“I will be cautious, that’s my one promise”, sings Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Ternheim on the track “Keep Me In The Dark” from her fifth album, the slow burner For The Young. A technically flawless artist, even from the beginning Anna Terheim has always crafted precise melodies with a voice that’s distinctively warm, consistently intelligent and prematurely experienced. Presented with an image of calculated integrity yet also welcoming and transparent in themes about loss, weakness and love. Also applying those attributes to borrowed songs from Broder Daniel, Frank Sinatra and Fleshquartet (the theme to Wallander), and making them intense and blissfully nocturnal.
However there’s something missing in the latest chapter of her 11-year career. Ever since she’s moved to the United States, she lost the dramatic side to her productions. They are still beautiful and effective but noticeably cautious with a lack of surprising ideas. From a fan perspective, this can be seen as evidence of an artist hitting their peak too soon – her second album Separation Road was a masterpiece of rock styles woven together meaninglessly from piano rock to gothic to alternative to cinematic rock. It enlarged the snapshots of ambition on her exciting antifolk debut Somebody Outside, also produced by Johan Lindstrom.
However, Ternheim’s spotlight on simplistic acoustic-based focused tales is actually completely tactical and a product of producer choice. She was tired of the glossy twists added on top of the first draft folk and the imprint of producer sparkle – for example the Bjorn Yttling’s Oriential Touches themed Leaving On A Mayday. Stripping back the music to its original skeleton and focusing on the words, she formed an instant connection elsewhere. Teaming up with Johnny Cash collaborator David Ferguson and producer Matt Sweeney, the Swede integrated into a tight-knit Nashville community. The result was an Americanized country-blues stylings of The Night Visitor – complete with fiddles, harmonicas, mandolins and whistles – which were made more convincing by the unforeseen suitability of Anna Ternheim’s voice in that genre.
For The Young is her most cohesive record. Although David Ferguson provides some assistance and Ternheim still lives in the United States – the clue is the Golden Gate Bridge is on the album cover – it’s a different egg to its predecessor. Produced by Swede Andreas Dahlback, it’s conceptual and timeless without the blueprint copycatting of before. Musically, it’s electric-organ filled blues folk mellowed down to a snail pace – largely similar to each other with the exception of the marxophone/orchestration of “Lonely One“. Meaning that Anna’s undeviating voice and sharp lyrics are even more important than ever before.
Lyrically, it attempts to reconnect with the younger generation that she may have alienated with the older-sound of her previous record by suggesting that even adults have the same set of doubts and thoughts. “Still A Beautiful Day” reflects that hope and disaster go hand-in-hand in adolescence; accompanied by a promo video split into sections of black & white free-spiritedness and technicolor barbaric behaviour. “Caroline” carries on Ternheim’s positive habit of dedicating songs to friends, this being about a friend who sold her dreams for quick wealth. “Hours” uses the curfew slang “after hours” and “paint a sunset on the bedroom wall” to demonstrate youthful suffocation.
It also utilizes the Ternheim brand of subtlety most effectively from it’s unwavering bass guitar riff and delicate metallic percussion to the slow-motion dance-fighting short film. It’s engaging even if Ternheim’s voice appears to be losing it’s strong idiosyncratic character. Anna Ternheim seems to found a home she feels comfortable in both geographically and musically;, a relief as she reaches the 37th year of her life. Nonetheless, she dubbed herself “unfaithful” to sound in Interview Magazine; opening the possibilities of a return of her risky side.
Purchase Anna Ternheim’s For The Young on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs