Linnea Olsson - Ah!
The cello is a wonderful instrument. It can be used to express quite a variety of moods, and to Linnea Olsson, it is essential as air or water. Her cello seems to be a part of her, and she feels a deep connection with the instrument. Her layered, lush compositions may sound complex at times, but to her, debut album Ah! is nothing but what resulted from a burst of inspiration: "I sat down with the cello and it was a bit like a flood." So important is the instrument to her that she chose not to sully this 11-track collection of songs with superfluous instruments; for the most part, the album consists of Olsson's wonderful voice, her equally wonderful cello skills, and nothing else. This approach lends a profound intimacy to her work, which despite sometimes sounding like - if it had to be confined to one genre - it would be better off fitting in with neo-classical, is rooted in pop music. It just takes four minutes for the listener to realise that. The mournful beginnings of opener 'The Ocean' start things off on a downbeat and atmospheric note, but by the time we get to the title track, it is clear where Olsson's true intentions lie.
The reverb-laden, captivating hook that opens the track is energetic and immediately striking, and the use of a darbuka (Middle Eastern goblet drum) is inspired. All this is contrasted wonderfully with a set of dark lyrics ("I have been alone for so many days"), and the more stripped-back approach taken to songs like 'Guilt' helps her more pessimistic side to shine through. This is a finely-crafted and well-balanced album, flitting between more immediate songs like 'Giddy Up' and the dazzling lead single 'Dinosaur', and songs that are growers. The balance is never tipped in favour of one or the other, but there are plenty of contrasting shades explored on Ah! - despite Sweden's sterling reputation as exporters of pop music of the highest order, Olsson doesn't just want to be all sweetness and light, letting her instrument wrap itself around endearing, handclap-laden pop ('All For You') with as much grace as it navigates twisting and turning melodic passages, sighing wistfully throughout 'It's OK'.
Running throughout the album is a sense that Olsson knows exactly what she's doing at all times. The harmony-laden 'Fortune' is paired exquisitely with 'Summer', whose melodic efficiency is contrasted by it being the most relatively 'out there' song on the album. These two songs are polar opposites, but the fact that they work so well together points to Olsson being able to do whatever she likes for her next album, because the versatility she displays across her debut full-length is quite simply, astounding. The best is saved for last with the affecting 'Never Again' and the jaw-dropping beauty of 'Goodbye', songs which allow this understated collection to go out with a bang. Ah! What a remarkable record.