Humanity’s capacity for change is usually treated with a certain amount of cynicism these days, but when Annika Henderson sings about change on the title track of her first new album in 11 years, she sounds earnest and just about hopeful. “I think we have it all inside,” she intones. “I think we can learn from each other.”
Henderson has been on a journey over the past decade-plus that has necessitated a lot of change. She was a journalist when she auditioned for Geoff Barrow’s experimental band BEAK> back in 2010. They quickly recorded her debut album Anika together, which was filled with smeary dub reinterpretations of songs by Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan, and the Kinks (by way of the Applejacks). An EP would follow a couple years later, but by 2014 Henderson was feeling disillusioned with music. She moved to Berlin in search of a new outlet for her creativity. She didn’t find it there, at least not yet, but when she visited Mexico she landed in a band that would eventually become Exploded View. Over a couple years, they put out two albums, moody avant-garde sighs with Henderson at its center.
Working with Exploded View’s Martin Thulin out of a studio in Berlin, Henderson has created an album of impeccably insular textures with Change, the first Anika album since her debut. The songs are mostly soundscapes for Henderson to project her voice over, blips and bloops and plodding basslines that wrap around her words with a soothing and hypnotic pull. Parts of it remind me of Cate Le Bon, who has pointed to Anika as an influence on her own music, and more specifically the loose and inviting nature of her most recent album, Reward. There’s one song, “Naysayer,” that recalls the Knife’s “Full Of Fire,” all jittery, toppling words and righteous anger.
Henderson cuts an imposing figure on her tracks. Her sort-of detached delivery has invited many comparisons to Nico over the years, and there’s certainly still some of that on Change, but there are also many moments when her songs threaten to swallow her up and she fights back. On “Rights,” a call-to-arms for those feeling disenfranchised, she encourages action: “Tall, small, tiny, full, and feel your power! Feel your power!” You can really hear those exclamation marks. “Critical” finds her playing the femme fatale, her voice curling into a snarl as she threatens: “I always give my man the last word/ I always give him what he deserves/ But don’t forget that little twist of cyanide in his little gift.”
This is the first Anika album that features all original songs. They were written at the height of the pandemic, when fear and the tendency for introspection were at an all-time high. Henderson wrote all of the lyrics while recording, seeing what spilled out in reaction to the world around her. In some ways, the songs are an extension of her beginnings as a political journalist, a different way to document the social unrest of the last few years and our uncertainty about the future. “Never Coming Back,” which was inspired by Rachel Carson’s environmental activism touchstone Silent Spring, laments the way the world is slipping away from us so slowly that we barely notice: “I turned a blind eye/ I kept my hands over my ears/ I didn’t stop to talk about it/ And now you’re never coming back.” On the throbbing opener “Finger Pies,” Henderson tackles power that lives in the shadows: “Some may say that you are only interested in one thing: That’s the get your own way,” goes the chorus, later bemoaning the fruitlessness that comes with trying to expose it: “Writing is useless/ My intention, my intention is…,” an unsatisfying elliptical end for a songwriter who is typically more direct.
But Henderson is certainly more direct by the album’s end. On the rousing closer “Wait For Something,” which abandons the album’s shimmering electronic textures for a more straight-forward guitar and drums set-up, Henderson is ready to wait for answers. “Be patient for something new,” she commands. “Don’t hold on to the past, it’ll take you down … And wait for something to come, wait for something to break through.” It’s a fitting mantra for a musician that took 11 years to follow up her debut, biding time until she had something important to say.
Change is out 7/23 via Sacred Bones/Invada. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Kanye West’s Donda
• Darkside’s Spiral
• Meg Duffy & Joel Ford’s self-titled debut as yes/and
• Piroshka’s Love Drips And Gathers
• Molly Burch’s Romantic Images
• Dave’s We’re All Alone In This Together
• Descendents’ 9th & Walnut
• David Crosby’s For Free
• Jackson Browne’s Downhill From Everywhere
• Alexis Marshall’s House Of Lull House Of When
• Leon Bridges’ Gold-Diggers Sound
• Upper Wilds’ Venus
• Mega Bog’s Life, And Another
• Jalang’s Santau
• Gavin Turek’s Madame Gold
• Brittany Howard’s remix album Jaime Reimagined
• Stone Temple Pilots’ super deluxe edition of Tiny Music…From The Vatican Gift Shop
• Woods’ More Strange, an expanded edition of last year’s Strange To Explain
• Samia’s Scout EP
• Andy Partridge’s My Failed Songwriting Career Volume 1 EP
• Information_Age’s debut self-titled EP