HUMILITY, honesty and heart are three key elements of Norwegian singer/songwriter Ane Brun’s music.
With a voice that puts you within emotional touching distance plus an eye for visuals that demand attention, each release since her debut in 2003 has marked a restless need to refine, reflect and tell truths. Yet since 2017’s exquisite collection of covers, Leave Me Breathless, there has been a very necessary pause. As Brun explains: “I deal with everything that happens in my life – relationships, changes, challenges – through writing music.
“But when my father passed away in 2016 I neither could, nor wanted to … I couldn’t find the right tools in my toolbox, and there was no solution. My father was gone. It took me some time to understand that time itself was the key.”
Emerging from this period of introspection there came an inevitable response, a creative surge that saw Ane write two albums’ worth of songs during three weeks of cabin solitude enclosed by the Norwegian mountains. These songs proved to be the foundation for Brun’s forthcoming twin album offering on her own Balloon Ranger Recordings, How Beauty Holds The Hand Of Sorrow, to be released on November 27th; and preceding that on Friday gone, October 30th, the prophetic After The Great Storm.
What’s striking about the first album in this intriguing pairing is that ‘it sees Brun returning to more open spontaneous live sound of 2011’s It All Starts With One. After The Great Storm crackles with energetic pop zip, sumptuous beats, glistening electronica and the sharp precision of coolest Nordic jazz.
The opener, “Honey”, makes for a perfect benchmark. A love song written to Ane’s 18-year-old self after listening to an old cassette recording from her teenage years, the track effortlessly captures that youthful spirit in a sultry soulful workout that tunes into the finest Massive Attack groove.
That rich trip-hop vibe, pulsing under Brun’s achingly natural vocal, is the heartbeat for much of the album. It’s there looming under the title track, “After The Great Storm” as the synth layers lock in with the cavernous strings to reach a quivering moment of Beth Gibbons-like intensity. And it’s there in the fractured broken beats and surging electronica of “Feeling Like I Wanna Cry”, adding tension to Brun’s passionate call for an environmental reboot. .
Elsewhere on the record there is a parallel commitment to letting the songs stretch out and fill the space. Nothing is rushed although you do get the sense that the music is being left to run its natural course rather than burble on aimlessly. That sense of purpose propels the Moroder/Jean-Michel Jare thumper “Take Hold Of Me”, as it powers to the final uplift, and it is the foundation for deeply soulful “Fingerprints”, a ballad of loss and lament for a person or place that highlights Brun’s starkly honest lyrics.
With all this epic intensity to work through Brun and her co-producers Martin Hederos and Anton Sundell are careful with the pacing. They make sure that, at least on the surface, the listener feels like they are getting a breather. “Don’t Run And Hide” mixes prime electro dream pop with a contemporary R’n’B hook to ease you through the song’s darker shadows.
If that shift is slightly unsettling, the ringing Eurovision pulse of “Crumbs” appears to chug along reassuringly before gliding into a terrific Sixties girl band chant and clap fade out. But under the keyboard chimes the song flings off any fluffiness as it unpick the tensions of being involved with someone who is already in an established relationship. It’s a reminder that Abba songs were never actually filled with happiness.
By the time you get to the stripped-back, raw closing track, “We Need A Mother, you begin to recognise that After The Great Storm is some achievement.
Talking about the record, Brun has said her aim was to “make music with beats mixed with a lot of heart and warmth”; but it often reaches way beyond that ambition. It’s deeply political, profoundly personal, inventive and unashamedly lush without ever losing that effortless groove … modern music for grown-up people, if you need a tag.