REVIEW: ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF – All Thoughts Fly

ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF // All Thoughts Fly
[Southern Lord // September 25th 2020 // CD/TC/DD]

We’re going to be honest; upon reading the press release and finding out that Swedish musician Anna Von Hausswolff’s new record was going to be entirely instrumental, we nearly set ourselves up for disappointment. Not because we expected the album to be bad, but because Von Hausswolff’s vocals are just THAT phenomenal! Would it be like eating chips with no salt and vinegar? A cake with no cherry on top? Toast with no butter or jam… Okay enough with the food analogies. Von Hausswolff’s 2018 opus Dead Magic was one of the very best albums of that year; a record of eerie horror score sounding synths, majestic organs, pounding percussion topped off with an all-encompassing lead vocal that elevated the record to a higher plain. Whether Von Hausswolff is singing, screaming, screeching or wailing, the sheer passion, vigour and commitment to the moment that emanates from their mouth is astonishing and breath-taking. Alongside this, Dead Magic is a dense, progressive and richly textured journey of sound. We still have extremely fond memories of witnessing Von Hausswolff’s soaring vocals on ‘Ugly & Vengeful’ take over the main stage at Roadburn Festival 2019, and even between these two records they contributed vocals to Swans’ magnificent Leaving Meaning album. So the realisation that All Thoughts Fly would be performed and composed entirely on a church pipe organ with no vocals had us a little bit worried…

We were wrong. We were so utterly wrong!

All Thoughts Fly was recorded back in January this year – pre-pandemic – and yet eerily it has the vibe of an album that could have been recorded during lockdown with such a minimalist approach to the performance and composition; and of course releasing it into a world locked down only makes it seem more resonant. All Thoughts Fly has been recorded entirely on a replica Arp Schnitger pipe organ located at Ã–rgryte New Church, in Gothenburg, Sweden; one of the largest organs in the world. The compositions were also inspired by the grotesque mythological creature sculptures found in the gardens of Sacro Bosco, Italy that appear on the cover art.

All Thoughts Fly owes more to minimalist composition than it does the ethereal darkwave of Von Hausswolff’s previous works. Though drawn out organ and synth sounds have been commonplace in their music, Von Hausswolff’s approach on this record is rather different. All the layers that made up their defining sound on Dead Magic have been stripped away to reveal a much more organic sound. Recorded as an entirely solo venture in the church itself, the sound of the pipe organ completely dominates the entire space of the record. The keenest ears will be able to hear the creaks of the foot pedals and feel the massive swells of the notes as Von Hausswolff strikes the keys. The album opens on a somewhat playful note with ‘Theatre of Nature’; a song that has a sort of bounce to it and one of the most striking motifs across the album. Halfway through the six minute runtime, the main riff gradually breaks apart into an ocean of drifting, drawn out ambient chords, showing the true might of the pipe organ. It’s unclear whether Von Hausswolff is dominating the organ or being dominated by the organ, perhaps the two are wrestling.

Centrepiece ‘Persefone’ is another massive album highlight and perhaps the saddest and most reflective composition here. The quietest and most brooding opening chords gently warm up into such a beautiful, glorious and deceptively simple little chord progression that would make Brian Eno proud. Getting louder and louder towards its climax, you can actually feel the pressure of the organ pipes cracking and whining under the sheer magnitude of its volume. We can only imagine the church hall must have reached a deafening hum. The epic twelve minute title track sees Von Hausswolff performing a natural modulated arpeggio with such fast and exhausting movement of the hand, feeling like a stark contrast to the dominance of electronic synths that are so present in modern electronic music, capable of generating modulations with one press of a note. This wonderful cyclic performance completely enraptures and hypnotises the listener and feels like it could go on forever in the most positive way. As it reaches its climax, the sheer vastness is almost unbearable and feels absolutely transcendent.

All Thoughts Fly is an interesting record to think about when compared to the previous opus. Dead Magic‘s massive sound comes from how densely layered it is, whilst All Thoughts Fly technically only has one layer, and yet sounds equally as enormous. It’s an album of natural recording space, inviting the listener to sit inside the church and bathe in the sonic majesty of the organ. In contrast, All Thoughts Fly sounds huge, heavy and expansive and yet so intimate and small at the same time. In terms of Von Hausswolff’s discography trajectory, it is neither a step forwards nor a step backwards, but really something of a side quest; a love letter from an artist to an instrument performed in complete symbiosis, and the sound of an artist taking the reigns and having complete confidence in their own abilities.

//

All Thoughts Fly is out now through Southern Lord.

Advance listening and press information courtesy of Lauren at Rarely Unable.

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