I have been following the music of Anneli Marian Drecker since the 1980s, when she was the lead singer of the synth-pop band Bel Canto. The first three Bel Canto albums melded fairytale-themed lyrics, neoclassical and world music (mostly Middle-Eastern) influences to electronic music, over which Drecker’s dramatic coloratura swooped and fluttered. (Imagine a cross between the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and Depeche Mode). Later Bel Canto albums drifted to a more 90s-era electronica sound, and Dreckers previous two solo albums were pretty much straight-forward pop.
Her new self-produced album,Rocks & Straws, is a triumphant return to her art-pop roots. From the press release:
Rocks & Straws is a homecoming album, an ode to her native town and region. The songs, all composed by Anneli, are based on lyrics by cult poet Arvid Hanssen and translated to English by artist and writer Roy-Frode Løvland. Hanssen´s poems are strongly influenced by the mysterious and powerful nature of this arctic region, like the writings of Knut Hamsun, born only a few miles from Hanssen´s birthplace.
Drecker’s voice is deepened to a lovely lyric alto, but she can still reach stunning soprano heights. The melodies she composed have actual hooks—this is accessible art pop. The album is warm, orchestral, and there is a jazzy noir vibe to some of the songs. Drecker’s piano playing is impressively delicate, like the faintest webbing of frost. Rocks & Straws belongs somewhere between the ethereality of Bjork’s Vespertine and Kate Bush’s whimsical 50 Words For Snow.
Just the other day, I found some rare tracks from the Norwegian ethereal-wave band Bel Canto. Listening to them confirmed for me that Anneli Drecker has a simply amazing voice and it’s a shame that she is not as well known as she should be. She effortlessly melds the complex vocal gymnastics of Elizabeth Fraser with the pan-ethnic warbling of Lisa Gerrard— with a dash of Bjorkian whimsy.
Bel Canto started out as kind of Gothic synthpop band; imagine Depeche Mode crossed with Siouxsie and the Banshees. By the second release, Birds of Passage, they moved more into the atmospherics of Cocteau Twins or Kate Bush. Drecker expanded the range of her voice so that she could reach soprano highs that were positively operatic, and there was a definite Medieval sound to the stately synths. Lyrically, the songs borrowed from mythology, with songs about mermaids, minotaurs, and Baron Munchausen. But it is their third album, Shimmering, Warm & Bright, is a classic of mythic pop music.
Drecker’s voice is stately and beautiful. The music weaves folk instruments into the elaborate synthesized orchestrations. The lyrics, some of them in French and German, are full of images from Scandinavian myths: giants (“Shimmering, Warm and Bright”), fallen warriors (“Sleep in Deep”), and witchcraft (“Spiderdust”). The album’s centerpiece is an epic musical homage to a Hans Christian Andersen tale, “The Story of a Mother,” sung in German.
Subsequent Bel Canto albums visited mythic themes sporadically, opting instead for a sleek pop-oriented sound.