Amber Arcades - Fading Lines
Coming of age is an ongoing process. Annelotte De Graaf’s Amber Arcades debut, Fading Lines, opens with soft vocals painting a picture of long summer walks. But later we’re walking around a theme park just out of season, overcast with clouds of uncertainty and kicking the newly fallen leaves. There may be an analogue with De Graaf’s own life: her music can be in the clouds but her head is certainly not, as her work includes legal aid on UN war crime tribunals and human rights law with people who’ve fled the Syrian war, people with reason to dream more than most.
Ben Greenberg’s production deeply integrates De Graaf's vocals and lyrics to create an essential part of the album's identity. There are collaborators such as Real Estate’s Jackson Pollis on drums, although we hear his band’s steely guitars, together with Alvvays adding to named reference points Broadcast and Stereolab, in the glimmering ‘Right Now’. ‘Turning Light’ was written within an hour during early morning jet lag but is by far the longest track touching seven minutes, memories not only of Stereolab but The Human League, a band who retained musical integrity with their wide appeal. ‘Come With Me’ shares this track’s 90s-indie pop sense of fun and the breathless ‘Fading Lines’ opens with indie rock guitars, but ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ slows matters down opening with quiet drums as more reflective De Graaf sings “Swimming against the tide” the title referring to an impossible resolution. The closing track ‘White Fuzz’ worries in a higher vocal register against fuzzy guitars, “If only we could stay the same”. A wide range of styles but a constant melody takes us with not against the tide, and despite deep messages it’s sometimes difficult to keep our feet on the ground.
The production occasionally makes us wistful for De Graaf’s EP 'Patiently' that prioritised her vocals higher in the mix. But there’s 'Apophenia', which describes the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data, and in turn, its isolated and less modulated vocals tightrope walking over Meg Duffy's lustful slide guitar allows us to more tangibly perceive our own situations. And it allows us to appreciate De Graaf’s crystallised but honeyed vocal quality, in this configuration similar to Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval; we float in the skies with a wide confident view, seeing the big picture and its challenges up ahead.
Each listen of the 39 minutes of Amber Arcades carves ever deeper patterns into a frozen lake, solidifying a state of meaning in one’s mind. An album made with clean lines but not strict boundaries. Some music forward looking, and some music so dreamy it sends one back to the womb.