There’s a strand of magic realism that’s typically European, focusing on the metaphysical and a sort of estrangement from the world. You’ll find it in the novels of Franz Kafka and Angela Carter – approached from entirely different worldviews, of course – an irreducible quality which can’t be explained by the general laws of nature, redefining the everyday via the fantastical.
Nineteen year old Norwegian and native of Bergen AURORA Aksnes, AURORA to the pop music world, lives in this world. In portraits and videos she surrounds herself with butterflies; symbols of freedom, carriers of dreams, the personification of a soul – living or dead. In her lyrics on debut album All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend she sings of a hunter’s moon, wolves, blood, dreams and running, escaping. AURORA is a 21st century teenager, a pop star who has soundtracked one of the most eagerly awaited television adverts or moments of 2015 yet her debut album, aside from dealing in the emotional and existential problems we all face in our lives, seems to speak of a world which exists only in dreams or on the pages of a fantasy novel.
You could land in the middle of any song on All My Demons and find imagery which none of AURORA’s contemporaries are dealing in, and the incredible thing is that it’s a fully-formed vision to which the listener can fully buy into. Take “Warrior”, where the Norwegian sings “I’m building a boat to float in, I’m floating, floating away” swiftly followed by “I hold a sword to guide me” as she “battles the night”; ostensibly a song about someone struggling to let love back into their life, it’s couched in such fantastical and natural imagery that it’s easy to draw a line between the singer’s broken heart and a world damaged by modern society, a place AURORA has forgotten used to be beautiful.
That song’s companion piece, in many ways, is “Running with the Wolves”; perhaps AURORA’s best known song it shares the form of the majority of the songs on All My Demons: tentative folk beginnings which showcase Aksnes’s beautiful, ethereally fragile voice, burbling electronics courtesy of her producers and fellow Bergen-ites O. Martin and Magnus Skylstad and a rousing chorus punctuated by a barrage of drums that’s matched only by AURORA showing the range of her vocal to ensure she’s never going to be drowned out by the music or the rising tide of worry and doubt in her world.
“Running with the Wolves” is the sound of AURORA casting off the modern world, harnessing the power of nature – some kind of pure, forgotten, almost cultish power – to shine a light on the person who has “blood on your lies”, to wake up from a dream where there’s no hope and have the dawning realisation that the answer is to be found in this world, however damaged it might be.
This realisation is the central tenet of the brilliantly addictive “Conqueror”; over militaristic floor toms and a melody which threatens to run away with itself, AURORA gives herself a little reality check: “But there's no seduction only destruction / oh fantasy take me over and break me”. For as much as she’s created a world filled with beloved – and terrifying – things the singer has to live in the real world, relying on real and all-too-fallible people. I've been looking for the conqueror / but you don't seem to come my way", sings AURORA over a chorus whose happiness doesn’t jibe with the cold light of day.
“I Went Too Far” continues with this leitmotif; a jarring reintroduction to the real world filled with blood and (emotional) pain as well as being the best and unashamedly pop song on the record, it’s AURORA regretfully telling the listener – as the title says – the lengths some will go to, rightly or wrongly, in the name of love. It links to “Conqueror” inasmuch as it’s AURORA warning that strength comes from standing on your own first of all. What comes after that is a bonus.
These big pop moments are the most thrilling, moreish moments on All My Demons but there are quieter moments where AURORA also excels. “Lucky” is a piano and organ-led ballad about someone striving against their inner voice telling them to give in, “Winter Bird” floats along in a sort of Enya-ambient-folk dream and while “Through the Eyes of a Child” is a little too cutesy and idealistic the one thing we can take from these songs is that AURORA has a completely stunning voice which can make anything beautiful: if you need any more proof I present her cover of “Half A World Away”.
On the cover of All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend we see AURORA half cocooned, half ready to fly and that’s where we find the artist on this debut album. Torn between home and adventure, fantasy and reality, AURORA is looking for - and carving out - her own path out of the forest. Getting lost and angsty is part of a journey filled with leaps of faith and imagination. There could be further detours along the path, but she’s searching in her own singular, utterly beguiling way.