Best known as the singer, composer, and arranger fronting dream pop outfit Bel Canto, Anneli Drecker has an astonishing range of credits. She is a noteworthy actress in film and on-stage, and has collaborated with artists from Jah Wobble and Hector Zazou to DJ Krush, Ketil Bjornstad, and a-ha. She also spent a decade working in the studio and touring with Röyksopp. Rocks & Straws is her third solo album, and her first in a decade. Issued by Rune Grammofon, Rocks & Straws may be the first of her recordings to capture her own musical vision so grandly and precisely. Drecker composed nine tunes for the lyrical poems of the late Norwegian literary polymath Arvid Hanssen, which were translated by artist and writer Roy-Frode Løvlan and recorded in her hometown of Tromsø, Norway. Singing, programming, and playing piano and organ, she is accompanied by guitarist Eivind Aarset, bassist Ole Vegard Skauge, and alternate drummers Rune Arnesen and Erland Dahlen, and strings from the Arctic Philharmonic. Her old Bel Canto bandmate Nils Johansen adds programming assistance on "Alone," the set's opening track. Drecker recorded most of this music live in the studio and did only minimal dubbing later. The topics in these songs are about nature and the often curious place of human beings within its grandeur. Drecker brings the striking beauty of Hanssen's poems to life, celebrating the desolate, unforgiving majesty of the wild region of northern Norway he wrote about. The warmth of her arrangements and melodies contrast with the lyrical subject matter, making them as contradictory as the human heart. With its lush strings, sweeping cymbals, and reverb-laden ambience, "Circulating Light" presents ethereal, gloriously illustrated pop. Her voice, no less evocative than it was in the '80s, still possesses its full range, sweeping and swooping through the mix. "Fisherman's Blues" places her alto out front as slow, blissfully articulated piano chords and strings color the spaces between the words. This is no musical still life, it's an aural portrait captured in the present moment, which reveals a picaresque narrative that evokes myriad emotions simultaneously. A Maori chorale from New Zealand chants through the foreground of "Ocean's Organ," which weds grandiloquent pop (think Cocteau Twins circa Blue Bell Knoll) to vivid classical crossover. (That this isn't the album's last track is a testament to Drecker's focus and confidence.) But there's so much more, such as "Waiting for a Boat," which is every bit as ambitious as Kate Bush on The Sensual World, but more immediate, warmer, and yes, more accessible. No one need be familiar with Drecker's source inspirations on Rocks & Straws to appreciate the vision on offer. This is elegant, pristine, deeply felt pop music of the highest order, offered as a heart-rending homage to place and poet.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek