Well here’s a first. Annelotte de Graaf is a Dutch musician currently masquerading as the artist Amber Arcades. She has also worked as a legal aide on UN war crime tribunals and is currently occupied with human rights law for people leaving Syria. Even before I’ve listened to a single note of her debut album Fading Lines, I’m pretty confident this isn’t going to sound like Fat White Family.
However, whilst you might expect something austere and worthy, Fading Lines is, well, dreamy. I’m sorry if that’s such an oft-used term but there really is no better superlative available. Even the album cover reinforces the generally blissed out, sun kissed vibe, picturing a semi-anonymous de Graaf with the wind and the Summer in her hair. But therein lies the crux of the issue, the weather. My first four listens to this album just happened to coincide with the typical British weather taking a turn for the worse and believe me, Fading Lines isn’t half as palatable when you’re watching the rain smash against the side of the 127 bus on your way home from work.
There are many familiar reference points on show here, Sarah Cracknell is very much in evidence as is Stereolab and oddly, during ‘I Will Follow’ there is more than a nod to Liz Fraser. Recently, it has become unfashionable to produce albums as pure and as melodic as this one. There appears to be a movement these days towards drowning any microbe of beauty with layers of backing or a dirty great beat to underpin a track which squeezes out all the joy and homogenizes everything in its wake. I can only assume de Graaf is a woman used to getting her own way as ‘Come With Me’ effortlessly jangles into view, taking me back to the late 90s and a stripped back muscle memory of The Cardigans. The title track ‘Fading Lines‘ starts off life as Sheryl Crow and finishes up as a homage to The Smiths with the occasional “oh-uh-oh” judiciously thrown in to sweeten the pill further.
The ensuing tracks all follow a similar theme: a breathy vocal over a simple arrangement which in the wrong hands would sound disjointed and twee, comes across as sophisticated and organic. I have little idea whether The Hague has recently cut back on the workload for Ms de Graaf or whether she just clearly understands and appreciates her art, but a lot of time and care has gone into creating an album as relaxed and as comfortable in itself as Fading Lines. If that isn’t the most pretentious comment you’ll read this year then I’m Pierre Van Hooijdonk.
The album culminates in the epic ‘Turning Light’ which is St Etienne at their very best, seven minutes of slow-building, driving sexiness which is as sweet as a pint of Bulmers in a field full of daisies and captivates you into thinking you’re on a Balearic beach and not stuck in a dark room on a wet Wednesday in Lowestoft. This is an album which demands warmth on its back to reflect back the melodies and familiar nuances that only a balmy Summer can evoke.
Fading Lines is released on June 3rd on Heavenly Records