How Beauty Holds The Hand Of Sorrow – Ane Brun – Album Review
by Cathy Brown
When I reviewed Ane Brun’s last release, After the Great Storm, I called it ‘her most interesting and forward-looking album to date’. Now, with the release of How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow, a mere four weeks later, it looks like I may have spoken too soon.
Originally intended as a double album, these two recordings both complement and stand apart from one another. Speaking of the recording process, Ane Brun noted that ‘all of a sudden, I had two albums that represented two different sides of my music: the experimental part of me and the more traditional part of me.’ Without doubt, How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow does feel like a return to her earlier more traditional singer-songwriter acoustic works, but a complex sonic structure and lush, innovative arrangements make this a much more experimental album than you would first expect.
Opening track ‘Last Breath’ is a melancholic piano-led ode to hope taken to new levels by some stunning but subtle orchestration. On ‘Closer’ Brun’s voice is intimate and vulnerable against the backdrop of muted, yet intricate piano playing, while the sublime ‘Trust’ allows her vocals to soar up the register in a cacophony of swirling beauty.
‘Song for Thrill and Tom’ opens like a Suzanne Vega number but soon morphs into a luminous and uplifting anthem courtesy of some angelic choral backing vocals. On ‘Lose My Way’, a gorgeously rich collaboration with Dustin O’Halloran (of A Winged Victory for the Sullen), the evocative piano arrangement and humming susurrance of strings perfectly complements Brun’s aching vocals.
Brun swaps piano for guitar on the sweet but forgettable ‘Meet You At The Delta’, and again on ‘Breaking the Surface’ – the stand out track on the album—whose jazzy late-70’s vibe wouldn’t sound out of place on Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns.
The album comes full circle and closes with a piano version of ‘Don’t Run and Hide’, a song from After the Great Storm, and here Brun takes the dark dreamy-pop vibe of that track and strips it back to something more emotional and authentic, showcasing her impressive range.
The decision to split these albums into two has really paid off here, as How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow is more consistent in atmosphere and spirit. It is a much more intimate and elegiac album than After the Great Storm and feels more successful for it. Brun’s voice has never sounded better and the meditative melancholy of these tracks is balanced with the clear warmth and depth of the arrangements.
There is still some of the brooding darkness of the previous album lingering here, but when Brun sings ‘you’ll be fine I know, you’ll be climbing higher, this is how you grow closer’ it is very easy to believe her message that everything just might be alright.
How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow, with its rich tone and atmosphere, masterful vocals and an ultimately hopeful narrative, really does feel like her best work yet. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Ane Brun proves me wrong again.