Eclectic and elegant counter-clock pop – an advance review of Lady Wonder by Annique


Navigating the modern music scene is a like a round of six degrees of separation. No matter the starting point, you are never more than a few connections away from discovering a fascinating new artist. Case in point: after finishing a series of articles chronicling the release of John Zorn’s The Book Beriah, the final chapter in his long-standing Masada series, I came across British singer-songwriter Annique by way of Koby Israelite.

If you’re unfamiliar with Koby, this masterful multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer gained prominence through his work with Zorn’s Tzadik label where, among other things, he released Orobas, one of the most memorable records in the Book of Angels. Recently, Koby has been collaborating with Annique (Lucy Randell), a charismatic vocalist and songwriter preparing to release her second album.

The pairing is intriguing for its contrast. Annique has an elegant presence, with a retro vibe and a pop-rooted voice while Koby is the kind of musician you could just as easily imagine headlining the most prestigious jazz festivals as playing accordion out of the back of a van at a local flea market. In Lady Wonder, which he produced and on which he plays drums, piano, ukulele and guitar, the versatile instrumentalist provides the wonderland to Annique’s Alice, creating a kaleidoscopic musical landscape for the singer to explore.

In this dreamlike world, Annique’s voice is the agent of reality — always natural, always true. This grants her delivery an aura of vulnerability that is intensified by the unconventional arrangements, some of which would not sound out-of-place supporting the caliginous growls of Tom Waits. Yet the singer never feels out of her element, maneuvering within this unorthodox structure with grace and self-confidence. Indiscriminately introspective, the songs reveal a lyricist with a penchant not only for self-reflection, but self-confrontation. 

Lady Wonder starts strong, with arguably its most memorable tune. An intense, emotional ballad, “Push It Away” is like a microcosm of the album as a whole. An up-tempo piano-and-drums introduction creates a sense of urgency, contradicting the vocalist’s distinctively nostalgic delivery. Wise beyond her years, Annique reflects on the compromises of leading a life dedicated to the pursuit of art.

Blessed yours, blessed mine

How we ponder blessing time

Best to bathe and cherish love

For those who truly must

Somewhere deep I longed to see

Blossom future family trees

Counter clock biology

They tick and tock it down

Faced with self-doubt and struggling to find purpose, she wonders, “Can I push it all away?”

Depicting the sacrifices of life outside the established pattern of workaday society, the words resonate with anyone who follows a creative path.

In spite of the high bar set by the opening track, it never feels like the record loses steam when it transitions to the tranquil “My Dreams”, the first in a cycle of songs dealing with the topic of unfulfilled love. In a hushed, ghost-like voice, Annique seems, at once, to seek and offer comfort.

“Puzzles”, another one of the record’s highlights, continues in the dynamic vein of “Push It Away”. A powerful chorus reveals the singer’s ability to draw on an almost unexpected force when needed. This time, the song ponders the effects of time on a broken relationship.

Where did we go wrong and

Why was I just supposed to wait?

Now that you’ve let me go I can see

I have found solace in my space

I k now I’m neither

Half is one the same

Somehow you seem to

Make it separate

How can I be there

If I am left to drift away?

Sincere and clearheaded, the vocalist considers the final consequences of miscommunication, concluding, “Time can’t piece puzzles back again.”

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, “One Last Goodbye” looks at the topic of lost love through a lens of denial (Hear me out, fear not, our love has no flaws), a coping mechanism almost stubbornly enforced by the cheerful rhythm.

A tender waltz for voice and piano, “Endless” is heartbreakingly naïve, as is “Waiting”, with its promise to “Button up and listen for a cast of summer spells.” With a more traditional pop structure, “Find That In Between” offers a sensible resolution: “Understanding starts with listening, just a little touch of empathy/ Find that in-between.”

Sometimes, the surreal atmosphere of the album’s narrative is dispelled through short glimpses of the musicians breaking the fourth wall, communicating with each other, testing out beats and melodies amid sounds of laughter and cellphone alerts. Far from being disruptive, these intimate interludes come off as honest and endearing, pulling the listener into the story.

An unlikely muse is invoked in the playful “Hector Salamanca”, which turns the name of the notorious Breaking Bad villain into a catchy chorus. Complete with reception desk bell and heavy breathing, the song compares an ill-fated love story with substance abuse. 

In “Nil By Mouth” the uncharacteristically literal verse does not do justice to the songwriter’s demonstrated depth, distracting from an otherwise solid tune — a rare moment of inconsistency in a very well-structured record. Similarly, “Ukulele”, with its economical approach to lyrics and instrumentation, fails to live up to the intensity of “Endless”.

The album regains its strength with the poignant title track, whose dark, ominous bassline adds a layer of tension to the vocalist’s extroverted delivery. Regaining her edge, Annique perfectly captures the self-destructive tumult of jealousy, breaking away from the apathy that seems to have taken over the last two tracks.

“Somewhere in my Heart” closes the album on a particularly tender note, with a beat reminiscent of a ticking clock and an exceptionally memorable chorus that shows the singer’s voice at its most delicate. Over the almost discrepant sound of Koby’s accordion, Annique sings, “All you have to be is true”. This could very well be the mindset behind this project.

If the record started on a note of creative doubt, by the time it concludes, there is no doubt left. Annique’s second release is a superb addition to a musical landscape in desperate need of daring, introspective young musicians. Unafraid to deal with her creative and emotional turmoil, the artist encapsulates her struggle in a work that feels like the missing piece in the puzzle of recent songwriting efforts.

Lady Wonder will be released in September. Keep an eye out for this record!

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