It’s a week of milestones this week – we have marriage and motherhood and an engagement. Meanwhile, Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer is inscrutable about their private life, but returns with more unsettling music.
New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook has worked at her craft with each new release. Her previous album, Olympic Girls, was strong, augmenting her music with a gentle psychedelic swirl. On Ceremony, she sounds cleaner and crisper than before, while her songwriting’s sharper. In an interview with Brooklyn Vegan, she mentions the Big Thief song ‘Cattails’ as an influence on the record, as well as J.J. Cale and Van Morrison.
The inspiration for Ceremony largely came from the period when the band were finishing off Olympic Girls, way back in late 2016. During that time she fell pregnant. She moved with her partner to Titirangi, an area on Auckland’s western fringes blessed with forest and harbour. She lost the baby to a miscarriage at 19 weeks, Some of the lyrics for Ceremony originated as poetry from that time, dealing with the grief of loss and the wonder of nature. It took a long time for the songs to emerge – Fullbrook toured Olympic Girls around the world until halted by the COVID pandemic. She’d put her grief on hold while she was busy touring, but back in New Zealand she put her lyrics to music. Songs like ‘Diving and Soaring’ reflect her loss.
Pools glistened all too bright
And I thought of you
And the following day
And the following night
Ceremony was completed in 2022 but held back while Fullbrook gave birth to her first child. Some of the most upbeat and memorable material was written later – Fullbrook’s family gained two dogs after returning to New Zealand, and they feature in ‘Dorothy Bay’ and ‘Dogs Dreaming’.
There’s a contrast between the joy of the later songs, and the guarded beauty of the songs written earlier.
The record’s largely inspired by nature – it’s more acoustic, but it’s reminiscent of Cassandra Jenkins’ An Overview on Phenomenal Nature.
She’s ably supported by a sympathetic band, who add colour without being overbearing – guitarist Tom Healy owns a studio and produces, adding gentle leads, while Cass Basil plays bass, and also provides harmonies.
Rosalía and Rauw Alejandro
Spanish vocalist Rosalía has had a fascinating career to date, from the acoustic flamenco of Los Ángeles, through her 2018 masterpiece El Mal Querer, and veering into her own takes on modern pop on 2022’s Motomani. RR is a brief three-song EP, where she teams up with her boyfriend Rauw Alejandro. It celebrates their third anniversary and their engagement.
Aside from the significance to the couple, RR serves as a cute little sidenote in Rosalía’s discography – these aren’t her most significant songs, but they’re pleasant, mixing reggaeton beats with flamenco guitars. There’s diversity – while ‘Beso’ stays pretty, ‘Vampiros’ goes to unexpected places with its abrasive second half. Alejandro isn’t as commanding a vocalist as Rosalía, but they sound nice together.
RR might be mostly forgotten in a few months, but it’s a pleasant way to spend ten minutes.
I’ve barely dipped into the twisted world of Swedish musician Karin Dreijer. They’ve enjoyed acclaim for more than two decades, as part of the duo The Knife and as a solo artist. Dreijer’s back with their brother, for an informal reunion of The Knife, for the first four tracks of Radical Romantics. If Swedish music makes you think of ABBA, Fever Ray is broadly opposite – Dreijer’s voice straining enigmatically over unsettling soundscapes.
The disturbing album cover is indicative of the record’s contents. Trent Reznor produces ‘Even It Out’, almost funky in its insistent groove, with lyrics about standing up to your child’s bullies. Dreijer’s charismatic enough to carry some skeletal songs – ‘Shiver’ has some creative instrumentation, but it’s mostly memorable for its “I just want to see you shiver” vocal hook. There’s a strong run on the back half of the record, with ‘Carbon Dioxide’, ‘North’, and ‘Tapping Fingers’.
Dreijer’s world is an unnerving place, but clearly somewhere I need to become better acquainted with.
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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