Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Aurora heads for the disco on What Happened To The Heart?

"What Happened To The Heart?"

Release date: 07 June 2024
Aurora What Happened cover
06 June 2024, 09:00 Written by Tanatat Khuttapan

Driven by soaring vocals, Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora’s music has consistently been associated with the word “ethereal”.

The greatest ones in the catalogue (“Runaway”, “Soft Universe”, “Soulless Creatures”, “Heathens”) share a mutual set of characteristics: comprehensive structure, moving lyrics, and transcendent instrumentation. While words ground you on the tarnished earth, orchestral synths open a dimension of their own, creating a unique dilemma over whether one should escape from or confront reality during the listen. Part of the fuel that made her debut’s breakthrough in 2016 comes from these auteurist qualities. With such a breathtaking voice, Aurora is among the pop visionaries who founded their style beneficially early in their career. Many were in keen anticipation of her sonic growth.

This is why her two most recent albums, this year’s What Happened To The Heart? and 2022’s The Gods We Can Touch, come across as slightly underwhelming after the career-defining Step 1 and Step 2. Instead of polishing the niche where she prospers even with all the risk-taking (see “Gentle Earthquakes” and “Murder Song”), Aurora bounces off, hands clutched on no other than modern pop’s latest obsession: disco. It rightfully suits her frisky persona, like the witchy dance bop “A Temporary High”, but adds little colour to her already busy music board. On the newest sixteen-track output, songs cater to those trends once again when it should be the other way around. Her spark shines less than ever.

She shouldn’t of course sound the same years following the Step EPs. The critical observation here is on the indecisive composure of What Happened To The Heart?; it neither is an enhancement of her signature tune nor a cutting-edge introduction to the well-trodden genre. When progress halts and complete metamorphosis is nowhere present, the material trips over the hollow ground of familiarity. “Some Type of Skin” sounds like a reiteration of “Forgotten Love”, “The Essence” an acoustic version of “Artemis”, “When the Dark Dresses Lightly” an alternative counterpart to “Blood in the Wine”. They resemble carpels of a singular fruit: faintly different in appearance, but all taste alike.

What primarily keeps the album alive is her good will. Aurora got the title from reading Brazilian indigenous leaders’ letter named “We Are the Earth”. Being a compassionate worshipper of love, she strives to raise awareness on the matter – which involves existentialism and disruptive modernity – to as many people as possible via music, her medium for spiritual bonding. “Stay right here, stay in the light, my dear,” she belts out on “Echo of My Shadow”, “Until the love you crave falls in your arms.” These songs range from typical dance anthems (“To Be Alright”) to soft lullabies (“Dreams”), but regardless of the micro-genres, her words always sprout from genuine concern for those in pain.

Empathy remains one of Aurora’s greatest traits that succinctly translate into each record’s thematic scheme. With said attribute, a more concentrated soundscape, and a couple omissions, What Happened To The Heart? could’ve been a remarkable stepping stone to a career high. Almost everything feels transitory and unduly explorative, as if trying to discover another niche to excel in. You can say that this is decidedly a necessary move towards something better; knowing how productive she is (she once said she already has “a Step 3”!), the speculation is worth considering. For now, however, it verges on being a clutter: unfocused, uninspired, a maturing product that gets released way too early.

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