Big Dreaming Ants is a hell of a title to live up to. The debut album from Nana Adjoa explores her various day to day ruminations, overthinking and undressing her greatest fears all in a minimalist capsule of an alternative-indie album which, it turns out, emphatically does live up to its conspicuous title.
This record feels both cavernous whilst also barely scratching the surface of what Adjoa has to say. It could be misunderstood for being lighthearted, ethereal and dreamy, but this sonically cohesive piece of work is far more down to earth than it first appears. Big Dreaming Ants’ overarching focus makes talking about the huge questions in life seem, if not simple, then far simpler.
There’s weight in tracks like Cardboard Castle, with sparse but heavy lyrics, thunderous piano and a hallowing chorus all accentuated with nods to Adjoa’s jazz past, whilst National Song is daring without being brash. Following track Throw Stones adopts a similar anguish, but twists and turns its way through gossamer thin instrumental to dissonant synth, with Adjoa’s vocals subtly sinister as she bitterly debates her lack of violence towards hateful people – it’s a bold overview track about protesting authority, but Adjoa manages to not seem trite.
Love and Death, on the other hand – the one track Adjoa didn’t write herself – doesn’t seem exactly sonically amiss on the album, full of lilting, ironically happy chords and deep bass, but when looked at from a lyrical standpoint it’s somewhat exaggerated and cartoonish, emphasising the lyrical power that Adjoa herself seamlessly uses in the rest of the record. She’s Stronger is a great example of this wordsmith ability being, fittingly, the strongest track on this record – playing to Adjoa’s talent in dynamic pop, with a simmering and driven melody.
This track is full of Adjoa’s characteristically electric delivery, lamenting the friend who’s “a version of yourself you want to be”, whilst In Lesser Light Pollution we see a more subtle side to the musician. Beginning with vintage white noise, and the elusive hint of a departing train, this sonic exploration of love – complete with an adroit jazz inflection – is one of Adjoa’s first openly romantic songs; it’s groovy, seductive and spacious enough to nestle the intimate lyrics. Despite not being as fast paced or rhythmically as much an earworm as the likes of No Room, the emphatic essence of In Lesser Light Pollution makes you pray that Adjoa creates another album, sooner rather than later.
Big Dreaming Ants is expectedly dreamy, but it comes with a lot of hidden surprises; Adjoa could easily coast on the waves of her substantially effusive voice, but each track feels deliberate, like a sonic art piece – even when you’re not quite sure the art is for you, you can appreciate the vividness and colour all the same. This first full debut from Adjoa glimmers in a way that isn’t dramatic, and is escapist without skirting around the issues of today (of which there are many). Rather than being a neat package of indie classics, it’s something more gentle and infectious – an almost translucent spring river in sunshine, full of melodious extravagance and ethereal atmospherics.