Amber Arcades – European Heartbreak

Amber Arcades – European Heartbreak

Dutch dreampop outfit Amber Arcades release their second album, European Heartbreak, on 28th September 2018 via Heavenly Recordings.  The album was recorded and co-produced in LA with Chris Cohen from Deerhoof and in Richmond, Virginia with Trey Pollard (Natalie Prass, The Waterboys, Bedouine) in charge of brass and string arrangements.
The band created a 3-part video directed by Elliott Arndt: part 1 features the track Goodnight Europe, part 2 the track “Simple Song” and part 3 “Where Did You Go“. This triptych was made to bring insight into European Heartbreak.

Amber Arcades is one of the few bands originating from my own country (Holland) that oozes enough international allure and gets the appropriate acclaim. Their first single was immediately picked up by Stereogum and other big indie blogs in which they compared her sound to that of Yo La Tengo and Stereolab. Listening to them, certainly brings back memories of the raw melodic-ness of Betty Serveert and the lush orchestrations of Bauer: Annelotte‘s voice often reminds me of Carol van Dijk‘s. The sound has that same blend of classic 90’s indie with folky vibes (yes, like Courtney Barret), but at the same time an up-to-date, fresh dream-pop approach that makes it sit quite comfortably amongst the likes of Real Estate and Beach Fossils, to name but a few.

European Heartbreak is an album with a clear theme: it’s about the nature of transience and our tendency to experience life only through reflection, looking back at snapshots and selfies. It tackles issues of existential crisis, alienation and identity through the metaphor of Europe: a seemingly solid unity that cracks and decomposes beneath the surface, consisting of many separate identities and voices. Exactly like this album in which each song has its own character and identity, but ultimately forms a consolidated, single work of art. Singer Annelotte de Graaf (who works at immigration and naturalisation service) said about European Heartbreak in a press statement: “If it were called American Heartbreak, you wouldn’t bat an eye. Somehow calling it European Heartbreak feels far less comfortable, almost like a statement in itself. I’m Dutch, hence European. The focus of the record is Europe. As for Heartbreak, for me a heartbreak symbolises any kind of falling apart of one of these concepts or stories we invent for ourselves, like romantic love, a sense of identity, nationality, an economic system. It’s kind of a universal thing in my mind.”

What could possibly be a better opener for European Heartbreak than the gorgeous, Simple Song“(part 2 of the video trilogy): the perfect backdrop for a sweet road-trip to somewhere, anywhere in Europe. The title and intro (sounding like the intro of “Get The Message” by legendary duo Electronic) are deceptive: because this “Simple Song” sweeps us off our feet by a flurry of swooney brass and a compelling psych-poppy chorus, heavily reminiscent of some Stereolab‘s best. The lyrics are quite introspective, maybe slightly melancholic, but this song results in nothing other than feelings of bliss and adventure: standing on top of the world, twirling around, arms extended, bathing in sunlight…

The sophisticated brassy overtones and lavish orchestration continue on one of the best tracks on the album, the sheer delight that is “Alpine Town“: a detailed sketch of retro heaven and fresh mountain air (references like Le Futur Pompiste and compatriots Bauer sprang to mind)  “It’s mid-July and I’ve been dry/Alone to Southern France/Where up so high, the air is thin/And I can see the end”. Wait for the enchanted bridge at 2:20!

Where Did You Go” was the last single and part 3 of the video trilogy. It’s a jaunty track with a punky dissonance, new-wave keyboards, and quirky rhythms. In the cinematic video, Annelotte and her partner Edwin, pin a map of Europe to a rock and throw a dart at it: “Wherever this dart lands is where we’re gonna go and spend the rest of our lives.” The dart however, lands in the grass, the music screeches to a halt, they blindfold each other and lose track completely. Annelotte on the song: “I’m not so sure about whether always being able to choose all the things makes us better or happier in the end.” (interview DIY mag)
In this same part of the video trilogy, “Where Did You Go” is followed up by “Self Portrait in Car At Night”: a sober Roy Orbinson-esque, 50’s ballad in a waltzy time signature, with the occasional sad strings. Conjuring up an image of a room after the party, when everybody has left, the floor is strewn with balloons and confetti, the mirror ball still spins but you are empty and forlorn. Think of a stripped version of Japanese Breakfast‘s “Boyish“…and you’ll get the drift.

Goodnight Europe” (part 1 of the video trilogyis “hardly a protest” but sounds very much like a eulogy to the (utopian) dream of the European Union: “Europe, I’m sorry/ They boarded all your windows and your doors/ Now it smells like death is coming up through the floors”. Written during BREXIT and the flourishing of political anti-Europe parties, “Goodnight Europe” is about the falling apart of a “bigger picture” into a myriad of “selfies”, a breakdown of communication, and drawing up of walls and self-contained head-spaces. A striking and interesting viewpoint overall, but then again, this is, and always was, the biggest part of Europe’s allure: a potpourri of different colours and flavours, each to be savoured from within its own, confined, but quite unique setting. Settings to be enjoyed with a soundtrack like European Heartbreak?

“Where Did You Go” video (Part 3) –

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