Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Heavenly
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf releases her debut album as Amber Arcades. And it is dreamy. Pinch yourself before faded, silky hooks and sun-bleached vocals lull you into a false sense of dozy serenity; there's an ironclad core within these clouds, and de Graaf navigates the potentially turbulant skies of dreampop with a firm hand. A legal aide in human rights law by day, and a supremely focused songwriter by night, de Graaf assembled a crack team of studio band mates (inc.
Amber Arcades—the thrilling and delectable project of Dutch artist Annelotte de Graaf-—revel in the ability to combine textures, sounds, and colors together to create dream-like sounds and sequences; but forever being driven along by a pop heartbeat. There are echoes of the likes of Stereolab, Broadcast, and even some frazzled Cocteau Twins sounds in there, but the truth is that the music never sits still enough for such comparisons to be truly made. At times everything will drop out and you're listening to a Lysergic-tinged Laura Marling, and at other times the clatter and tumult of the drums evokes thoughts of Can and NEU!.
The back story behind Amber Arcades is almost as fascinating the music. It's essentially the solo project of multi instrumentalist and singer songwriter Annelotte De Graaf, who by day works as a legal aide for Syrian refugees in her native Utrecht. Prior to that, she sat on United Nations tribunals dedicated to war crimes. Clearly well versed on humanitarian issues, it shouldn't come as a surprise that her debut, Fading Lines, is one of the most quietly unassuming yet inherently beautiful records to grace our speakers in years.
The blurb surrounding Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf’s debut album as Amber Arcades piles the dream comparisons on heavy. Even its floaty, summer-tinged cover suggests a half-forgotten face or warm memory. But de Graaf is too clever to rely on that one evasive state to inform her initial address to the world, and has managed to pack a lifetime’s worth of feeling into the ten tracks here.
Amber Arcades' debut album, Fading Lines, has a nice story behind it, a musical romantic comedy of sorts. Annelotte de Graaf, the person behind the name, spent her teenage years in Holland saving up money to make an album someday. While she worked in Holland's immigration center, she also self-released a few EPs, and when she felt ready to make the big leap she got in touch with producer Ben Greenberg (of the very dissimilar bands Destruction Unit and the Men) to see if he was interested in working with her.
The solo project ofAnnelotte de Graaf, her days usually spent as a legal aide at the UN war crimes tribunal, Amber Arcades debut full-length is the result of her emptying her savings of $12,000 and jumping on a plane to from Utrecht to New York. Recorded with a band assembled from Boston psych-poppers Quilt – whose Shane Butler and Keven Lareau contribute guitar and bass – and New Jersey janglers Real Estate (in the shape of drummer Jackson Pollis), Fading Lines has ten tracks of gauzy, echo-laden indie-pop for the desk-bound daydreamer. Opener Come With Me extends a welcoming finger with layered, out-of-phase guitars and an off-kilter verse – de Graaf’s light, honeyed voice slightly buried in the mix – soaring into a chorus which veers the right side of staid.
Amber Arcades is the stage name of Dutch singer-songwriter Annelotte De Graaf. Her debut album is full of ‘90s-style dream-pop songs. De Graaf’s feathery voice is perfect for this style, and her jangly electric guitar playing complements her melodies nicely. Fading Lines’ title track is a good example of Amber Arcades’ default setting.
What music might you expect a former aide at the UN war crimes tribunals to make? Something raw and confrontational? Or, as Annelotte de Graaf makes under the name Amber Arcades, something so none-more-indiepop you feel like going out and photocopying 250 issues of a typewritten fanzine with a free flexi disc taped to the front? Fading Lines is a sustained exercise in restraint, De Graaf’s airy voice anchored by backing from assorted US indie luminaries, who provide just enough muscle without overwhelming her. This stuff – no production tricks, no style-du-jour hip points – stands or falls by the strength of the songs, and Amber Arcades has enough of them to keep you interested. The title track shimmers, a delicious descending lead guitar line snaking through it; the nearly seven-minute Turning Light takes the bassline to Friday on My Mind and goes with it on a long, droning drive.
Imagine writing a clutch of songs that you thought were so good it was worth taking a sabbatical from your job to travel to another continent to record them. Well, that’s exactly what Annelotte de Graaf, aka Amber Arcades, has done with Fading Lines. From the opening, sparkling guitar notes of “Come With Me” you’re left in doubt it was absolutely the right decision to make.
If you would've asked Carl and I that we'd still be writing this feature a few months ago, we would've been surprised. But we just can't help ourselves, seeing as this year has been exceptionally rich in terms of album releases. So how did we fare with our monthly "leftovers" this time around? Well ….