Open Up to This One
On paper it reads like a gimmick at a time when standing out among the crowded field of musicians is an increasingly exhausting and futile task: a singer-songwriter who replaces the acoustic guitar with a cello. Who’s on deck, the next Bob Dylan with a dulcimer? However, it only takes one listen to Linnea Olsson’s solo debut, Ah!, to realize the beautiful merits of this approach.
Olsson hails from Sweden, but even without knowing this, the listener is sure to pick up on a wintry vibe. The songs are minimalist– often featuring only Olsson’s ethereal voice and a few cello parts, when it’s not just an exchange between a couple cellos — so the journey for the listener is not one through the vibrant streets of Stockholm. This is a lonely walk through the sparser parts of Sami territory, probably in January. There is broken love and significant mourning, all in an almost sacred fashion.
“The Ocean,” the album’s instrumental opener, comes across as a careful distillation of the melodies and sensibilities from the title track of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and any given release from Enya. However, it’s sadder and more endearing than either of those. The more upbeat title track follows “Ocean,” with lyrics about a broken relationship, but the instrumentation is kinetic and hops about on a bed of delay effects and icy vocal harmonies.
“Dinosaur,” the single, is the most pop of the songs on the album. The melody, a fraternal twin to Chesney Hawkes’ “The One and Only” (a Nik Kershaw-penned throwaway from the early ’90s), supports the most positive lyrics in the whole set. There’s even a pulsating rhythm carrying it all. Olsson sings “I’m still alive!” as the album draws nearer to close. Perhaps that’s the epiphany of Ah!— that we can wallow in the muck as we mourn a lost love, but we’re still here. The love is dead, but the parties are still alive.
The album closes with “Never Again,” in which Olsson reminds us one more time that this thing is “through,” and “Goodbye,” an instrumental whose sense of catharsis could fill a fjord. When this album concludes, the listener becomes Olsson’s lost soul, wanting to relive the trauma of love again if only to experience the beautiful melancholy of it all.