In recent years, it’s become much more possible for the general public to become aware of an artist long before a debut album ever arrives. The reasons for this are numerous, but include the multitude of streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music where singles can be easily shared, EPs that can give the world a taste of an artist’s talents, and increased visibility due to the ingrained nature of social media in our daily lives.
Case in point, we’ve been hearing music from Anna of the North since 2014. Ever since Norwegian singer Anna Lotterud met producer Brady Daniell-Smith and put out single “Sway” that June, she’s been on the map of dream-pop lovers. It’s been a slow buildup of new singles and hype since then, from the ode to her current home “Oslo” to working with Tyler, The Creator on his most recent album, anticipation has been high for her debut album, Lovers. This week the 10-track record is finally here, and fans everywhere can take joy in the fact that by and large it delivers upon the potential Anna of the North has shown.
If the title of the album wasn’t a giveaway, the album is an exploration of multiple facets of love and connection by way of the dreamiest pop you’re liable to hear this year. There isn’t any saccharine sweet love as an idealized concept, though. This is love and attraction as it really is: confusing, insecure, messy, and capable of inflecting deep sadness and hurt. Lotterud gives voice to all of us who have yet to ride off into the sunset with our One True Loves.
It helps that Lotterud has a voice that seems custom-built for pop. It’s high and soft, but contains a biting edge that can flair on the albums more contentious songs. She’s also a master of using inflection to completely change the emotional tone of a song. Compare “Baby,” an over the phone plea to her lover to reassure her that they’re still alright, with “Money,” a scorching takedown of someone whose only goal in a relationship is to get paid. On the first, she puts a hint of strain into the chorus, a strain that conveys a deep emotional vulnerability. Meanwhile, “Money” finds her delivering in a sing-song rhythm that combines with a little more grab on the consonants of the lyrics to give a suitably strong condemnation.
None of this works without the proper musical backing, and Daniell-Smith comes through big time in that regard. The production here is top-notch as he bends and contorts the synths on each song to match the emotional tenor and intensity needed to compliment Lotterud’s lyrics. The pulsing heartbeat and bubbling synths of “Moving On” capture the feeling of trying to comfort someone with a broken heart, the soft ebb and flow of bells and bass make “Baby” shine, and the energetic beat of “Fire” perfectly captures the feeling of trying to not get dragged into someone else’s emotional inferno. The musical theory knowledge is there for Lotterud and Daniell-Smith, as well. “Someone” is a great pop hit through the first 2 minutes and 43 seconds, a testament to the writing ability of Anna of the North. Then the key change happens. This key change is brilliant. I want a loop of this key change to play forever. I want to marry this key change. It’s timed late enough in the song to be a pleasant surprise, and doesn’t over stay its welcome, only covering the last repetition of the chorus and the outro. It’s practical and effective writing like this that showcases what the two are capable of as Anna of the North
While not major, there are a few hiccups on Lovers. The back half of the album as a whole is weaker than the first. This applies both musically, with most of the songs laying firmly in the good-not-great zone, and in the ordering. We get three of the dreamier, more subdued songs in “Feels,” “Baby,” and “Friends,” before we get “Fire.” After such an uptick in energy, ending on “All I Want” gives the album an anti-climactic feeling. While it’s by no means a deal-breaker, it’s something of note.
Lovers has been eagerly awaited by Anna of the North’s fans for a long time now. We’ve been able to see Lotterud and Daniell-Smith evolve over the last three years as they work with each other and other prominent artists. After such a long wait it’s good to be able to report that their debut album is a strong effort from the duo. With emotional depth and musical expertise, Lovers signals both the beginning and continuation of a fruitful musical journey for Anna of the North.