Saturday, 25 September 2021

Anika – Change (2021)

Style: Indie Pop, Dub, Post-Punk, Krautrock
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Sacred Bones Records

1.   Finger Pies
2.   Critical
3.   Change
4.   Naysayer
5.   Sand Witches
6.   Never Coming Back
7.   Rights
8.   Freedom
9.   Wait For Something

Mastered By – James Trevascus
Mixed By, Co-producer – Martin Thulin

Perhaps like a lot of people, I first became aware of Annika Henderson, aka Anika, in 2019 via the Netflix comedy drama, Russian Doll. The distinct tones of the English/German musician shone through on her rather gorgeous cover of Ray Davies’ I Go To Sleep. The song was pulled from Anika’s self-titled debut album, recorded with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow in 2010.

The intervening years have seen Anika collaborate with Tricky and release two albums with her electro-psych outfit, Exploded View. The new LP represents a significant step in Henderson’s musical journey. If the debut album was something of an understated slow-burn, then Change is the full realisation of an underground pop star.

Finger Pies feels fresh, focused and vibrant as it bounces along on an irresistible, dub-inflected groove. Anika calmly yet defiantly chants, “Some may say you are only interested in one thing / That’s to get your own way.” Anika’s distinct personality and nuanced delivery are embedded into every second.

Critical mimics the urgent beats of a heart monitor as it channels its trip-hop influences into a hypnotic slice of future-pop. “I always give my man the last word/ I always give him what he deserves,” sings Anika in dry, sarcastic tones, “but don’t forget that little twist of cyanide in his little gift.” Juxtaposed with the frequently playful instrumentation, Anika’s vocals often bring Velvet’s priestess Nico to mind. The style feels far less troubled, yet it retains the artful cool we so readily associate with the German-born avant-gardist.

The meditative title track reveals the tender, surprisingly optimistic heart at the centre of the LP. The chilled electronic backing and intimate vocal style occupy a similar space to Jenny Hval’s spine-tingling That Battle Is Over. The two artists share a passion for expressing ideas not so readily found in traditional pop. Both are intent on pushing things forwards. The words were written during the recording process, making the lyrics feel immediate and cathartic.

The excellent, semi-industrial clang of Naysayer finds Anika confronting the “novices running the show.” Perhaps unintentionally, it’s a line that can’t help but bring Boris Johnson and his clan of clowns to mind. Anika’s cool veneer momentarily cracks with the insistent declaration, “I don’t want you/ I don’t want you.

Sand Witches is a slower and altogether stranger affair. “I don’t like what you’ve become,” intones Anika over droning electronics and decidedly creepy piano, as well as “I don’t like what you’ve begun to peddle/ The words of the devil.” By this point, the themes of the album are coming through loud and clear: defiance, empowerment and, of course, change.

The album tackles change on numerous levels, from the personal and political to the creeping environmental change that we perhaps don’t even notice happening. Never Coming Back was inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which brought environmental concerns to the public’s attention in 1962.

Rights is a mesmeric bombardment of bubbling synths and fragmented sounds that finds an increasingly possessed Anika wailing, “Fear your power/ Show me power.” Like much of the album, the track’s structure is incredibly loose and free-flowing, everything based around a compulsive groove. Freedom slides in on the back of some superbly atmospheric John Carpenter-style synths and the repeated affirmation, “I’m not being silenced by anyone”.

Then, quite unexpectedly, we get the sound of a battered old acoustic guitar as Wait For Something eases us into the album’s closing moments. The track slowly blooms into a driving Velvets-like anthem: “And be patient for something new… I’m not gonna be your fool, I’m not gonna fall for you/ No, not this time.”

We’re living in strange and ever-changing times, yet for every worrying headline, there’s news of progress, resistance and transformation. Despite its dark, atmospheric soundscapes, it’s this positive outlook that Change encapsulates the most. The fall of Trump, the rise of the Me Too movement and the feeling that, this time, we really won’t get fooled again. The chants and affirmations throughout the album are willing something good to happen.

Ultimately, Change is an album about escaping the past and letting it all out. The culmination of a lifetime’s worth of turmoil, manifested as a subversive rallying cry for positive, lasting and meaningful change.