I haven’t done one of these for a while. What prompted me was listening to Bonander’s ‘Gone in the wind’ the other day; she has some similarities with Anna von Hausswolff, and then seeing the image for the Swedish TV series whose theme tune we featured (The Thin Blue Line). It reminded me of one of von Hausswolff’s songs on YouTube, ‘Evocation’, which is linked further on here.
Known for Gothic pop, her last album, 2020’s ‘All thoughts fly’ focused on her love for church pipe organs. The bigger, the better. If they’re in a cathedral, better still. And she doesn’t just play them, she assaults them, like a latter day female Keith Emerson, who used to rape his Hammond C3 before plunging knives in between the keys. Well perhaps not quite that dramatic but she has been asked by the church authorities on more than one occasion to ‘pipe down’ if you’ll pardon the pun. They may be regarded as amongst the uncoolest of instruments but under AvH’s spell they are dynamite.
The other thing about AvH which you’ll notice straight away if you ever meet her is her short stature. She’s only about 5ft tall, possibly less. She opened for Swans a few years ago and afterwards I was told she was manning her merch stall but she was invisible behind it. She isn’t alone of course. Some of the best musicians around are tiny. I’m thinking for example of Anna Calvi and her 20-year colleague Mally Harpaz, who are both equally diminutive but also right at the top of their game. You’d think their tiny hands wouldn’t span a fret board or an octave on a piano, but boy do they.
Then there’s her voice, it is hard to credit where such power comes from.
I selected two tracks from earlier albums which as I see it show her at her best. The first is a live performance of ‘Mountains Crave’ from the 2012 album (her second) ‘Ceremony’. In this song she adopted environment protest into songs long before Greta came on the scene. But the main thing is that it rocks and it is very hard to get the tune out of your head. And that little giggle she does at the end is so delightful.
In order to record her third album, ‘The Miraculous’ (2015) AvH retreated to the Swedish city of Piteå, home to the Acusticum Pipe Organ, which has 9,000 pipes, built-in percussion (including vibraphone and glockenspiel), and recording/looping tools. It must have been like Christmas for her and the sheer power of the thing is evident on ‘Evocation’. Incidentally, she can replicate on stage not only the pipe organ sound – I’ve no idea how she does it – but also that scream which introduces it.
She posted recently on social media that she is working on her sixth full length album and that she had won two prizes from the Swedish alternative music awards Manifestgalann in the categories ‘Best composer of the year’ and ‘Best experimental’ for ‘All thoughts fly’.
A truly remarkable artist who does make occasional visits to these shores. Let’s hope the next one isn’t too far in the future.