Given the current political climate in the United Kingdom, it’s impossible to see Amber Arcades‘ second album without using the prism of Brexit. Most of these songs gathered on European Heartbreak are songs about a break-up, but that big black cloud on the continental horizon certainly gives titles like Goodnight Europe and Oh My Love What Have We Done a new, more political twist.
There’s definitely a more polished feel to Annelotte de Graaf’s follow up to her debut Fading Lines – the reverb and drone elements of her first album have been replaced by wistful trumpets and a more languid, relaxed feel. Yet that’s not a bad thing: de Graaf’s songwriting has matured too, making European Heartbreak feel like a very accomplished album from the off.
Of course, the internationalist flavour should be no surprise – de Graaf’s backstory is that she was born in Utrecht, and worked as a legal aide in the United Nations before embarking on her music career. Yet the primary impression of European Heartbreak is that of Americana, or more specifically the Americana of Matthew E White – there’s the same soulful feel that the likes of Natalie Prass or Flo Morrissey are so good at invoking.
Oh My Love (What Have We Done) is a pretty much perfect pop song, all sparkling brass and handclaps, with a melancholy chorus that recalls early Saint Etienne, with whom Amber Arcades share a label, while Something’s Gonna Take Your Love Away is just gorgeous, and the pedal steel work on Antoine really tugs at the heartstrings. That’s not to mention the stunning closing track Baby Eternity, which ponders the difficulties of a lifelong monogamous relationship.
It’s true to say that the pace never rises above a mild trot – Where Did You Go is probably the most upbeat number and recalls Courtney Barnett‘s most recent album – but as befits its title, European Heartbreak is an album to wallow in. Goodnight Europe is probably the most explicitly political track (references to “My left ideals and university degree” presumably referring to the rise of the far-right) but still fits in with the general lovelorn feel of the record.
Sometimes, the lyrical spotlight is turned on de Graaf herself: the standout Self-Portrait In A Car At Night is a beautiful summation of isolation and loneliness, and opening track Simple Song, with its gorgeously woozy horns and subtle string arrangements, has a gloomily fatalistic feel to it (“It doesn’t matter where you go, some things will never last”).
Some may be turned off by the sheer melancholy on European Heartbreak, and yearn for the drive and verve of songs like It Changes. Yet, for anyone who enjoys soaking in sorrow, this makes for perfect listening. For anyone from other states of the European Union dreading the uncertainties of life post-March 2019, this album could at least be a security blanket.