Amber Arcades: European Heartbreak review – wistful, glowing dream pop

Heavenly Recordings

Could there possibly be such a thing as a post-Brexit album before Britain has left the EU? European Heartbreak certainly has an elegiac, mournful feel as it casts an eye over the state of the continent and the union. The song Goodnight Europe even tackles the rise of populism and rightwing resurgence that has become a feature of more countries than the UK. Nobody is spared blame, even the singer herself. “Europe, it’s not you, I’m starting to think it’s me,” sings Annelotte de Graaf, AKA Amber Arcades. “My left ideals, and my university degree.” Elsewhere, on Alpine Town, there’s a certain rootless, alienated ennui to her drifts around the continent: “I’m just another tourist, folks, with nowhere else to be.”

Utrecht-born De Graaf has a strong emotional investment in her subject. A former aide at United Nations war crimes tribunals, she has assessed the claims of refugees seeking asylum in Holland and is widely travelled. Songs recorded in Los Angeles and Richmond place her in Berlin, Spain and France. Her music – first aired on her 2016 debut Fading Lines – has an accordingly continental sophistication, the wistful delivery, strummed guitars, strings and warmly parping horns conjuring up Parisian bars and winding summer lanes. Oh My Love (What Have We Done) is glorious, all handclaps and a zinging, uplifting chorus (with an unlikely nod to Nena’s 80s smash 99 Red Balloons). The piano-bashing I’ve Done the Best is European country. With hints of Lindi Ortega and early Saint Etienne, the breezy, dreamy pop is mostly more personal than political.

In the gorgeous Antoine, De Graaf reflects on a passionate affair (“Was it something more than just a rush of blood?”), and Simple Song rues futile dreams. Other songs address departed lovers, absent friends, disillusion, melancholy, hope and – eventually – renewal. Break-ups – personal and continental – are never far away, but European Heartbreak has a lovely, human optimism, and leaves a warm glow and a feeling that all things – however uncomfortable – eventually pass.

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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