January 18, 2022

Anna von Hausswolff – ‘Live at Montreux Jazz Festival’ – “an emotional turmoil of ecstasy and grief”

SOUTHERN LORD / POMPERIPOSSA RECORDS 14th January 2022

Sometimes live is the only way to get a grasp on what a performer is really about and this performance exemplifies that. An hour of hypnotic drama; broody, declamatory, deep in mood and colour. I’ve been captivated by Anna Von Hausswolff’s studio albums before but this one, captured at the Montreux Jazz Festival, has an extra depth of feeling and an intensity that can’t be ignored.

Big slow drums, moody keys, electronics simulating, amongst other things, church bells and large organs, make for a rich soup of sound from which THAT voice rises. It’s frightening in its ferocity, haunting in its sadness, amazing in its power and depth. Used as much for sound as conveying lyrics, Anna is her own horror movie. Fond of gothic sounds (her last album was a solo pipe-organ set), the echoey church organ sound is important but so is the effect of a full live band, adding weight and momentum. A piece like ‘Ugly And Vengeful’ fills its nineteen minutes with huge vocals, pensive semi-quiet, repetitive drum patterns and synth power chords, never reaching a comfortable place of rest or traditional moment of rock release; always the beast still paces.

Drawing from just two albums (because it was recorded in 2018), the material is strong and well-known to fans of hers. She was invited to Montreux to open for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and that must have been quite a night. Von Hausswolff describes it as: “an emotional turmoil of ecstasy and grief, shared with an incredible audience and atmosphere.” It fulfilled a dream she’d had in 2013 with a friend who had died between the birth of the idea and it’s fruition, and the dynamic of fulfilment through loss and grief propelled Anna to something special, to a point where she could see his face floating above the space.

We have Anna on vocals plus her sister adding more voice, synth, drums, two guitars and a bass – seven musicians, creating an atmosphere that moves between droning space and sonic attack, passing through battlefields and haunted armies of ghouls and damaged angels in between.

In Pomperipossa Anna howls “am I boring you? Am I scaring you?” Plenty of the latter, less of the former. Definitely not background music.