Wednesday, May 11, 2016

AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend (2016)

My choice for this review came rather easily, simply because it is an album I have now been listening to and obsessing over for months, ever since it came out on March 11, 2016. All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend is the debut studio album by the 19-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora Aksnes, whose preferred stage name is AURORA.

I honestly cannot really even remember how I came to know of her or her music, probably either through Spotify ads, or YouTube recommendations, but I am so glad that I did. This art/indie popish album has not left my head, and vice-versa, I have not grown tired of it, which is also saying something. It is an album that through the collection of Aurora’s self-written songs showcases an emotionally powerful, yet an incredible vulnerable journey. However, I am fairly certain that it is not an album for everyone’s taste as it conveys a somewhat fairy-like, otherworldly, and almost a magical vibe. I know this sounds all too Hobbit-like and Narnian, but those are the places that immediately come to mind and I cannot help but imagine myself in them, too. It is an album that allows you to imagine an alternative universe, and disassociate from the reality of now; it is a fantastical form of escapism. This type of vibe probably has to do with Aurora’s Scandinavian background, and her ability to incorporate the magical scenery into a lyrical and musical harmony. It is also the reason – including her voice - why she has been compared to fellow Scandinavians Lykke Li and Björk, whereas she herself has said that her main inspirations in song-writing have been Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  

The album opens with “Runaway”, an eerie beginning, where you immediately get a sense of just how amazing, yet haunting her voice is. The song starts out quite slow, with Aurora not really even singing but just making background sounds. However, I could not help but be sucked in already. In the background, you get the echo of water droplets, and soft drums that only seem to enhance her vocals. Halfway through the song, though, when the chorus kicks in for the second time, the song makes use of the synth-pop elements, picking up the tempo, and making Aurora’s vocals even more demanding and the meaning behind the lyrics more urgent. In addition, watching the music video with Aurora’s own home as the scenic backdrop and her literally running through it adds a whole other elemental aspect to the song, and brings the words - But now take me home / Take me home where I belong / I got no other place to go – to life.

The second song on the album, “Conqueror”, is quite different from the previous one. There is no eeriness or mystical elements. It is downright bubbly, perky, and seemingly a happy pop song – if you were to ignore the lyrics and just enjoy the music. For me, it is the kind of song that whenever the chorus hits, I cannot help but jump up and down like a crazy person, and sing along the words with her. Despite the somewhat depressing lyrics - Broken me and broken them / You are broken too - she has managed to create an atmosphere with the upbeat drums and melody that you don’t even care for the reality check that the lyrics are conveying.
Third track on the album is “Running with the Wolves” – probably Aurora’s best known song, and my personal favorite. Much the same as “Runaway”, it starts slowly, tentatively with the spotlight on her pure vocals, and a quiet hum of electronics backing her up. The chorus of the song, however, is the reason I love this piece so much – the drums become more intense and punctuated, and Aurora’s own voice comes to resemble a faux wolf howling in the night. The chorus is also the part where I see myself transcend onto an icy, snow-covered mountain in the middle of fjords in Norway, literally running side by side with a wolf pack, even though I might just be walking down the street in sunny Estonia.

Following that is “Lucky”, one of the calmer, quieter and introspective tunes on the album. However, that does not draw away from the impact of the song. This is where the theme of letting go and moving on comes forth. It shows the struggle of wanting to give in, but eventually being strong enough to stay alive - And I feel the light for the very first time / Not anybody knows that I am lucky to be alive - and Aurora carries that message powerfully with her haunting vocals backed up by a piano.
Continuing with the theme of life comes “Winter Bird”, a lonely, dreamy tune that essentially captures the essence of winter. It is chilly, icy, and vulnerable – a perfect Nordic song - where once again Aurora’s vocals shine through as they intertwine pop and folk sounds.   
Next in line is “I Went Too Far”, where I feel as though Florence Welch and a softer version of Calvin Harris meet in the middle. From the start you would not consider it a pop song, yet as the chorus hits, a whole other realization comes with it. It is a song that carries a more gloomy lyrical content - I went too far when I was begging on my knees / When I cut my hands, will you just stand and watch me bleed? - which is accompanied by an up-lifting and clubby dance beat.
Through the Eyes of a Child” is another more introspective and soothing songs of the album. It is haunting and mesmerizing, a nostalgic and wide-eyed look back on your childhood with a lyrical reminder of how innocent life was, and how easy it is to lose that childlike wonder once you’re grown. It’s a song that solely rests on Aurora’s vocal abilities and lets them soulfully flow.
Next song on the album, “Warrior”, is anything but soothing or calm as the title would suggest. It hits with a battle-ready chorus as Aurora almost cries out for love to conquer our minds and let light in. It’s another piece where power comes through the intense drums in the background, yet manages to stay vulnerable with Aurora’s vocals and lyrics.
Under the Water” is an angsty ballad that wonderfully mixes Norwegian folk, heavy drums, and oriental themes as a backdrop, which romanticizes and contemplates drowning in the most haunted way - Under the water we die / Then why do we jump in? / Why do we jump in? Lyrically it is quite unnerving, and once again, shows the deep, troubling undertones of the album.

Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)” is definitely one of the darker songs on the album as it recounts the story of her own death, a tale of mercy killing. I, personally, prefer the acoustic version of the song, which is available on the deluxe version, as that makes the song even eerier and profound, and the lyrics shine through more poignantly, and the overall atmosphere is more vulnerable. Nevertheless, the non-acoustic version still manages to have that deeper undertone, with just a light pop/folk beat in the background and the tempo slightly quickened.
Home” is a song that touches upon the theme of rebirth, survival, and finding hope. It’s definitely a song, where you feel the Nordic hollowness and force as Aurora sounds like a full-bodied choir that is well harmonized.
And the last song on the non-deluxe version of the album is “Black Water Lilies”. It’s a dreamy, slightly oriental-tuned, and again, drowning-themed ballad. It brims with elements of nature and Aurora’s vocals flow right alongside them.
On the deluxe version, you also get to hear “Half the World Away” – the ever famous Oasis song that Aurora covered for the John Lewis Christmas ad, toning and slowing it down when compared with the original. You also find an acoustic version of “Nature Boy”, previously made famous by Nat King Cole, and David Bowie, who recorded a techno version for Moulin Rouge! However, Aurora manages to make it her own with cello and a guitar as her backdrop.

All in all, I am super glad that I discovered this record, and I feel as though AURORA has made a fantastically strong start for her future self. All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend incredibly showcases her lyrical and vocal genius, as well as sort of redefines what it means to create electro-pop/folk tunes. It combines highs and lows, sorrowful ballads and battle-ready hymns. To me, it’s an amazing piece of work, and tugs at the emotions every listen. 

Anni Sandra Varblane

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