Only / When You’re Near / When You’re Near / I grow steady / You make me steady / Longing / In my dreaming / Wishing / We were stealing / Kisses / Your sweet kisses.
Annie Lewandowski seizes her listener from the moment Arrest opens, which is quite a fitting name for her most recent album leading Powerdove. The Sick Room Records long-player opens immediately with confrontational folk instruments, feedback, and percussion, producing a jumbled mess that is impossible to ignore or suppress. Suddenly, the music drops out completely, and Lewandowski’s voice is the only element, delivering a sparse poem between flares of that muddled noise.
This opening element of the album is perhaps its most important, since the trio of Lewandowski, John Dieterich, and Thomas Bonvalet command the listener’s attention by placing them on edge, even attacking them with the full range of instrumentation that will unwind later on the album. What results is an album full of eclectic songcraft, as well as folk compositions that are often fragile and welcoming, which makes the noisy elements of the album a startling notice. The vision and message of this album are not to be taken lightly; the vision and message of this album are central to the execution of each player’s part; they demand to be heard. By itself, the opening shards of sound are lovely cacophony, unmatched by even the most intense blasts later on the album. In the context of the more conventional song structures that appear later in the album, the noisy opening stands to elevate whole composition.
While investigating my past reviews, I notice that I frequently write about whether I feel like I’m on a heist with the musicians, or if the musicians have taken me hostage. Do the musicians make me feel like I’m part of the trouble, or are they plotting against me? It might be a bad habit, but frankly, I do not believe that I can speak fully to any artist’s perfect motivation for an album, so I always try my best to write about my experience that an artist’s album produces. (Frankly, this is more fun, too, and much less academic, I find). Even where reality is gray and difficult to measure (necessarily so), dichotomies can help us understand the value of a specific album or song — and here is where I find describing Powerdove so tough, but their album so rewarding. The ensemble frequently produce flares that are extremely confrontational, jumbled, noisy, and reaching to the edges of their instruments’ functions, which makes it appear that they are taking their listener hostage to their vision. However, these flares are also well-produced, well-placed, and therefore highly effective, especially where they lead the listener to engage with the softer elements of the album.
As a listener, I keep returning to that mood of attack during the album’s softer places. To these ears, Powerdove worked hard to heighten and alert, in order to make a listener more sensitive to the conventional, structured areas of the album. Due to this method, the folk sounds that appear during the latter half of Arrest are easy to receive, and quite touching. The listener is neither accomplice or hostage to Arrest, as Powerdove adopt completely different postures at different points of their album.
All sorts of feet tapping, hand clapping, bells, metronomes, and other acoustic noise-making devices are used throughout, which frequently results in intuitive, natural rhythms. Immediately following the opening track, “Into the Sea” features a solid acoustic backbeat that opens into decaying strums and the same spacious, careful vocals of the opener. Percussive bells outline “Easter Story,” which is the first occurrence of a somber and soft mood on the album (this structure is mimicked on “Seeing It,” which employs feedback in lieu of the direct chiming of that song). By using these acoustic instruments, Powerdove present natural songs that allow their listener to think about the surroundings or circumstances of the recording. Despite being a well-produced album, the execution of these instruments gives the energetic impression of a field recording or hymn.
By the time “Be Mine” appears, four tracks in, the group are in the position to begin several of their “poppy” songs. On their own, songs like “Be Mine” and “Weeping Willow” are harmonious and catchy, but the heightened attention from the album’s initial attack open those songs to a particularly tender feeling. From here, one can focus on Lewandowski’s voice and message, and think about the careful spaces that emerge between the instrumental bursts and percussive background. Through these exercises, Powerdove’s vision of folk and experimentation proves to commune with their listener through arresting attacks and precious compositions. Arrest is a well-rounded album that leads the listener to its conclusion through methods both intuitive and confrontational.