Thu, Mar 17, 2016 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews


All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, by Aurora

All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, Aurora, Glassnote

Fears and sorrows hold a radiant gleam on All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, the rapturous debut album by 19-year-old Norwegian singer and songwriter Aurora.

Conqueror, the single she released last month, opens with her singing, “Broken mornings, broken nights and broken days in between” and goes on to a chorus that proclaims her loneliness: “I’ve been looking for the only one/But you don’t seem to come my way.” Yet the music nullifies any distress. The verses have a smiley lilt over a snappy backbeat, and the chorus marches with pealing major chords as Aurora’s voice multiplies all over the place: girl-group harmonies answered by oohs and oh-ohs and la-las and ya-yas. Despite the lyrics, she’s completely, irrepressibly self-sufficient.

Conqueror is the pop bait for a more introspective album, full of thoughts about solitude, loss, mortality and the tenacity — signaled by the music as much as the words — to endure them. Aurora, whose last name is Aksnes, has a high, pure voice imbued with a serene conviction that can seem childlike or ageless, hinting at fellow Scandinavian singers like Lykke Li and Bjork; her melodies hint at Celtic and sometimes Asian music. Her voice also lends itself to the endless layering that becomes both her shield and her consolation.

Aurora’s producers and songwriting collaborators, primarily Odd Martin Skalnes and Magnus Skylstad, build crystalline electronic edifices completed by her many vocals: celestial choirs, rhythmic interjections, gangs of unison reinforcements. The songs often begin with the singer alone against an eerie backdrop, contemplating a merciless natural world or confessing to anxieties — thoughts as bleak as drowning, in Under the Water, or being murdered, in Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1). But sooner or later, a beat arrives, harmonies unfold, and Aurora is saved, yet again, by her overdubbed sisterhood.


Fired Up, Randy Houser, Stoney Creek

As country music has begun to extricate itself from the terror reign of the bro over the last year, it has become ever more clear what the genre has been drowning in and also where it has been parched.

The bro was affable — if a little knee-jerk anti-woman — and the bro wanted to have a good time. More to the point, the bro never sounded tough, or even particularly meaty.

Which explains, in part, why Randy Houser hasn’t had more of a foothold in recent years. He is a rich, viscous singer with a tremendous amount of vocal force, more abrasion than massage. He has succeeded with genial hits like Runnin’ Outta Moonlight and Goodnight Kiss, efficient songs that lacked the verve and texture of his breakthrough songs Boots On and, especially, the sublime Anything Goes.

On his fourth album, Fired Up — his best since his 2008 debut, Anything Goes — Houser is reclaiming his vigor, from the 1990s-style power country of We Went and Back, which recalls the strength of duos like Montgomery Gentry and Brooks & Dunn, to the melancholic Hot Beer and Cold Women.

This album is produced by Derek George with an appealing roughness, full of concisely slashing rock guitar and nods to Tom Petty and the blues — familiar turf for Houser.

It brings out his most robust singing, even when the subject matter is straightforward, like on Senior Year, a bruised take on the sort of nostalgia Kenny Chesney used to render in hazy fashion, and Song Number 7, likely to be one of the best country songs of this year. Its premise is a familiar country conceit: music about the power of music. The songwriting — by Justin Wilson, Ben Hayslip and Chris Janson — is impressive, but Houser’s performance is truly rousing, delivering soft sentiment with a gut punch.

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