14 Jul 2021 - Ben
Alternative / Spartan | Bella Union | Release date: 19 Mar 2021
London-based A.A.Williams releases an album of stripped-down, emotionally charged covers that each bring something new to the table – intimacy, warmth, nuance, power.
Through 2020 and 2021, the UK was locked down for a significant amount of time. Some people learned a craft, some got into baking sourdough (I have no idea) and some discovered that daytime television is inhabited by some of the worst people in the world. A.A.Williams, however, gathered suggestions for cover versions from fans, and made stripped-down versions of those songs to release on YouTube. Luckily for us, she’s gathered those songs together and released them as an album called Songs From Isolation.
It turns out that Williams’s audience has excellent and eclectic taste in music. The line-up stretches from Deftones to Gordon Lightfoot, from Pixies to The Moody Blues and The Cure to Nine Inch Nails. That’s a festival line-up I’d happily pay to see!
The songs are stripped-down to the barest of essentials. Williams’s spartan, yet oddly intricate, arrangements leave no room for unnecessary flourishes, just her mellifluous voice and whichever instrument she opts to play the melody – whether guitar or piano.
The album opens with “Lovesong” by The Cure – a song that embodies the longing felt when separated from the object of your love. Where the original – brilliant though it is – has a coldness and distance to the production (and rightly so), Williams brings warmth and intimacy through the lilting phrasing and what feels like a physical proximity. It feels like a song sung to herself, rather than a distant love.
It doesn’t stop there. She treats Deftones’ “Be Quiet And Drive” with a similar nonchalance; Chino Moreno’s off-key (but amazing) anguished yelps and hollers transform into a close request, turning the song from a selfish need to escape into a yearning need to extract.
What cannot be questioned here is the artistry. What A.A.Williams brings to the table is an ability to translate songs into a different voice. She takes each of these songs – very well-known songs – and imbibes them with nuances and feelings they maybe hadn’t taken on before.
“Where Is My Mind” is a perfect point. It’s one of the most well-known Pixies songs and has been a mainstay of indie clubs and edgy soundtracks for years – I’ll strut my shit and high-five everyone on the dancefloor for that one. In Williams’s hands it takes on a more haunting quality that feels intimate, yearning, personal. A genuine question requiring a genuine answer.
Each song on this album speaks to the music lover. Gordon Lightfoot’s “If I Could Read Your Mind” is awarded a stripped-down rendering with added warmth and compassion. The Smashing Pumpkins fan gets to hear “Porcelina Of The Vast Ocean” without the over-production of the original. C’mon… Melon Collie… was vastly over-produced and you know it!
With this album, A.A.Williams has taken the songs beloved by her fans and reimagined them from a whole different angle. Tone, arrangement, nuance and vibe, A.A.Wiliams has delivered an album that crosses genres, strides continents and presents songs with a hushed brilliance.