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Ane Brun – It All Starts With One

"It All Starts with One"

Ane Brun – It All Starts With One
07 November 2011, 08:00 Written by Andrew Hannah

Right from the off on the fourth studio album by Ane Brun, there’s fragile beauty at work. That’s something we might come to expect from a record from the Nordic parts, and given that Ane Brun is a Norwegian who’s as good as Swedish these days, we might demand a doubling in such beauty. With It All Starts With One, Brun delivers on these expectations. By discarding, for the most part, the folk leanings of past albums, she’s surpassed previous work with a record of orchestral grandeur, helped along the way by friends such as First Aid Kit, Jose Gonzales, Per Eklund (Lykke Li, El Perro Del Mar) and Ola Hultgren (Loney Dear, thus:Owls, Koop).

For all the stellar cast on the album, they fade into the background as soon as Brun opens her mouth on first track ‘These Days’. In describing the record, she’s said “Something that Tobias and I talked about from very early on was the element of rhythm. We wanted it to be more prominent than on my previous records.” And you can hear just that on this song. Brun’s heart-meltingly beautiful voice – frosty yet welcoming – is accompanied by some swirling organ and percussion that sounds like orchestral timpani very much to the fore, meaning that any guitar-based sounds take a back seat. It’s certainly not detrimental to the song in any way, and when Brun carries the track to its crescendo singing “the things you showed me over the years / the roads you blocked / and how you’ll define me”, everything fades to allow her voice to shine on its own.

I could probably write an extended review about this one song, and the meaning behind the lyrics. Is it about coping with a drug habit – going cold turkey perhaps – or about a former lover? The opening lines remind me of the poetry of Scottish writer William Soutar, who was confined to a bed as he approached his last days, and wrote of being visited by some kind of spirit, ghost, or former love. When Brun sings “There were nights and mornings when you come to me / found your way into my bones, my joints, into my veins / like an animal you coiled your darkness around me / you spelled your name in charcoal / all over my body” I do think of Soutar’s sensual and spooky ‘The Tryst’. Whatever the meaning, it’s a beautiful song.

The mood is similarly replicated on ‘Words’, with Brun’s multi-tracked voice accompanied by spare piano and swells of gorgeous strings. When Jose Gonzales joins Ane Brun on ‘Worship’, we’re taking back to the folkier sounds of earlier records, and it’s probably also Gonzales’ best work in a long time. What’s striking about what could have been a standard folk duet is how the various elements (strings, guitar, synth washes) are brought together by producer Froberg to take it somewhere much more interesting. Nothing gets crowded, no instrument drowns out another, and Brun’s vocals are given plenty of breathing space.

Things get livelier with the swing of ‘Do You Remember’, which rolls with the clattering drums of Eklund and Hultgren and Brun’s voice complemented by the soft chanting by Johanna and Klara Sodeberg of rising Swede stars First Aid Kit. It’s one of the rare upbeat moments on It All Starts With One, but is joined there by the dramatic film noir soundtrack of ‘One’, which showcases Martin Hederos’ fine piano work and wondrous stabs of orchestral strings. The lyrics, from which the album title is taken, refer to finding the balance between independence and loneliness, and were inspired by Brun watching the Arab Spring start with the recent revolution in Egypt. Grand ideas, sure, but when she cries “revolution from dreams!” towards the end of the song, you can’t help but be carried along with the euphoria.

However the finest moments on the record are when things are slowed down. ‘What’s Happening with You and Him’ floats on gentle strings, while ‘Lifeline’ bucks the piano/strings trend by having Brun accompanied only by acoustic guitar, with some gentle xylophone tinkling in the background. It’s one of the most beautiful moments on the record, that tremulous vocal piercing the heart of the listener.

Just when you think ‘The Light from One’ takes the drama just a little too far, the final minute and a half somehow turns what could have been a dirge into something quite lovely, with a choir of Brun’s voice appearing from nowhere to soar alongside the strings, and this leads into ‘Oh Love’, a quite simple acoustic folk song yet incredibly affective due to the honest lyrics and direct playing.

We end, though, with the album highlight ‘Undertow’. Beginning with just piano and voice – and it would have been bliss to listen to just that for six minutes – the fragile start builds first with rolling drums, a thrilling choir of voices then backing Brun as she sings “let me rise towards the sky / let me take in this light / let the sun disappear from sight…I’m caught in your undertow”. These elements fall away, but return again seemingly doubled in power – gentle, though, it doesn’t overpower the song – and it’s stunning; one of the musical moments of the year without question, and as everything fades finally we’re left with the star of the whole thing, the voice of Ane Brun.

It All Starts with One could have seen Ane Brun overreaching herself with a grand statement record, but this couldn’t be further from the truth – and I’ve not even mentioned the second disc that comes with some versions of the album, which also contains some wonderful, sad, hopeful songs. Throughout we hear wonderfully subtle piano, rhythmic yet restrained drumming, beautiful strings and excellent production, but rising above all that is the singular talent of Brun. Terrific writing and a voice full of emotion that a handful of adjectives couldn’t do justice to – this album is an achievement of huge proportions.

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