All Thoughts Fly by Anna von HausswolffRelease date: September 25, 2020
Label: Southern Lord Records
Anna von Hausswolff has been an artist that has been making waves for a good few years now, but it has been in the last few that she has been fully accepted into the heavier music scene, too. Her stunning live performances transitioned surprisingly easily from classical music halls and festivals more used to math rock, indie and post-rock, to those where she and her band were on after and were indeed followed by doom, post-metal and stoner rock.
With Dead Magic in 2018, Anna herself showcased this darker, mystical nature. The pipe organ itself sounded demented, evil, willing to twist prayer into lie. And von Hausswolff’s voice became all the more transcendent. It had always been an instrument of supreme quality, but on her previous album, it became so malleable and otherworldly that Jarboe and Diamanda Galás effortlessly came to mind. No doubt this vocal dexterity was one of the reasons why she and her sister found themselves collaborating on the most recent SWANS album, leaving. meaning.
When All Thoughts Fly was announced, it was met, quite rightly with great excitement. When detail came out that none other than Southern Lord would be the label releasing it, I, for one, imagined that Anna was investigating even darker imagery, even more warped visions of what such a traditional, vast instrument could do. However, it was quickly revealed that this was to be an instrumental album and I was confused…
Enter All Thoughts Fly, a seven track, forty-five minute instrumental album of pipe organ music. And it’s beautiful.
Opening with ‘Theatre of Nature’, Anna brings a sense of light and levity to proceedings, in stark contrast to much of the rest of the record. However, it’s a fine track to signal quite how different we are from the world of Dead Magic. The track may be grand in nature from the offset, but it’s its liveliness creating a strange rolling bounce that is pleasurable to the ear. ‘Dolore di Orsini’ is a more tempered affair, and more indicative of much of All Thoughts Fly. It sounds like a struggle against time – ancient yet strangely contemporary. Plaintive notes ring out, slowly almost wavering out of tune, while at times underscores by beautiful melodicism, others left to hand and be uncomfortable.
Opening single ‘Sacro Bosco’ is the next track on the LP and I have to admit that when I first heard it, I was rather underwhelmed. But, honestly, I think any track singled out from an album such as this proves difficult – it loses its context, its point of reference, its counterpoint. Here the track makes perfect sense, following the dulcet whine of ‘Dolore di Orsini’. ‘Sacro Bosco’ is the answer to its’ call. Gentle to begin with, it suddenly bathes the listener in light, with glorious crescendos providing a sublime lift from the early murky, lapping dirge.
‘Persefone’ then follows, a seven minute beauty. It’s unbearably sad – a wordless poem, a eulogy for a long-forgotten love. It’s truly moving; plaintive, with a soft artistic palette that makes one feel as if the track itself could cradle your body in a show of intimacy and comfort. The track builds in volume and vigour, but it is the early moments of ‘Persefone’ that are truly haunting, heart-achingly beautiful. We then transition to ‘Entering’, a short two minute track, that serves as perhaps actually an over-long segue to the epic, twelve-minute title track.
‘All Thoughts Fly’ shimmers and flits between numerous arpeggiated leitmotifs, each cycling around, echoing one another, before moving on to something new only to circle round once again. It’s a deeply accomplished, layered piece of composition that no doubt asks a great amount from the musician playing it. At times it feels like Anna may be related to an octopus, as surely more than to arms are needed to play this transcendent, deeply thoughtful, intricate piece of music.
It’s surprising given the epic nature and glowing, yet abrupt end to ‘All Thoughts Fly’ that there is a seventh and final track following on from it. But how lucky we are, as ‘Outside the Gate (for Bruna)’ is every bit as delicious as the other moments of gorgeous understatement littered throughout the LP. It’s truly glorious at times, set to have many listeners eyes tear up (if they hadn’t already on ‘Persefone’). Once more, it’s again a delicate piece of composition that feels like if anyone laid a hand on it other than Anna herself, it would fracture, blowing away in the lightest of winds.
All Thoughts Fly is, as I have already stated, a beautiful record. It is a stunning showcase of what Anna is capable of with just herself and pipe organ and will surely be treasured by many of her legion of fans. But it is, still, an interesting (if now not confusing) direction for von Hausswolff to have followed. I applaud any artist who follows the creative pull of her or his self, and I believe this is absolutely what has happened here, to create her fifth full-length record.
Is All Thoughts Fly what I expected? No. Is it what I wanted? No – I would have loved (and still would love) another album akin to Dead Magic. Is All Thoughts Fly a brilliant Anna von Hausswolff album? Yes. Is it a record you should pay close attention to? Undoubtedly. It’s gentle, fragile, sublime. It’s not the album I expected, but we are ever so lucky to have it. It’s an album I have been unable to escape from for weeks. I believe I will be ensnared for some time to come…