Despite the veritable explosion of music that’s come our way from Scandinavia in recent years, we’re still waiting for Ane Brun to make her long-awaited commercial breakthrough. The Stockhom-based Norwegian has carved quite the career out for herself in the last 12 years, and she’s now at the sort of level of fame that means you may well recognise her voice from an advert without actually knowing who she is.
That could all change with Brun’s seventh album, When I’m Free, possibly her most complete album to date. Far removed from her early days as a folky troubadour, When I’m Free sees Brun tackle several genres and make it sound like she’s mastered them all. Like most of its predecessors it’s an album full of ‘moments’ – moments that make you stop what you’re doing and just stare at the speakers, or moments that make you close your eyes and just become washed away in the sheer beauty of what you’re hearing.
Moments such as the heartbreakingly frail All We Want Is Love – simply Brun, accompanied by an plucked acoustic guitar and a gentle sway of strings. It’s a song that shows off Brun’s beautifully expressive voice to its finest effect and, as long as John Lewis doesn’t decide to use it for its Christmas advert (as it’s the sort of track that can effortlessly pluck at the heartstrings), it’ll make for cosy listening for the long winter nights that are on the way. Miss You More is similarly goosebump-inducing, with Brun sounding for all the world like Kate Bush as she stakes a claim for break-up song of the year.
There’s more to When I’m Free than some gloriously mopey songs though – You Lit My Fire is a fierce feminist anthem, paying tribute to the various female trailblazers who “changed our game” while acknowledging that “the fight goes on” and the clattering percussion and Middle Eastern inspired rhythms of Shape Of A Heart is a genuinely startling moment. There are even elements of funk on Directions, while repeated listening unveils little surprises on each track – the delicate little hand claps on Black Notebook, or the choral backing vocals on the environmental anthem Better Than This.
It’s Brun’s voice that raises these already great songs to another level – it’s the sort of voice that can break with emotion one minute and then go soaring off the next moment, as on the beautiful ballad of Still Waters. Just listen to the way she delivers a line like “every day I just miss you more” in Miss You More, and try to keep your eyes dry. Brun’s is a voice that recalls the greats – names like the aforementioned Bush or Cocteau Twins‘ Liz Fraser, but keeps enough idiosyncratic phrasing to avoid any accusations of copyism.
That voice is at its best again on the appropriately titled Signing Off, which brings the album to a close – an album that showcases the development of an artist who seems to get better and better as the years roll by.