Aurora Aksnes has been making moves. Her career has been on an upward trajectory since she released her debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, to critical acclaim in 2016, but over the past few months, she’s enjoyed a fairly significant increase in exposure. Aksnes appears on three tracks off the newest Chemical Brothers album, and pop starlet Billie Eilish recently named Aurora as one of her biggest influences. Her latest album, A Different Kind of Human (Step II), isn’t necessarily a departure from last year’s Infections of a Different Kind (Step I), but it has a much more dynamic and varied tone.
While there are plenty of earworms to go around, they are heavily outnumbered by obtuse melodies and errant vocalizations. Much like the singers who inspired her, Aurora treats her voice as an instrument in itself. This is most apparent on the title track, which apart from synth washes and subdued percussive sounds, showcases her penchant for vocal layering and abnormal syncopation. Aurora also displays several degrees of versatility: she manages to wrangle her voice in for a very subdued yet effective staccato delivery on track nine, “Apple Tree.”
Another one of Aurora’s strengths is her ability to craft some provocative lyrics and present them in such a way that doesn’t feel arrogant or overbearing. One of the more significant lyrical gems on this album can be found on track nine, “The Seed,” which features a refrain of: “When the last tree has fallen / and the rivers are poisoned / you cannot eat money / oh no.” This socially conscious/introspective tone is a thread which appears a handful of times throughout this album, and is also noticeable on track four, “Daydreamer,” wherein she reflects upon her power to affect change in the world: “I know I’m just a girl / but can I change lives? / if I am nothing / if I am trying / I think I can.”
Unfortunately, this album’s biggest strength is also its primary detriment: Aurora’s vocal gymnastics more than occasionally waft from the realm of “interesting” to “infuriating.” Take track three, “Dance on the Moon,” for example; the post-chorus refrain of “oh oh ay oh oh ay oh ah” is repetitive to the point where the song becomes tedious. Her vocalizations on track five, “Hunger,” are similarly gratuitous; the pseudo-Zulu chorus and worldbeat-influenced instrumental are more than enough to make this track enjoyable.
A Different Kind of Human (Step II) is a markedly more diverse and engaging record than its predecessor, but feels slightly too unfocused at parts; Aurora has a lot of good ideas but isn’t quite sure how to parse them out or consolidate them. If she were to combine the most substantial cuts of ‘(Step I) and ‘(Step II), this project would have been infinitely more impactful.
While it’s far too early to place her among the art pop greats like Bjork or Kate Bush, Aurora has done a superb job of differentiating herself from many of her contemporaries. Someone who fancies themselves a seasoned aficionado of experimental pop music most likely won’t walk away from this record with their mind blown, but anyone looking to take a few steps into the realm of the unconventional will be more than satisfied.