Words by Katie Malcolmson
Anna-Lynne Williams has a voice that is familiar and wise. She writes under the pseudonym, ‘Lotte Kestner’ and she likes to keep things simple – having recorded second album, The Bluebird of Happiness over the course of a year in a handful of bedrooms as she transported her home studio from a number of locations around Seattle and nearby island Vashon. Remarkably, the production is perfect for these songs considering the circumstances. It is intimate, dry and real. Opener, String, is happily a sign of things to come, with its slow burning, repetitive (yet never dull), central guitar, haunting Celtic violins, too-close-for-comfort vocal and distant harmonies – it is a mournful lament that is compelling and addictive.
Following on, Wrestler is driven by a subtle clanging percussion and textural noise, like passing traffic outside, or heavy background rain. This is a song that is not about the musical complexity, but about the feeling, the sustain, the lyrics and the atmosphere – “I’ll wrestle you in to every thought.”
Title track, The Bluebird of Happiness, is somewhat reminiscent of a disheartened Gemma Hayes for a younger audience….but there is something extra here – there is a relate-able sense of foreboding and longing that Hayes doesn’t achieve in her radio friendly country songs. Said title-track is an album highlight, with its plodding, whirring Rhodes keyboard driving the song, distant church organ, and Williams’ signature intimate, melancholic vocal.
Damien Jurado, the Seattle based indie rock musician, duets on Turn the Wolves accompanied by a simple chugging acoustic. The pair croon, “One day we’ll have it out, I’ll let you off for now…” Williams’ voice, with its carefully placed vibrato at the middle 8, is almost reminiscent of a singing bird, mirroring the album title.Arnar Gudjonsson of Icelandic band Leaves accompanies on piano on Pairs, a pretty ballad with a sweet but not sickly melody, and Invention is a beautiful, refreshingly simple and uncomplicated affair. Clean, fresh, and steady.
I had previously heard Lotte Ketsner’s version of The National’s ‘Fake Empire’, and Bon Iver’s ‘Flume’, on debut album Stolen – both executed with remarkable grace and beauty, but unfortunately, Williams’ cover of Beyonce’s epic pop hit, ‘Halo’ isn’t as loveable. To be honest it feels a little bit like mobile phone advert backing music – a low point of an otherwise flawless album. Luckily, Sweetheart and When it’s Time get the album firmly back on track. Reminiscent of songs by cult artist Tiny Vipers in their sheer effortlessness and effectiveness to pull at the heart strings – tapping into a mood that everyone has experienced at some point.
As the album moves on, the vocals seem to become less close sounding, and increasingly distant as if Williams is slowly walking away, what with the muted telephone effect on Sweetheart and the echoing distance on album highlight, When It’s Time.
Synth laden understated gem Eggshell is like an ideal mix of the melodic and perfectly restrained indie band, Daughter, and dark electro band, Polica, the crux lyric being so poignant and relate-able; “It’s so hard to love; guess that’s what makes it worth so much.” The sentiment is firm but subtle, and never pushy or consuming of the song. The song ends abruptly – almost emulating how abruptly a relationship can end.
Album single, Cliff, is as reliable as clockwork; steadily moving like a funeral march. Williams brings us back home, with her trademark familiar close intimate vocal, soothing and softening the plucked accompaniment, whilst the complimentary strings offer the same relief. Soft percussion and swooshing violins and clarinet throughout the middle 8 accentuate the mournful heart of the song. Bluebird of Happiness draws to a modest close with Little Things; a quaint and twee little ditty, but with the weight of the lyrical content bringing it down to earth and happily keeping it in tone with the rest of the record.
Although The Bluebird of Happiness certainly hasn’t moved on stylistically from Lotte Kestner’s debut record in 2011, I don’t think there was any need to. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is a wonderfully glum but graceful record, with an honest heart and a lingering sentiment.
Buy ‘The Bluebird Of Happiness’ here.