In recent years, the female lead vocalist has found firm footing once more and regained a creative and competitive edge against that of meat-and-two-veg. Where Bj�rk was a complete one-off in the 1990s, the last decade has seen some of the most challenging music delivered by that supposed fairer sex. Bat For Lashes, Feist, Lykke Li and Beach House have all recently released albums that have forged music scenes with sinister songs with dark and mysterious concepts fronted by siren-like vocals. Our Broken Garden’s new album is very much in that same vein.
Front woman Anna Bronsted certainly possesses a voice that would lead even the strongest men to shipwreck. The sometime Efterklang keyboardist has a hushed, sultry voice. Yet where the voice is as pure as the clearest of waters, the music behind gives the impression of a lurking, unseen doom. Synthetic drones, bulging bass and distant drumming counterbalance the sweetness of the vocals with a sinister atmosphere of disquieting suspense. Suspended piano chords rest each song on a knife’s edge, threatening to fall either onto the side of safety or into the deep unknown.
Yet despite Golden Sea being an obvious aural pleasure, it sometimes feels like death by chocolate. The sound is sumptuously rich, but very similar throughout. This is dream-pop that wishes to remain unconsciously dormant for an eternity of placidity. Many of the songs hardly differ in tempo, key or construction, each song running seamlessly into the next one. And then, suddenly, it’s all over. The album is slightly underwhelming in that aspect.
However, Golden Sea has its moments to be treasured. The Departure is a dramatic piano-led classical pop song that is as unsettling as it is absorbing. Bronsted’s voice rises and falls beautifully as the piano echoes to create a church-like, sombre ambience. Garden Grow is straight out of Feist’s book with thumping bass drums, hand-claps and tender vocals about bittersweet romance: “Make my lips bleed if you have to, throw me naked on the floor.” The Burial is the album’s most fully realized song, and the album’s best attempt at Bat For Lashes style intrigue – a jaunty pop song with a sharp orchestral arrangement – and Share goes a long way toward matching Bj�rk at her sweet and innocent best.
Golden Sea is a rich and gorgeous album, but it is regrettable that there are better versions of this music out there. Bella Union labelmates Beach House – along with fellow female-fronted band Best Coast – have pioneered the unfairly maligned chill-wave movement that has encapsulated the sound of the summer. And although Our Broken Garden may not receive the wild praise those two similar artists have this year, this album isn’t markedly worse than Teen Dream or Crazy For You. It’s just not as immediate, stimulating or – most importantly – original.