Amber Arcades – Cannonball EP

– this review was first published here at This Is Not a Drill – 

Good, actually good cover tracks are rare. Often, covers are fun to listen to just to see what it sounds like when, say, London Grammar are playing ‘Wicked Game’, but that’s just novelty, like one of those face-swap apps on your phone. Of course, there’s been plenty written about what makes a cover a good cover – the artist has to ‘make it their own’, et cetera – but today we’ve actually got an example. Because Amber Arcades’ interpretation of Nick Drake’s ‘Which Will’ is a damn good cover song. The original is hardly recognisable, but listen closely: Annelotte de Graaf stretches her words to achieve the same long, wavering vocals that characterise Nick Drake. And with that small detail, Amber Arcades bring in the indecision and the feeling of openness of the future and possibility that loom in the original. The sudden changes in tempo contribute to that, too: just when the track becomes ‘too’ Amber Arcades we take a break and go back into Nick Drake-mode, as it were.

Having banger ‘It Changes’ follow is an absolute treat. It’s got the trademark Amber Arcades sound (and it took me a while to warm up to that), but somehow with more verve than ever before. There’s kraftige Krautrock motorik and swirling guitars, like War on Drugs without the pathos and with much better tunes. The title is vaguely ironic; the music doesn’t change that much – indeed, even the lyrics are a pretty constant repetition of “oohwaaa it changes”. It’s a track like Gaussian white noise: the average is constant, but it’s the tiny, random fluctuations that are interesting.

The other three tracks on Cannonball haven’t been released before and take a slightly different direction. Down-tempo, with occassional support from male vocals, some might call it ‘dream pop’. Here, my problems with Amber Arcades, and especially De Graaf’s voice, resurface. It’s funny, because her voice is so recognisable, and normally that’s a good thing. But with De Graaf, there’s something substance-less about it that I haven’t learned to love yet. Like grabbing water. Compare that to the body of Trish Keenan’s voice, for example. Both ‘Wouldn’t Even Know’ and ‘Can’t Say That I Tried’ (what negative titles, by the way) fail to convince me, then, although I could see the latter grow on me.

Much the same applies to ‘Cannonball’, but there’s something unnoticably different. Again, a comparison to water is appropriate, but here it’s not its slipperiness but its brightness, the sonically pleasing little splash from dropping a trinklet in the water. I’m still sensing a lack of tunes, but I would like to hear Amber Arcades drop their guitars more often to see where it leads.

-- Caspar Jacobs, June 1, 2017