With her second album, Helium Sunset, Belgian chanteuse An Pierle takes the listener on a journey to different musical territories, drawing comparisons with Nick Cave and Roxy Music.
Pierle’s distinctive voice slides into the opener, Sorry, a laid back piano-led lounge ballad, with eerie backing vocals and mellotron. A slinky Rhodes intro heralds the acoustic pop noir of As Sudden Tears Fall, complete with quietly menacing electric guitars.
Nobody’s Fault is a duet with her guitarist collaborator Koen Gisen, a beautifully sad ballad, with Pierle’s piano to the fore. On Sister, she brings to mind Kate Bush, with the driving cello and guitar, and a rather mad plonking piano solo.
As well as bringing Bush to mind, Pierle’s sound occasionally veers into Tori Amos territory, and sometimes she sounds wilfully quirky and bizarre. This doesn’t make this album an easy listen, for example on the sinister title track. She also shares Amos’s penchant for stream of consciousness lyrics and strange imagery (“your shiny mooses don’t need to rest”).
Medusa features bowed electric guitars and more bizarre keyboards, while Pierle’s lyrics ruminate on the perils of water and diving, and being “a free meal floating by” for the fishes.
The single Sing Song Sally has a more indie-pop sensibility to it, while still retaining its quirkiness with use of the discordant piano and xylophone. Leave Me There’s organ, sound effects and acrobatic vocals bring a claustrophobic feel, which opens into a lighter, acoustic finale. The closing Walk mixes heavy snowfall with the joy of love, punctuated by a droning, sinister accordion. There’s also a very strange hidden track, with pizzicato strings, and unsettling vocals.
Pierle’s vocal similarity to Kate Bush means you’ll either love or hate her, and her music is a bit of an acquired taste. After a few plays some of the songs sink into the subconscious, rewarding perseverance. Overall, this is a challenging album, which is impossible to pigeonhole.