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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Anna von Hausswolff: The Miraculous


1) Discovery; 2) The Hope Only Of Empty Men; 3) Pomperipossa; 4) Come Wander With Me / Deliverance; 5) En Ensam Vandrare; 6) An Oath; 7) Evocation; 8) The Miraculous; 9) Stranger.

Well, one thing is for certain: with her third album, Anna von Hausswolff no longer runs any risk of being called a «singer-songwriter», because what goes on here can hardly be called singing on what can hardly be called songs. Instead, she has settled into the role of a musical painter, focu­sing almost completely on long, drawn-out, multi-dimensional soundscapes — immensely aided by her new recording instrument, a 9000-pipe, 91-stop organ (called the Acusticum), installed in 2012 by the professional organ designer Gerard Woehl in a concert hall, located in the small Swedish town of Piteå. The multi-profile monster, capable of imitating a whole variety of classic and modern organs (and other instruments), seems to have been just the thing for Anna, who spends most of the time here exploring its capacity.

The bad news is that she almost seems enthralled by the terrifying majesty of the Acusticum so much that the concept of sound — as represented by one chord in all of its overtone glory — completely effaces here the concept of strings of sounds. In its essence, The Miraculous is an atmospheric ambient record, whose only dynamic aspect is the occasionally generated crescendo effect; otherwise, each composition makes its point early on and then gets busy sustaining it for whichever time length is deemed necessary by the artist.

The longest compositions (ʽDiscoveryʼ, ʽCome Wander With Meʼ) invite you to meld your conscience with the psychedelic waves generated by the organ and accompanying guitar and vocal parts (where available) in much the same fashion as you'd do it on a classic Dead Can Dance track, and are also reminiscent of symphonic post-rock efforts by the like of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, even if Anna's skills at generating subtle crescendos that command the listener's attention are significantly lower. And this is what gets me down: I was moved by her far more as a melodist than as a sonic explorer. The organ is a beast, for sure, but interminably long swoops of sustained organ notes, even when multi-tracked and further supported by loud percus­sion and various chaotic sound effects, do not seem to have much purpose behind them, other than the pure joy of exploration that, perhaps, her sound engineer would be only too happy to share with her — whether the outside listener will, though, is another matter.

Like Ceremony, I hesitate to call this music «Gothic» or «doomy-gloomy», or resort to compa­risons with Nico. Even when she is not singing, the right word is just «otherworldly» — she rarely resorts to combinations of sound that could be associated with anything apocalyptic in nature. The organ, as we all know, is the best instrument to create a snowy, winterish mood, but this here «winter» is not so much the end of life as simply a pause in its course, and even though she apparently produced a few visually gruesome videos to accompany these songs, my own video representation of this music largely consists of Sleeping Beauty-type images — mountains, winter, castles, and really, really big fur coats... okay, this is getting silly. In fact, the organ is the only thing that saves the whole enterprise from the impending cheese-storm: there is a certain freshness to Anna's approach that gives it more class than, say, Evanescence.

By the time we get around to the title track, the record has completed its pupation stage: ʽThe Miraculousʼ is a 10-minute piece of pure organ ambience, with absolutely minimal melody, and reactions to it will probably range from «quintessential beauty» to «quintessential boredom» with little in between. I have no problem with it existing and no desire to hear it ever again, because, unlike the best of the best ambient tracks, this one seems more like a professional test of an ins­trument's capacities to me — the work of an organ tuner rather than an inspired composer. Which does have its purpose, too, but perhaps organ tuners should speak up here, not me.

Overall, this seems to me to be a classic illustrative case of an artist totally swallowed up by his own instrument — she is the Jonah here, and the Acusticum is the whale, and until she atones for her sins and starts writing real songs again rather than purely atmospheric pieces, this approach is not going to get us far. There's a lot of potential here, but too much of it just sounds like a starry-eyed «wow, I'm all alone here with this big monster, and it's ALL MINE!» Bottomline: I hate to say it, but... gimme back the singer-songwriter shit. I could even settle for a breakup tune. An Adele cover on the Acusticum might not be too bad, actually.


  1. Woah...triple-length album art. Probably one of the greatest advances in packaging we've had in decades. Certainly the most memorable thing about it, as well. Just wish the printers had a little more imagination and didn't repeat the same photo three times in secession, although I guess they can claim some sort of pretentious statement about modern art trends if they feel like it.

  2. It looks like you really love the album cover :D