There has always been an element of darkness in Ane Brun's music. It may never be overbearing but it has been ever-present, nevertheless. On her fifth full-length release, It All Starts With One, things are no different, and we find a record as compact and focused as this Norwegian has ever produced. There can be little argument that it also represents her best, too.
The darkness is one which sits there, shoulder-to-shoulder with an equally inherent coldness. And it is this coldness which comes across in the physical distance between the album's component parts. It is almost as though many of the songs were recorded with instruments in different, distant corners of a spacious church hall, thus giving those mournful words a partner.
A noticeable change from 2008's Changing of the Seasons can be heard in the orchestral touches found throughout. Though the lyrics and Brun's voice form a firm base, these nuances take the record towards something much greater than its predecessor. The strings add depth to the arrangements, but it's the percussive embellishments which set the pace, being used to superb effect in the galloping One, and likewise in the painful lament The Light From One. They may be pushed to the margins of the mix, and diminutive in nature, but as well as establishing the tempo they are also tone-setters, reinforcing a range of expressed emotions.
Having released an entire record of duets six years ago, it is no surprise that they are plentiful here, too. Brun combines with José González for the dark, brooding and cinematic Worship – where restfulness somehow feels like a positive, perfectly matching the album's overall feel. That is directly followed by the most buoyant passage – one of very few – in Do You Remember, as Swedish folk-sisters First Aid Kit provide a suitable foil, beneath tribal drumming and other peripheral delicacies.
Brun's back catalogue is one which grows larger and even stronger with It All Starts With One, and she has managed to create her finest record yet. It is one which doesn't so much shine, but glimmer with subtle brilliance all the way through. --Luke Slater
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