Lullabies for Grown-Ups
Priscilla Ahn’s last US release, 2011’s When You Grow Up, is a dreamily somber album about, well, growing up. Her latest offering, the equally ethereal This Is Where We Are, is about finally getting there, mastering love and being mastered by it. Ahn’s songs have become a little sadder, in other words, but that also makes them more beautiful in a way. The result is an album of grown-up lullabies that ease the mind and hush the heart.
This Is Where We Are ebbs and flows between modernistic pop songs and quiet folk. On the whole, the album feels whispered, like a secret. Tracks like “Diana” and the title song, for instance, have a curious way of sounding industrial, yet quiet. The drums click and bang, the synths whizz and buzz. But in between these sounds is a silence that, along with Ahn’s soft and pretty voice, is calming.
While much of the music is synthetic, there are intimate acoustic moments where Ahn’s airy vocals are most affecting. “Remember How I Broke Your Heart,” for example, is a doleful look at a relationship in retrospect. It’s gracefully fingerpicked on guitar, with some gentle piano accompaniment. Ahn sings to her ex about their past, or perhaps reminisces to herself, or both. She does an incredible job of showing time pass in the lyrics, with years between some of the verses. By the final lugubrious chord, you feel all the weight of a long, loving relationship that slowly disintegrated. Ahn is similarly moving in dreamy acoustic tracks like “I Can’t Fall Asleep” and “Your Name.” This is grown-up stuff. And it’s very touching.
You might detect some of Ahn’s Asian heritage playing out in songs like “Wedding March,” a neo-doo-wop with a guitar lick and background vocal that sound like the melody from the Japanese oldie-but-goody, “Sukiyaki.” Ahn’s last two albums were released solely in Japan, as it happens. They’re hard to find. If they are anything like this beautifully heart-rending album, they’re worth digging up.