Amber Arcades is the moniker of Dutch songwriter, Annelotte de Graaf. Her debut album was recorded in New York with producer Ben Greenberg known for his work with The Men and Beach Fossils. For the album sessions Annelotte was joined by a supergroup of sorts consisting of Shane Butler and Keven Lareau of Quilt on guitar and bass, Jackson Pollis of Real Estate on drums and Meg Duffy on slide guitar. Live, those roles are taken by guitarist Alex Huis in ‘t veld, drummer Jaap Bontekoe, bassist Ronald Straetemans and keys/synth player Ella van der Woude.
Annelotte has described a recording process that involved listening to, “a lot of Suicide, Broadcast, Stereolab, Yo La Tengo, The Gun Club…” Some of which certainly creeps through onto the record, but ultimately it’s a sound more her own; guitars that go from a twanging almost country sound, to echoing krautrock, drums that pound with motorik-intensity, and a scattering of electronic ideas from rich synth-beds, to Bossa-Nova like drum machines and soaring organs. All of it sits below Annelotte’s soft, dreamy vocal, the similarity with Alvvay’s Molly Rankin is unquestionable, but that’s no bad thing, and with clever production and use of reverb and fuzz the vocal is also arguably the album’s finest trick.
Annelotte is from Utrecht in the Netherlands. Utrecht is the fourth most populous city in the Netherlands and the home to over 330,000 people. The cities existence can be traced back to the construction of a Roman fortification by the emperor Claudius, although it was later abandoned by the Roman’s due to regular raiding by Germanic hoards. Since the 8th century the city has been considered the religious capital of the Netherlands, and the city still has strong links to Catholicism. The 2012 edition of The Lonely Planet, listed Utrecht as one of the world’s most unsung places, and it is considered to be one of the Netherlands main cultural centre, second only to Amsterdam. Famous Utrechters include Miffy creator, Dick Bruna, De Stijl movement artists, Theo van Doesburg and Gerrit Rietveld and footballer Marco Van Basten, whilst musicians from the city include jazz pianist, Gerald Clayton, I Am Oak frontman Thijs Kuijken and Fedde Le Grand, aka that bloke who wrote Put Your Hand Up 4 Detroit.
The first Amber Arcades release was a self-titled EP, which Annelotte put out in 2012, although that was a considerably more stripped back affair than her more recent output. That was followed up by the Patiently EP in October last year, which showcased stripped back versions of the track that would go to make her first album, Fading Lines, which is out this week via Heavenly Recordings.
From the moment we first saw Amber Arcades walk onto a stage, supporting Palehound in London earlier this year, it was instantly apparent that in front of us a star was being born. This was a band who just oozed potential and star-quality; immaculately dressed, utterly confident, and commanding the stage like seasoned-pros. Their sound, dream-pop meets krautrock, couldn’t be more 2016, and within the first song you just knew that this was a band who could, perhaps even should, be one of the breakthrough acts of the year. Nothing that followed suggested otherwise; they’re a band who are one catchy, well-received single away from mega-stardom.
Amber Arcades’ debut album, Fading Lines, in many ways just continues where that show left off. It’s an immaculate record, no idea on the record sounds wasted, no instrument anything less than perfectly judged. It all sounds so wonderful; you can quite happily lose yourself for half an hour or so and barely notice it’s even changed tracks. They say variety is the spice of life, but Fading Lines is a monument to the power and beauty to be found in repetition and doing one thing perfectly. Across the ten tracks, little changes, there’s no arresting change of tempo, no sudden lurch into dub-step or piano ballads, it’s just serving after serving of beautiful, hazy, pop-wonder. It’s not that they all sound the same, but they all sound wonderfully, unquestionably, like Amber Arcades.
The quality remains high throughout, but there’s still room for stand out moments, the numerous false-endings and re-emergences of opening track Come With Me, the Bossa-Nova sway and out-of-this-world spacy vocals of Pepetuum Mobile, the subtle country twang the slide guitar injects in Apophenia. It’s an album that’s immersive and beautiful from the first listen but also one where the details only slowly reveal themselves with each irresistible return to press play once more.
Arguably the albums finest moments are its final two tracks. Closing track, White Fuzz, is almost old-fashioned, with its bright guitar sound and 1960’s pop beat, and brings to mind Cass McComb’s classic-pop aside, Dreams Come True Girl. The most intriguing moment though is penultimate track, Turning Light, it’s almost like Joy Division if they accidentally left a blind open on a sunny day, a blur of processed rapid beats and buzzing synth-beds. It is a track that sounds built to close live sets, the meandering instrumental breaks and gentle pulsing atmosphere, seem to drift by in a hypnotic blur, it lasts around six minutes, but also feels like it could happily go on for twice that time and never get boring.
Lyrically it’s an album that is at best cryptic, and at worst verging on indecipherable, not helped possibly by the fact the vocal is often mixed quite low. This is perhaps a case where just letting the sheer beauty of an album drift over you, don’t over-think it and you’ll enjoy one of the finest debut album’s of the year.
Fading Lines is out June 3rd via Heavenly Recordings. Click HERE for details of all upcoming Amber Arcades shows.