In over a year, Annelotte de Graaf, the woman behind Amber Arcades, has become a global star of sorts. She released her debut album, Fading Lines, almost a year to the day, and earlier this year she toured across US, including performances at SXSW. In this short period of time, de Graaf has quickly become one of music’s hidden gems to one of its rising stars. As her popularity grows, her exploits away from the microphone and stage are also being recognized, as she worked (and continues to) with Syrian refugees in her hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands. Whatever the forum or the medium, de Graaf has demonstrated an uncanny ability to touch people.
Fading Lines, for instance, consisted of smartly-crafted, guitar-pop songs that echoed the endearing quality of Alvvays. The album was de Graaf put into songs – her dreams, her imaginations, and her heart. Despite it being ten songs, the record felt like it could have continued a little longer, as if de Graaf had much more to say. Almost a year to the day of the release of Fading Lines, she returns with a five-song EP, Cannonball.
The extended player doesn’t deviate too much from last year’s effort, but it does demonstrate her continuing growth as an artist. The tender and heartfelt “Wouldn’t Even Know” best reflects de Graaf’s progression. Featuring English singer-songwriter Bill Ryder Jones, Graaf turns the ordinary love song into something beautifully cinematic. The song has an air of the sublime breeziness of Mazzy Star, where your entire body and soul suddenly become relaxed as the sweet melody and de Graaf’s soft vocals fill the air. There isn’t anything overly complex about the tune, but that’s its secret – its simplicity creates an atmosphere that is lush, calm, and everlasting.
Similarly, de Graaf makes heartbreak sound blissful on the stunning “Can’t Say That We Tried”. Her aching voice reflects back on her time with someone that was once close to her. The music is pensive and even mournful with the organ bellowing above all the instruments, offering another way to say goodbye. Or maybe de Graaf is saying thank you, where she transforms a solemn moment into one to be remembered and even celebrated.
The upbeat and splendid guitar-pop of her debut resides in the EP’s opening two songs. The opener is a wonderful cover of Nick Drake’s “Which Will”. de Graaf has taken this thoughtful song and turned it into a dynamic, pop anthem. The jangly notes reverberating from the guitars and de Graaf’s angelic vocals are intoxicating, causing one’s chest to swell in sheer excitement and delirium. Meanwhile, “It Changes”, which was written while she was on tour in the US, is a boisterous and soaring anthem. Its multiple peaks and valleys in the song lure you in (the second half turns into an indie-pop headbanger) while de Graaf’s innocent vocals captivate. However, it is her story of traveling on the road and its effects on oneself and the people around you that will move you. For anyone who has been away from home for a long time or moved afar will understand every word de Graaf sings.
The title track, “Cannonball”, closes the EP, and it is de Graaf at her songwriting best. This delicate and quaint song is quietly euphoric, radiating with the warm of sunshine breaking through storm clouds. Her voice, though, is shrouded in memory, as she tells the story of a person yearning for one who has left home for new adventures. Yet in some ways, the song feels like it is de Graaf who has departed and not the one with the bleeding heart. Instead, that is us, and we’ll continue to yearn for her to return. In the meantime, we’ll have to be content with the outstanding records she has left behind.
Cannonball is out via Heavenly Recordings.
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