Anna von Hausswolff - The Miraculous
Swedish singer songwriter and organist Anna Von Hausswolff’s third album The Miraculous signals its intentions from the beginning. The album’s rousing opening track welcomes us in, but an overlaid warning siren is a reminder to tread carefully – there will be trouble ahead.
For the album’s setting, Hausswolff combines literary and film influences with the titular "miraculous" place from her childhood, a tall forested fairy tale setting defined by its tensions: tangible and intangible, and plaintive and disturbing. The album’s supporting actor is a magnificent singular 900-pipe organ that integrates: celeste, glockenspiel, percussion and vibraphone. Hausswolff recalls how during the album’s five day recording process her use of the organ sometimes traumatised its keepers worried of its well being, in a different way – and by design – the beautiful results of this use sometimes traumatise us the listener.
As foretold by the 900-pipe organ, the album tells its story on a grand scale, one track ‘Come Wander With Me/Deliverance’ itself being an epic play of many acts. Hausswolff’s alternating clearly articulated then indeterminate wailing vocals cut through Black Sabbath guitars (including a forgivably indulgent solo). As indicated by her earlier doom metal work, we can’t help but feel Hausswolff is in her element, even rapturous, an emotion fitting with the choral singing that fills another of the track’s multiple layers.
We often need respite to regather our emotions and obligingly, like the music within its tracks, the tracks within the album run to an fluctuating cadence. The opening track ‘Discovery’ reminds of an elated conclusion to a Mogwai concert, its midpoint crescendo being particularly joyous. ‘The Hope Only of Empty Man’ describes Hausswolff’s vocal range, replacing a metal tinged with a more vulnerable modulated voice, before leading into the more uncertain ‘Popmperipossa’ where ominous organs are outdone by her upbeat lyrics, “I found joy in his soul”. But in the next track Hausswolff warns us, “He came from the shadows.”. Time for another respite.
‘Evocation’ is a standout track, despite its rumbling crescendo building up to a triumphal conclusion we imagine the Andrei Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’ where our direct connection with nature is broken by something awry, tantalisingly out of reach. We anticipate some form of release from the following title track’s slow burning organ drone which never arrives, leaving us to our thoughts about the miracle, which may come with unintended consequences.
Our release arrives in the final and most accessible track ‘Strangers’. The lyrics, “Walking into something new / The birds are watching every step I take” give us hope but we’re left with the caution, “You tell me to stay strong / I’m scared of life.”. This fairy tale unequivocally ending happily ever after would have been a let down and Hausswolff doesn’t disappoint.
The album’s promotional material successfully summarises its content in one sentence, “It’s a beast.”. It certainly is, even though the beast's nature is uncertain.