Review: Anika – Anika (Stones Throw)

I like how Stones Throw is expanding. This new album by the singer Anika, backed by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, is really excellent. Read my review for Blurt here.

Taken at its actual semantic worth, the term “minimal,” when applied to music, should imply something pretty easy to pull off. The reality, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth. So many bands try to make “minimal” music that is actually just uninspired, talentless, or lazy. The new self-titled album from a singer named Anika, however, manages to be minimal, exciting, and varied all at the same time.

Anika’s success is no doubt helped immensely by the production from Portishead member Geoff Barrow’s band, Beak>. It’s not hard to recognize the Portishead aesthetic here, especially on a song like “The End of the World,” featuring a scattered snare beat and descending bassline that sounds like something off of Dummy. The overall musical feeling here is downtown NYC sometime around the late ’70s and early ’80s, or perhaps The Clash’s experiments in disco and dub, or PIL’s early deconstructed punk rock. Whatever the case, Anika’s Nico-esque vocals, vaguely foreign accent intact, are appealing as she intones (you can’t really call what she does singing) over a bevy of… wait for it… minimal beats.

Covering Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” as a simple dub tune, just reverb-soaked snare hits and a thumping bassline, may not sound like such a good idea, but it works well for Anika and Beak>. Songs like “Sadness Hides The Sun” and the opening track, “Terry,” are, at their core, broken down folk songs. Anika’s simple vocal melody morosely drones over scattered instrumentation, creating something completely new out of conventions you may recognize. Minimal? Yes. Perhaps a bit cold? Sure, but the songs on this album are complex in their emotion and unique in their construction, and that makes this one shine in this nascent new year.

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