Chantal Acda: Let Your Hands Be My Guide
Sometimes there is no more powerful music than that marked by delicacy, quietude, and understatement. Look no further than Chantal Acda's Let Your Hands Be My Guide as proof, for it's one of the most beautiful recordings issued this year. Ably supported by Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick, Gyda Valtysdottir, and Shahzad Ismaily, the Belgium-based, Dutch-born Acda (who has recorded under the Sleepingdog moniker since 2006) has released a collection that in certain moments is so lovely it verges on overwhelming.
All of those would-be Aguilera clones would be wise to take a lesson from Acda if they really hope to one day become authentic singers. Singing in a manner thankfully free of embellishment and affectation, Acda makes the strongest argument possible for an unadorned style. In fact, her voice, so pure and natural in its delivery, is such a pleasure to listen to, the recording would probably still be wonderful had it been wholly stripped of instrumentation. Lyrically, the songs tackle their subject matter allusively and impressionistically—no overwrought emoting for Acda—in a poetic way that fits the music, given that it's equally allusive. But, truth be told, it's easy for the lyrical content to become secondary when one is swept away by the material's sonic entrancement.
Instrumentation is used sparingly, with piano, guitar (acoustic and electric), glockenspiel, and strings gently woven into the songs' arrangements. Frahm's restrained piano playing is a marvel throughout, while Valtysdottir's graceful cello playing is nicely featured within “Own Time.” If there's any justice in the world, other artists will be seeking out Frahm to produce their own recordings, given how integral his participation is to the success of Acda's project, and Broderick is used effectively, too. His natural singing proves to be a wonderful complement to Acda's own, and hearing their voices pair up during the lilting “We Will, We Must” makes for one of the album's most stirring moments. Even better, however, is “Arms Up High,” a stately and ravishing piece—arguably the album's emotional peak—crowned by a gorgeous vocal duet from Broderick and Acda.
Only once does the instrumental palette deviate from the natural into the conspicuously electronic, which occurs during the closing song, “We Must Hold On.” Yet even this synth-pop reverie proves to be as affecting as the others, especially when its tone is that of blissful reverie. Surrendering to the song's pleasures, one starts to imagine how the album's other songs might sound were they to be recast in similar synth-pop fashion. Add it all up and the result is forty-four mesmerizing minutes and a triumphant album that can't be recommended too highly.