If stunning a Roadburn audience into silence during her first ever live performance didn’t cement A.A. Williams‘ status as of the UK’s finest live musicians, then that honour was undoubtedly earned during lucrative support slots alongside esteemed exploratory artists such as Amenra, Cult Of Luna and Russian Circles. The role of her debut full-length, then, is to confirm what we already knew thanks in no small part to a breathtaking debut EP and an enthralling collaboration with Japanese innovators Mono – that Williams is also an incredible studio artist. Whilst it’s not exactly what your average greebo would define as “heavy”, few (if any) albums this year will be able to surpass Forever Blue for sheer emotive weight.
The stunning combination of forlorn guitar, soaring strings and melancholy piano is breathtakingly impressive even after you learn that Williams is a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist, but it is her celestial croons that take centre stage here. Driven by desolate lyrics, her vocals are achingly evocative, capable of expressing the kind of deep sadness that can be uniquely comforting and uplifting despite an innately bleak aura.
Her voice also pairs fantastically with guest musicians Tom Fleming (ex-Wild Beasts) and Johannes Persson (Cult Of Luna), with the former’s deeper baritone helping to form a poignant duet whilst the latter’s trademark bellow produces the album’s most in-your-face moment on the dramatic conclusion of ‘Fearless’. Even though triumphant crescendos powered by post-rock guitars and immense vocals are Williams’ forte, this moment stands out due to its overwhelming metallic heft, and is made all the more powerful for its surprising arrival on an album that’s otherwise moody and solemn.
In the dynamic nature of this album lies its strength, and that it can so effortlessly lie in the elusive middle-ground between beauty and gloom that countless bands have been striving to attain for decades is exemplary of its power. Forever Blue is a fitting title for an album so heart-rendingly sorrowful, but these downtrodden songs aren’t intended to dampen your spirits – they’re a tonic on dark days, capable of dragging you out of the murk and showing you the route back to brighter days ahead. By the time heavy-hearted closer ‘I’m Fine’ begins to fade away to be replaced by the rejuvenating chirps of songbirds, the album’s hopeful message has well and truly sunk in.
Forever Blue is out now and can be purchased here.
Words: George Parr