ALBUM REVIEW: Anna Von Hausswolff – All Thoughts Fly

Anna Von Hausswolff is a singer-songwriter who has always embraced a progressive attitude to creativity. Never unafraid to straddle genres as diverse as metal, Krautrock, and dark pop, and always remaining elusively undefinable, she has made waves over the past decade with her four previous albums and numerous illustrious collaborations. As well as following her own unique musical path, Von Hausswolff (to name just a few of her achievements and endeavours): runs a record label, has guested with Wolves in the Throne Room and Swans, has supported Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and has hosted visual art exhibitions.

Even knowing all of the above, and being aware of Von Hausswolff’s great reverence for the pipe organ, I must admit that I was surprised to read in the press release for All Thoughts Fly (Southern Lord Records) – Von Hausswolff’s upcoming fifth album – that it is a solo instrumental album consisting of “just one instrument, the pipe organ”. I was also struck by the front cover image: a large stone carving of a tortured and screaming face, with Von Hausswolff herself standing inside the mouth of this gigantic gargoyle. Further reading tells us that the sculpture depicted is one of the central pieces within Sacro Bosco, a 16th-century Italian garden designed by Pier Francesco Orsini, allegedly to help him to deal with the death of his wife. Von Hausswolff used this garden and its associated story as the foundation of All Thought Fly, stating that “I used this story as a core for my own inspiration: love as a foundation for creation”.

As open-minded as Anna Von Hausswolff’s fans are, presenting them with a 44-minute album of solo instrumental pipe organ music is an incredibly bold and audacious move. I am pleased to say that the album not only works but is utterly captivating. The press release states that All Thoughts Fly invites its audience “to listen, liberate the mind and let it wander”. And indeed the music almost immediately lifts us from our thoughts, only to be returned once the whole record has played out. The tonal and dynamic range Von Hausswolff generates from the pipe organ is surprisingly expansive, and somehow the compositions seem to reach directly into our emotional core. The addition of extra sound design effects, whereby the organ has sometimes been electronically processed in post-production, adds a layer of spaced out and hypnotic electronica which collides and blends beautifully with the natural organ sounds.

The pieces themselves flow and blossom as they weave their tapestries of emotion. Album opener “Theatre of Nature” is like an emotionally literate form of prog-rock, with its chord stab motif gradually being subdued by the rising tide of delay-drenched ambience. It is compelling and cathartic. “Dolore Di Orsini” marches along mournfully as bagpipe-like squealed supplications pierce the calm and the whole piece builds to a despairing climax. “Sacro Bosco” begins as a terrifyingly lonesome dirge but builds gradually into a gloriously hopeful and uplifting wash, like the sun’s rays piercing the darkness through stained glass windows. “Persefone” features a slow, brooding, and funereal sequence which gradually envelops us as it steadily builds in intensity. “Entering”, endowed with electronic effects, is a two-minute crescendo and diminuendo which does indeed give the impression of breaking through to another plane. “All Thoughts Fly” swirls around and around as it generates more and more intense until it reaches its crazed and cacophonous zenith. Its whirling musical flurries somehow pull us away from any distraction and sharpen our focus on the present as a form of intense meditation. Closing the record is “Outside The Gate (for Bruna)”, which serves almost as a lullaby to bring us a back down following the excitement of the previous track. Its evocative chord sequence gradually becomes embellished by more and more electronic elements and melodic flourishes. It has a mournful quality but it is also somehow refreshing and cleansing.

All Thoughts Fly is an unusual album in many ways, but it is also one which speaks to our emotions as human beings in a universally moving way. The music references the full spectrum of human feeling – pain, loss, sorrow, love, hope, and joy – and does so using a unique and idiosyncratic approach. All Thoughts Fly doesn’t sound quite like anything you’ll have heard before, but it taps into feelings we all have – feelings that perhaps we all need to feel from time to time. Highly recommended.

All Thoughts Fly by Anna Von Hausswolff is released on 25th September 2020 on Southern Lord. Buy it here.

9 / 10

DUNCAN EVANS