Annie Hart Impossible Accomplice

[Uninhabitable Mansions; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: synth pop, dream pop, sadcore, chamber pop
Others: School of Seven Bells, Air, Nite Jewel, M83, Beach House

There is a rigid yet tensile placidity to metronomically-driven, clear-eyed, sorrow-imbued post-new wave sounds. The gait is nondescript but throws on with a brisk ineffability. It’s the sort of spell-casting that lends itself to the pounding uncertain tension of endless purgatory that we all inevitably find ourselves in on one end or the other of a dizzyingly vast, tangled spectrum. Hovering at the lip is a lot of fast and heavy weight. In the motion blur is an ecstatic, elusive sliver of fulfillment. Smiling out of something featureless, just trusting that it’s there. But it might just be a sound. A feeling. Gladly draped incidental. Precious little time to waste on solid ground unless it’s another jumping-off point.

That there are so many mining the same misty quartz is not so bad. The mode is still not wholly dominant and put down by most as nostalgia product. But that vibe runs deep. Whether it’s obscured and remote like Grouper, the sugar-crushed ache of No Joy, or more direct and confessional like this record, Annie Hart’s solo debut, Impossible Accomplice, there is ever a firmly innate virtue to echoic melody that pools around you softly, asserting nothing. Luckily, there are enough of us out there who find sad introvert progressions balmy to paradoxically uplifting, such that one can flush out those dismissing these sounds for their plain old bias. While there are basic uses to the forlorn and dreamy simplicity that Hart deploys here (end-of-the-day wind-down, pre-party background, staring out the window), its best quality is the insightful combining of earnest intimacy and pure hooks.

Occasionally, it’s almost uncomfortably intimate, Hart’s raspy and imperfectly pitched vocal lines darting out of the skeletal arrangement at the listener, as if one were suddenly feeling an unseen stranger’s breath on their neck. But the 27-minute album flutters by at an impressive clip. It’s as much a sorrowful meditation as an outstretched hand from a car window luxuriating in the rushing air. Sensations are all, even if the jaw has become somewhat set in endless existential pressure. Sensations are all, and we have to give ourselves to whatever wonder we can scrounge up before we are nothing. As stingingly bitter as the sentiment of opener “I Don’t Want Your Love Anymore” is, it’s also satisfying, because no moment is unpoised nor crowded-out with bravura dynamic shifts. The juxtaposition is a vexing sort of liberation. It’s not unlike how standing outside in the rain felt like the best idea you ever had, before you’re soaked and shivering.

There can be a contextual exhaustion that occurs with sulky, sensual confection. Transparent’s loutish muppet, Joshy going gooey-eyed showcasing his precious Fussy Puss comes to mind. The phenomenon of shrunken proximity to loveliness pulling focus is a nice thing. But when a show or film conveys this, there is a curatorial disconnect. It’s easy to see the taste of the storytellers, rather than simply beauty as they would presumably have it. It is from opinionatedness, but also the need to have the affecting or sacred not be dictated or preordained that causes this disconnect. The rockiest tune in evidence, “Hard To Be Still,” may be well-used in Gypsy. But once seen in that context, whatever connection one has with song will be blotted out by specific imagery and narrative that they may not have the same affinity for. The likely reality is that music selection processes for these different contexts are rarely as synergistic as they are pragmatic, and often the best that comes out of it is lesser-known artists either gaining more exposure or making some decent money. That’s why it’s so endearing how Twin Peaks or Treme present(ed) music as performance semi-regularly and without interruption. Twin Peaks straight-ahead showcase of the band paid tribute to Au Revoir Simone’s (and, by extension, Hart’s) fine-tuned elegance in ways that montage, background, or end-credit punctuation could never manage.

Impossible Accomplice combats the weight of its familiarity with brevity and a devotion to sturdy hooks (seems she values a vocal sounding right over her words being explicit, something a lot of like-minded releases mess up with). The title suggests either a term of endearment for a difficult partner or longing for an other that appears unattainable. That the former, without knowing Hart’s status, is just as plausible as the latter speaks to her work’s down-to-earth charm. However solemn the tone might be, it’s clear there is a careworn snugness with template. One can be both over love and in it, and it’s best not to question the contradiction in the throes. In this light, Annie Hart’s album is charming for its vulnerability as much as its defiance, its ephemeral quality as much as its flowering infectiousness. It may not be a surprising or revelatory listen, but for those with an inborn affinity for this sort of thing, it’ll be a quiet essential.

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