One of the fun things about writing a music Blog is the weird and wonderful material that finds its way to you. I'd never heard of the Swiss pop group Anshelle before unexpectedly receiving their latest album for review, so I wasn't sure what to expect. When I think of Swiss pop music, the first thing that comes to mind is DJ Bobo. I reasoned that I was probably in for a trashy pop explosion, possibly with some really awful rapping thrown in for good measure but I couldn't have been more wrong. I quickly discovered that Anshelle's album is a treasure trove of whimsical guitar-pop gems, which owes far more to Sharleen Spiteri of the Scottish band, Texas, than Switzerland's own superstar DJ. Here's my review:
One of the central themes of Anshelle's evocative, new album "Rewind Please" is the drawing of strength and solace from past events. "Rewind Please" almost plays like a musical photo album with each track capturing a memory or defining moment - some of them happy, others less so. There is genuine sense of whimsy and melancholy that gently colours and connects each song to the next. That might sound slightly overbearing but there is enough sunshine peaking through the clouds to prevent "Rewind Please" from ever becoming too depressing. Anshelle walk the fine line between quiet reflection and upbeat pop music with impressive skill.
"Rewind Please" opens with a declaration of intent. To put "Little Mountain" in context it helps to have some knowledge of the band's history. Prior to this album, Anshelle were signed to a major label and from all reports made bright and shiny dance/pop music. It seems the band fell through the cracks during a record company reshuffle and spent the next few years revising their sound and recording "Rewind Please" independently. "Little Mountain" is a musical mantra about persistence and following your passion. Lead singer, Michele Bachmann, sings "I can hear the voices of the raging crowd, while drums and bass are getting loud and if it is the last thing that I'm going to do, I'll be there and smile at you". Michele's "Little Mountain" is the stage and this woman is going nowhere. Anshelle subtly convey their message in one of the album's most instant and catchy pop anthems. "Little Mountain" will have you humming for days.
After the upbeat, jangling guitars of "Little Mountain", the focus of the music shifts from the present to the album's prevalent theme of past events with the gentle title track. The first thing that strikes me about "Rewind Please" is the quality of Michele's voice, which has a soulful quality reminiscent of Texas frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri or Mexico's hugely underrated Elan. It's a voice well equipped to convey the disorientation of realising that your path has irrevocably branched away from old friends and loved ones. The sweet melancholy of "Rewind Please" gives way to the straightforward pop sensibility of "Stereophonic Girlfriends", which injects the proceedings with a pleasant dose of irreverence. The detour from the album's exploration of the past is brief. "Hayfield" is another introspective number, revealing a yearning for the simplicity of childhood. The instrumentation is a delight, making "Hayfield" a worthy first single.
"Soulmate" is a refreshingly optimistic love song, which benefits from some beautiful guitar work and endearing lyrics. It makes an interesting companion piece to the next song, "Unperfect Woman", which is rather more grounded in reality. It's about time someone wrote a love song for the flawed and fucked up! "Unperfect Woman" also increases the tempo after a string of gentle numbers, which is a reminder that Anshelle can rock out when they feel so inclined. They obviously just don't feel like it very often.
"Bye Bye" and "Faith" are two of the album's least inspiring moments. They are perfectly enjoyable album tracks but retrace the previously covered ground of old friendships and break-ups without the charm of "Rewind Please" or "Hayfield". The dip in quality is rectified with the gorgeous "She Might Be", which, if I'm not mistaken, throws a slight hint of ska into the mix. In fact, the song would slot quite nicely into No Doubt's "Tragic Kingdom" album with its staccato bass and percussion. I was sold with the first tambourine jangle! "She Might Be" is a cheeky little number which sees Michele meddling in her friend's lovelife. Any song which rhymes "wench" with "French" is surely some kind of masterpiece. The album closes with a duo of excellent songs, "I'm Alright" and "Taking Over Me". The former song is one of the album's most musically intricate and lyrically inspiring. "It's Alright" preaches the importance of keeping your chin up, while "Taking Over Me" is a haunting tune about giving in to your emotions. The evocative piano playing and unexpected organ cameo make "Taking Over Me" a fitting end to a memorable album.
"Rewind Please" expertly taps into the overwhelming sense of inertia that arises in your mid to late 20s. The topic has already been addressed by several acts (even Fergie took a short break from praising her humps to touch on the issue in "Big Girls Don't Cry") but Anshelle are the first to explore the dilemma of being stuck in the emotional wasteland between the end of your extended adolescence and dawning adulthood with such clarity and precision.
The band have kindly given their permission for me to share the album's excellent opening track, "Little Mountain".
"Rewind Please" is released in Switzerland on the 24th of August. Hopefully, an international release will follow shortly thereafter. The album can be pre-ordered here. Unfortunately, that website only appears to service Europe. Until the album receives a wider release you can listen to some of the tracks on Anshelle's website as well as their Myspace. A promotional video for "Hayfield" has also been uploaded to YouTube.