With so many artists from Janelle Monae, to LCD Soundsystem to Childish Gambino commentating about America, it seems somewhat refreshing that an act would break the mould and focus their attention on the equally significant and culturally vast location of Europe. This is what the Dutch-born Annelotte De Graaf a.k.a Amber Arcades‘ tries to do on her intellectual and well-crafted second release European Heartbreak.
The sophisticated and breeziness of the blues-piano-brass-folk sound reminiscent of Natalie Prass, Weyes Blood and the honky-tonk moments of Foxyen, the wanderlust music videos, the touristy album cover and the adventure-seeking lyrics make the record sound like a nice long road journey. But the fact the first five tracks of European Heartbreak noticeably name-drop European places make the journey continental.
“Berlin samples make me feel like I’m nothing and nothing’s real” (‘Simple Song’), “Gonna take the van and drive to Switzerland” (‘Hardly Knew’), “Let’s buy ourselves a house in Spain.” (‘Oh My Love’) “Europe, it’s not you. I’m starting to think it’s me.” (‘Goodnight Europe’) and “It’s mid-July and I’ve been dry. Alone to Southern France” (‘Alpine Town’).
But the record is more than just a tour guide. If you dig deeper into the lyrics there’s very ominous, critical and apocalyptic words about society. The “heartbreak” aspect of the album’s title suggesting the dramatic end of something.
Annelotte De Graaf does have an erudite perspective on current affairs having studied law and formerly worked at an Asylum-seeking unit for the United Nations, but the lyrics aren’t specific to political incidents and instead make one imagine the story of a couple sitting on top of a hill observing the world dramatically disintegrate beneath them, but rather than lose all hope they have the strong belief that they can be the Adam-and-Eve leaders of a new world.
This vision is evocatively described in lyrics such as: “Where up so high, the air is thin. And I can see the end”, “We could still be making some sweet memories. Watch the world go down at our feet”, “When an other intelligent life form appears. They’ll review the human error. Its crude and single line”, “The whole world might be ending but we’ll be just fine”and “In this brave new world we’ll make true romance great again.” The latter sounds like a parody on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan’s “Make America Great Again”. This was a slogan that promised the return back to a simpler and happier time. A similar plea was used to convince Brexit voters to vote leave.
Although Amber Arcades has said in interviews that we should question whether we romanticise the past too much. This could be through distorted memories of a relationship, prejudiced views to back up patriotism and even a holiday that’s looks better because of a staged selfie – view European Heartbreak’s album cover’s art for an example.
This misleading illusion is summed up well near the album with the track ‘Antoine’ which questions how heartbroken we should feel about Europe or anything else. “These days. I’m dreaming of that sweetness. On Technicolor beaches for a way. And how we used to say. It can’t be worse than we imagined”.