Nobody Knows Us (Ditto)
Someone somewhere at art school or a benevolent university, or maybe in 100 years when an archaeological dig finds the CD cover, could spend an age deciphering and speculating on the imagery within the cover image for Anna Cordell’s album.
Sitting somewhere between Caravaggio, van Beijeren and Wainwright (Rufus, circa Want), it has abundant fruit and flowers, nuts and silver dishes, set against a pitch-black background and a deep red tablecloth. At the table is a raven-haired woman in a puff-sleeved blouse holding in one hand an hour glass (seemingly nearly run through) and in the other a snake (an asp?), and the look on her face is somewhere between fascination and apprehension.
As a collection of signifiers it will engage the academics: life and death?; fecundity and beauty? Eve tempted? woman resistant?; seven good years, seven bad years and then my children taken unto Egypt?
For those of us less learned, this cover can instead serve to give a sense of the music within: quiet, sometimes to the point of extreme restraint, but detailed with the very real touchstones of a lived world; modestly arranged – most of the time an electric guitar and drums working in the background, or an acoustic guitar in the middle ground, feel like the only things at play - but subtly rich as if a dark background is working in shades of shadows; sparkles of the ethereal and suggestive alongside the solidity of real emotion.
Very much in the mould of Sybille Baier and Linda Perhacs (and definitely in the same dappled light field as the Melbourne sisters reviewed here last year, Charm Of Finches), Nobody Knows Us hums with what could only be described as “mood”.
That is, it’s in the suggestion that Cordell does her work. So she doesn’t break out, even in something like The Soul, where the guitar briefly threatens to assert or Between Two Eternities, whose solid thump of drums at the very start hint that something bigger this way comes. Either solo or in the heavy cloak of voices which Cordell can deploy, she makes entries that aren’t apologetic but do feel like she’s never going to demand you come with her.
Take Tried So Hard where a circular guitar line builds a gently mesmeric atmosphere for Cordell’s murmurings before she lets a soaring moment that nonetheless drifts skywards rather than piercing the bubble. Or Turn, where a glistening lead vocal, and its shadowed backing vocal/echo, leaves the door open to a room of almost classical guitar and silk and satin, carrying on its contemplations while you hesitate at the door – because you’re not needed, though you are welcome.
In the title track, the closest thing to a direct pop song with a chorus that hooks in, Cordell takes a similar route to early Holly Throsby: her voice – which is a superior singing instrument to what Throsby brought at that time – humming in your ear and initially masking the more insistent agitation beneath.
In form, these songs are folkish but not quite earthed, melodic but as involved with temperament as tune. You must come to them, which means at first Nobody Knows Us could easily be ignored, and even if you engage feel hard to hold on to, slithering out of your grasp.
But like a still-life, the engagement comes in appreciating the detail after giving in to the atmosphere.