Amber Arcades dares to sing about European Heartbreak

European HeartbreakAh, Annelotte De Graaf, what a wonderful thing to have called your album European Heartbreak. “If it were called American Heartbreak, you wouldn’t bat an eye,” she says. So true. We've weirdly fixated on America; those weird right-wing nutjobs across the pond that don’t seem to be bothered that huge swathes of their own countrypeople live in abject misery. We’re so fixated on their news, politics and social issues, that sometimes we assume we are Yanks. We’re not though, are we? We need to give ourselves at least enough respect to acknowledge that our hearts break in a way that is just, well, European.

Thankfully Amber Arcades is here to remind us, and for that we have respect. We also have respect for backing that up with a gorgeous album of wistful folky chamber pop that stands as a proud monument to our romantic, philosophical, and self-deprecating continent. The lush strings that interplay with the knowing chord progressions are the perfect setting for tackling the ambiguity of memory that De Graaf makes her theme. “Oh but this can’t be the end/I feel so weirdly unattached/It’s just something new/Something to get used to,”  she sings in “I’ve Done the Best”. There’s a lovely bittersweet emotional complexity to this whole album, of which this is typical.

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Camera Obscura seems like a good reference point; there’s a certain Blur-like playful irony that belies the deep feeling underneath intermingled with the current benchmark for dream popping, Alvvays - if they were more given to strumming acoustic guitars in a way that expressed the tense joy of a precipitation-free Dutch Thursday night.

Maybe there’s not that much textural variety here, but you don’t really need it. De Graaf is a wonderful controller of the mood. “Alpine Town” is a fine example – shifting from a lounge-pop verse to a Frankie Cosmos-worthy pregnant pause to a full-on string and melody third act. Or “Oh My Love, What Have We Done”; a mean major-minor chord mood shift (ish) between the verse and chorus – which, gulp, has a touch of the old Americana about it.

Hey, though – that’s fine. Everything good they got is from somewhere else, anyway, right? Oceanic banter aside, this is an excellent album from Amber Arcades. All the better for the staking of European pride.

Release: 29th September 2018, Heavenly Records                                                                                                       

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