I recently came across the most beautiful music I’ve heard in years. Prepare to have your life changed in the next five minutes. If you are not ready for that stop reading and most importantly stop listening now.
The most similar revelatory experiences I’ve had would be Anna Azema’s Le Jeu d’Amour followed by Rachel Smith’s The Clearing or earlier Tori Amos’s Little Earthquake and Van Morisson’s Veedon Fleece.
Sadly I have to start with the video. I first heard the music in the dark without any visuals. Horn’s pretty face and passionate delivery are a distraction from the depth of the song. As much as her profoundly emotional voice, it’s the guitar works which makes Under löven work.
When I first listened to Under Löven, I couldn’t figure out how the guitarist managed to be both so quiet and so active at the same time. The video alas reveals his hand immediately. There are two of them on similar guitars.
The other very special musical quality Under Löven has is the pacing. The percussion picks up its feet and moves more quickly in the middle. Then the percussion pauses and slows down. The speed of the song seems to have a life of its own. I don’t know why this changing of pace is not used more. I think Jim Croce might have done something similar in the past.
Which brings up another important part of Melissa Horn’s acoustic sound. It’s really acoustic. There are four badly washed Swedish musicians in the crowded studio with her. They play the two guitars, a stand up bass, an single muted tombola drum and cymbal and a very strange and small table top piano.
This motley crew has no synthesisers, minimal post-production treatment. It’s six people making sound together like Anna Azema’s Troubadors from seven hundred years ago. We are in direct contact with the sound.
The blessing of modern technology is that many of us in our own homes have listening technology which lets us enjoy this music almost as if live. Even fifty years ago would have had to travel hundreds of kilometers in the past to attend a concert like this, if we wanted to hear more than a rough approximation.
Speaking of anachronisms, the guitarist on the right really amuses me. Grubby black beard, lanky dark hair, horrid hairy chest, wan skin. He’s like something straight out of the nineteen seventies. Think Stevie Nick’s era Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham. Time has changed so little, fashion as empty a pursuit as whist.
And to return to Melissa Horn herself. Like Stevie Nicks, through her voice as if she has a direct connection with the universe and the creator. It’s other worldly, too true and too deep to be human. When Tolkien wrote about Elven wisdom, he meant something like this.
I don’t speak Swedish and I haven’t looked up the words. Under Leaves, I understand of course, although at first I thought it meant Under Lions and I think I liked that even better. With German, Russian, French and native English, I can understand something. It appears Horn is speaking to someone with love and regret, lamenting the temporality of relationships but rejoicing that sometime and some place light comes into our lives.
As long as I don’t know what she sings Under Löwen remains whatever I feel it is. So I’m reluctant to find out. Hearing music like this makes me want to learn Swedish, helps me understand what the hell Julian Assange was thinking while wandering trains in Sweden but makes a strange trait of the Swedish musical scene even more of a mystery to me.
When Swedish singers have such a beautiful language of their own, what are they doing writing clumsy songs in English? The international music industry remains reluctant to let you in regardless of the English songs. The Americans have it in a stranglehold and second rate English songs are not going to change that. Melissa Horn is setting a strong and bold example of writing profoundly and beautifully in your own language.
In the end, songwriters and musicians only have one life. Use it to create the most beauty you can. That probably means working in your own idiom.
And again Melissa Horn. As she sings, one understands why the Greeks chased the Trojans back to Troy. Women like Horn are why bards write sonnet cycles, the 19th century novel exists and what drove Rohmer and Truffaut to make their films. On the dark side, beauty like this causes men to seek control of fortunes, launch wars or commit suicide.
Ironically in spite of this post, I hope Horn does not become too popular. True artists like Horn are night flowers: too much light burns their leaves. She needs to be free to live her life and develop her feelings without paparazzi and the Daily Mail following her around. Tori Amos and Van Morrison later became extremely private and were able to create further and live there lives so there is hope.
This moment in time is stopped and held in the video above. No matter what happens. Strangely the two camera video with just a wide and a close in the gloomy studio is more than enough. No CGI needed, no heavy make up. Minimalism reveals talent (or its absence, hence so much overblown production). Her musicians are great, her sound engineer is brilliant and her video crew know just what to do. Thank you to all of you for this moment.
…I simply love this… thank you for some very special moments this night
I feel like I have to apologize for reading your beautiful article 1 1/2 years too late. How true: a life-changing experience that haunts me since I discovered Melissa in 2012.
If I may, I can only encourage you to learn Swedish, her Swedish, her poetry, and to learn reading between these lines. I am sure you did in the meantime. The language does not destroy your first musical impressions, no, it multiplies them by a hundred or a thousand. It is definitely worth the pain.
And: go through the rest of Melissa’s repertoire. It is a profoundly touching, intimate collection of rare musical jewels.