Album Review: Liza Anne, ‘TWO’
As much as we accept "sophomore slump" as a universal truth, we have yet to coin a term for those instances when an artist takes a great leap forward after a debut album. Similarly, there's a music industry adage that says "you have your whole life to write your first album and only six months to write your second," but there's no such truism for when a musician's creativity comes into full bloom their second time at the plate. There should be -- and Liza Anne has just presented us with proof. Her new album TWO reminds us that it's time for new new catchphrases like "sophomore surge" and "you have the rest of your life to develop and grow."
When the Nashville-based singer-songwriter first emerged with her debut album, The Colder Months, in 2014, she appeared to be headed on a straight trajectory toward strummy folk in the standard confessional style, save for tasteful sprinklings of roots and country. But with the swirling, layered string-section atmospheres that open TWO, Anne immediately steps from convention into a creative space entirely of her own making. And even though she retains traces of the roots/Americana instrumentation that she favored the last time around (her pop approach to melody lingers on some of the tunes as well), she finds new context for those elements so that they sound startlingly fresh.
Like the work of a artist who uses thick paints and mixed media that jut out from the canvas, the sounds on TWO have a tactile quality that makes it impossible to experience them in two dimensions. Producer Zachary Dyke (of the band COIN) and mixing engineer Chad Wahlbrink bring Anne's haunted ruminations to life in vivid, breathing detail. Take, for example, the majestically mournful "Overnight." Anne begins the tune with twinkling electric guitar and soaring vocals along the lines of what Jeff Buckley turned into spiritual revelation on Grace.
From there, though, Anne strikes out on a new path complete with deconstructionist guitar noise and rich chord changes that underscore the music with a brooding so deep it transcends individual grief and taps into ancient strains of sorrow. Ever so gradually, the song swells into a kind of slow-motion storm that engulfs the listener -- delicately, but with great power -- and creates the sensation that one has stepped inside of the music. And all the while, despite her poise (a sign of her significant musical maturity since the last time), Anne sounds determined to forge her own musical voice. She's found it. And given where she has been, TWO fosters a distinct sensation of "we're not in Kansas anymore ..."
There's no turning back from artistic steps like this -- which is to say that the artists who take them typically sound like they've fallen into alternate dimensions of creativity. In addition to the compelling journey it takes you on from start to finish, TWO entices because it suggests infinite possibilities for where Liza Anne might go next.