Revelation For Personal Use
So how does one follow up an album as critically acclaimed as Rocks & Straws, the first solo collection from Norwegian songstress Anneli Drecker in a decade? By essentially crafting Rocks & Straws Part II, though it's important to clarify that the move wasn't cynically designed to capitalize on the 2015 album's decidedly positive critical reception but because the project naturally lent itself to further exploration. Both albums, you see, draw for inspiration from lyrics by cult poet Arvid Hanssen (translated into English by Roy-Frode Løvland) and use his writings as the fertile soil from which Drecker's evocative songs grow. If anything, the connection between the two albums is so strong, the eventual appearance of a third volume would hardly surprise.
That the two releases are companion volumes is also suggested by the personnel involved, with many of the musicians on Rocks & Straws returning. Guitarist Eivind Aarset, drummers Rune Arnesen and Erland Dahlen, and the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra's strings again participate, while Jonas Lie Theis and Sindre Hotvedt once more contribute programming. But though many take part, Revelation For Personal Use remains very much Drecker's personal project: she not only sings and plays piano, organ, and mellotron, she composed, arranged, and produced the album. As before, the compositions are strong, the arrangements powerful, the melodies seductive, and the performances first-rate. The songs range from ballads to epics, and even with large instrumental resources in play, all concerned are capable of deftly down-shifting in “Days” from a high-decibel roar to delicacy in a matter of seconds. It's music, in short, of poise and quality.
Other similarities declare themselves as the album plays. “Blue Evening” picks up where “Fisherman's Blues” left off, and just as Rocks & Straws' “Ocean's Organ” includes a Maori group singing kapa haka songs, the new one's title track features a guest vocalist, the Tuvan artist Radik Tyulyush, who supplements his singing with shoor (a wind instrument), igil (a two-stringed Tuval instrument), and khomus (mouth harp). And that moment during the ballad setting “Come Summer's Wind” when Drecker's voice ascends so beautifully is replicated on the new album when Frida Fredrikke Waaler Wærvågen's cello spirals upwards at the end of “On a Road.”
There are, however, key differences between the albums. Revelation For Personal Use is on average more aggressive, with the electric guitars, drums, and strings of “Days” pitched during its loudest moments at a dynamic, almost bombastic roar. Much of the earlier album's lyrical focus centers on nature, whereas the songs on Revelation For Personal Use emphasize inner journeys. And even with so many years of singing behind her, as a solo artist and as a singer with Bel Canto, A-ha, and Röyksopp, Drecker is still pushing herself vocally into new territory, with “On a Road” featuring her exploring new techniques such as the Sami yoik style and variations of throat singing; as a result, her singing is perhaps even more expressive and wide-ranging on this latest recording; consider, for example, the richness of the vocal display with which the chiming dreampop of “Raindrops” begins or the upper-register singing in “Snow.” Of course, one of the best things about any Drecker-related recording is the singing, and on the new collection it's consistently enthralling.
Revelation For Personal Use certainly begins commandingly with “Blue Evening.” In this stirring opener, Drecker's gorgeous, at times multi-tracked voice works its magic alongside dramatic waves of piano and strings, and modulations between intimate verses and sweeping choruses are effected with an agility one might not expect when instrumental resources of such magnitude are involved. As entrancing is “Sun-wave,” with Drecker's bewitching voice confidently riding the lilting rhythms of the orchestra-enhanced ensemble.If we were in the business of grading releases (which we're not), the earlier one would receive an ever-so-slightly higher rating, with two things accounting for the difference. At eight songs and thirty-six minutes, the new release is slighter in total content compared to the eleven included on the CD version of Rocks & Straws (ten on the LP), even though there's much to be said for an economical set-list, especially when it leaves you wanting more. And as outstanding as the new material is, it doesn't quite reach the sublime heights of the earlier set's “Come Summer's Wind,” “Alone,” and “Waiting for a Boat,” though many, among them “Raindrops,” “Snow,” and “Blue Evening,” come close. Of course it must also be said that whereas Rocks & Straws was approached, prior to hearing it, with little more than the customary hope a reviewer brings to any release, Revelation For Personal Use arrived with weighted expectations engendered by the earlier release. Stated otherwise, Rocks & Straws was a revelation in the way it so dramatically surpassed expectations; Revelation For Personal Use impresses as excellent for meeting them.