Pop music rarely covers as much historical ground in the course of an album as Norway’s Aurora Aksnes does here. This might be a forward looking piece of work, with futuristic production and intriguing, sometimes daring melodies, but The Gods We Can Touch has its roots in a deep and very distant past.
For her third album Aurora turns to Greek mythology for inspiration, joining a long-standing tradition of several millennia within the arts. She has described the album herself as “pretty absurd”, but it seems the lady doth protest too much, for the personal investment here is substantial.
Each of the album’s 15 tracks takes a Greek god or morality for inspiration, teleporting the stories into today’s situations. These are tales as well known as Aphrodite or Persephone, or more obscure like Peitho, the goddess of persuasion and seduction. They accept mistakes and relapses as inevitable, recognising that human nature is never perfect. Intriguingly, Aurora has been clear on some of the gods behind her work, but not all of them – yet.
What is immediately clear is that perfect living does not exist, before and after the tales we hear. Cure For Me is a brilliant example, an off-beat, chromatic banger. “I know I can’t fight the sad days and bad nights”, she sings, “but I never asked for your help”. Heathens fuels the imagination further, a fairy tale of mystery and wonder going all the way back to “stealing from the trees in Eden”, which is “why we live like heathens”. It is darkly tinged musically, too.
Aurora’s voice pushes the boundaries, using oblique melodies and syncopated rhythms to heighten the emotion. Often she brings folksy inflections, the vocals often pushed to the front and multi-tracked.
Emotionally, Aurora is fully invested. “You’re a part of the movement and everything matters to me”, she sings early on. Exist For Love, a bittersweet lullaby on Aphrodite, has a tremulous voice and lush string pads. It goes deep. Yet while those songs are vulnerable, Giving In To The Love goes on an all-out attack. A Temporary High is equally primal, releasing its considerable tension by “howling at the waves, howling back at you” before breaking into a thumping electro beat.
This is music of raw intensity, the piercing tones of A Dangerous Thing suggesting a complete return to basics. The imagination extends to the use of instruments, with Artemis employing a bandoneon in the middle ground of its cool, multi-tracked vocals. It is one of the least expected but most vibrant tracks on the album, a clear case of less is more.
Because of its unrelenting intensity, The Gods We Can Touch does feel a bit too long. Yet with that caveat, A Little Place Called The Moon provides as lovely a coda as The Forbidden Fruits Of Eden does an intro, the soothing and enchanting vocal a perfect outer casing.
Musically this album is another step forward from Aurora’s last long player A Different Kind Of Human, already three years old. It is refreshing that an artist should get that time between albums to further their craft, and Aurora has pushed herself in that gap without compromising on expression. These songs are her most heartfelt to date, reaching into the depths of her character. The influence of Björk is occasionally audible, but so are inflections from as far afield as Enya and composer Karl Jenkins.
Yet Aurora is very much herself, one of the most exciting female singers around – and The Gods We Can’t Touch adds another set of strings to her generously filled bow.