]
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