Album Review: Anika – Anika

By Kevin Seaman

Since my introduction to Trip Hop and Dub music occurred as nothing more than a simple twist of fate, I feel compelled to preface my review of the critically acclaimed and self titled debut album from Anika by offering a brief backstory as to why I keep this music so close to my heart. I was first exposed to “trip-hop” at the impressionable young age of 13. At a summer camp in Maine, a very British counselor of mine whom I happened to look up to played me Portishead’s self-titled album in the year of our lord 2001. I was instantly drawn to Beth Gibbons’ angelic voice and the haunting British bohemian melodies of Portishead. From this point on as they say-the rest was history. For the past decade plus, Portishead and any similar sound my sonar could pick up on has become my most guilty musical pleasure. Much like Hannibal Lecter’s liking to a certain kind of sweet breads paired with $4600 dollar bottles of Chianti, Trip Hop and Dub music became my secret that I believe few others my age were even worthy of hearing. I’ve often been reluctant about sharing this art with others in fear that they may not see in it what I did all those years ago. However most often when I have, I’ve been met with a degree of confusion followed by overwhelming delight. In my experience, it takes a bit of patience for one to truly delve into such an album as this without first knowing what they’re getting in to. In the words of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” As you might imagine- when I heard that Geoff Barrow and Beak> were to be the backing band, I was awestruck and curiously tickled to say the least.

All of a sudden, this abstract album from Anika- a classically beautiful blonde political journalist from Bristol & Berlin is sitting in my lap. The hastily composed studio album comes across the pond like a bat out of hell on the shoulders of Portishead’s highly esteemed Geoff Barrow. It’s sound is alarming to say the least, and seems to have made quite a splash with those of us still nostalgic of genuine, authentic trip hop. What we find here is trip-hop’s reckless and rebellious stepsister with a chip on her shoulder. You know the sound I mean…the type that can only be contrived in a damp basement that always sounds like its emanating from an old phonograph even while being played through $500 head phones.

Like ghostly echoes, Anika’s introspective monologues dance on the synapses of my brain as I listen and strive to identify with her plea. Her careless and boldly confident voice exuberates a semblance of hope that the art of imperfection is still alive and well and living in Berlin in this inevitably doomed auto-tuned apocalypse.

Her artistic vision is conveyed through what sounds more like subconscious daydreams than conscious proclamations, and the lyrics (including those which she herself did not write) seem to take the form of scattered, introverted thoughts rather than deliberately crafted social and political concepts. Inching through the 36 minute diatribe often feels like work, but by the second or third listen, it’s hard not to appreciate the minimalist approach, haunting vocal dubs, and voyeuristic industrial drum beats flowing through each track like a mixture of broken glass, blood, cigarette butts, and bits of newspaper down a wet sidewalk.

Structurally, one might call it a concept album due to lack of attention it pays to industry standards, its fluid egress, and the seamlessly empty transitions between tracks. Throughout the album, there are many points where the momentary absence of sound perfectly encapsulates the “less is more” mantra. Most typically, these moments are followed by the reverberating drum samples I mentioned earlier that are reminiscent of what we heard on Portishead’s album “Third”. What ensues is a potentially brilliant and homicidal album of music attempting to corner a genre that has been all but lost in this day and age. Most of the album consists of abstract covers like Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”, Ray Davies’ “I Go to Sleep”, and Yoko Ono’s “Yang Yang” which are brilliantly done, and may go entirely unnoticed as such by Y generation contemporaries. If not for the highly political content by which they were chosen, one might thing that Anika dug her hand into Pandora’s box of forgotten 60’s tracks, and pulled out the most random ones.

There is no question that the album is heavily laden with Geoff Barrow’s influence, but never once does it seem to over-lend itself. Much like Ma$e used Puff Daddy, and Mark Wahlberg used Steel Dragon, Anika recognizes Geoff Barrow’s genius, and utilizes his talent merely as a catalyst to showcase her own. The rest of the tracks seem to follow a very similar tempo that can perhaps be best described as “politically-charged-debauchery-fueled-eppie-pen-Goth-zombie protest songs” if you care to follow me there….

Like many of you, I believe that from time to time, extensively hyphenated words such as this are most effective in summing up an artist in one measly sentence. It’s not such an easy task, you know…

On the whole, Anika, Geoff Barrow and Beak> have managed to put together one hell-uv-a treat for those of us who care to listen. It’s certainly a far cry from your run-of-the-mill M.I.A. album, and “Anika” accomplishes all it could hope to and more. It establishes itself a force to be reckoned with and an all around solid album with substantial texture and emotion. There is no question that it is certainly a viable precursor to whatever she/they will do next. Anika continues her tour of the Northeastern United States on September 30th in Philadelphia, October 2nd in New Jersey, and October 5th in Baltimore, and Portishead makes their faithful return to the U.S. this weekend at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Asbury Park, NJ followed by two shows at the world famous Roseland Ballroom in New York City on October 4th and 5th.

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