Anna Von Hausswolff – Ceremony (City Slang)

The synth-laden Swedish songstress returns with a belter of a second album

Released Jun 17th, 2013 via City Slang / By Larry Day
Anna Von Hausswolff – Ceremony (City Slang) Gothenburg is famed for its musical heritage. The bustling Swedish hub is a creative melting pot, harbouring acts like El Perro Del Mar, The Knife, Air France, José Gonzalez and Little Dragon. It's rapidly becoming synonymous with an ethereal strain of electropop, and famous for nurturing musicians of the highest calibre. Another of the city's prominent natives is 'funeral pop' chanteuse Anna Von Hausswolff, who released her sophomore album, Ceremony, last year. The record didn’t reach UK shores then, but we lucky Brits are now getting the chance to experience her grim synthery firsthand, as she preps the UK release of Ceremony this month.

First track 'Epitaph Of Theodor' is a gothic ballad with church organ arpeggios metronomically pulsing like a derelict carousel wailing a haunting death rattle. Despite its blatant moroseness, it's got an odd sense of quirk about it. Quite Germanic in timbre, it has circus-y, fantastical strands – like a sort of doom-polka. 'Epitaph Of Daniel' follows suit later on the LP. For anyone who’d played Final Fantasy IX, the overall feel of the track will seem familiar. It's lighter than the first 'Epitaph', with the inclusion of surf-pop guitar slides and marching band snares. The organs are still heavily featured, but they lose our attention as the axe licks take centre stage.

Anna Von Hausswolff is perhaps best known for her flawless vocal chords, so it's surprising to discover that we don't get to hear them until halfway through the second cut on the record, 'Deathbed'. Again, the track has a foundation built on church organs, but instead of focusing on the instrument and all it can do, following the lead of opener 'Epitaph Of Theodor', it slowly dissolves into a harmonic drone and creates a brooding backdrop for shoegaze guitars and psych-laced dream-pop synths (perhaps that should read 'nightmare-pop'?). As the cacophony peaks, and the various noises reach a pinch point, Von Hausswolff saunters in heroically. The mood changes instantly as her dulcet Kate Bush-esque tones wash over – that comparison may seem clichéd and a little lazy, but in this case it is genuinely apt. 'Deathbed' goes from terrorising your soul to triumphant, and you can't help but feel that the shift is a very deliberate metaphor: the gloom of someone dying juxtaposed with the arrival of Von Hausswolff, at which point the person has died and is going 'towards the light', the afterlife and the track’s ending.

Von Hausswolff has told of wanting Ceremony to play out like a film rather than a disconnected anthology. She wanted each track to bear resemblance to every other track, so that there's a tangible theme running throughout. On that basis, she's pretty successful. Every effort is mighty similar in terms of instrumentation (boy, does she love the organ on this record!), though there are plenty of contrasts too. Some tracks fizz with pep or buoyant optimism, while others are more like sonic black holes, devouring all light and hope. As for the film aspect, there is evidence of that, too. There seems to be quite a spotlight on death, life and loss, as well as tracks dedicated to grief. There's not much of a narrative per se, but everything is tied up together and linked nicely.

This record is home to some sinister tracks. 'Ocean' has phantom keys rippling as Von Hausswolff toys with dynamics like a wolf would a rabbit. 'Red Sun' is a R&B hymn reminiscent of Florence + The Machine if she were doused in both TLC and The Cure. There are also paeans dedicated to happier areas of music. 'Liturgy Of Light' isn't as menacing as a lot of the record; however, it's a drizzly guitar-folk cut capable of inducing a leaden gut sinking feeling. 'Funeral For My Future Children' simply oozes the sads (c'mon, just look at that title), but, despite the moniker, is actually one of the most uplifting tracks on Ceremony. It's more akin to Best Coast, with its lo-fi surf-pop and fuzzy guitars resonating beneath Cocteau Twins-ish vocals on the semi-shanty.

Ceremony reconfirms why Anna Von Hausswolff is so fascinating (in case you'd forgotten since her debut). It's a cathartic album, driving you through the most agonising, torturous components of life, but also dragging you out of it by the scruff of your neck and whispering into your ears: “See, that wasn't so bad, was it?” It's a record of contrasts. For every wound she inflicts with monumental howls, she's ready to softly croon and patch up the boo-boo. Ceremony is as much about redemption as it is anguish. She may put you through pain and discomfort, but that only strengthens the moments when she soars.