Anna Tivel is releasing The Question on Fluff and Gravy Records on April 19; the album was recorded mostly live at Hive studio in Eau Claire, WI, and was engineered by Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens) and produced by drum-based multi-instrumentalist Shane Leonard.
This album is purely amazing in its combination of stand out instrumentalism and hushed and sustained lyrical profundity. We see plenty of really good albums, but this one nimbly catapults itself into the “great” category. Tivel’s lyrics create an intuitively recognizable depth but, like any good mystery, they remain always startling and unpredictable as they unfold. Meanwhile the use of instruments is remarkable and pioneering. The mention of Leonard as “drum-based” is significant because the songs are buoyed by subtle yet unique rhythmic styles and cadences in addition to the emphasis on the more sparse percussive style.
The songs on The Question are about being “other.” The characters in the lyrical tales range from those struggling with gender identity, immigrant identity, and experiences onstage, in breakups, in real and metaphorical fires.
It’s one of those albums you should absolutely listen to all the way through, and there’s not a filler in the bunch. But if you want a quick guide, your best bet is to direct your attention immediately to “Fenceline” and feel the tension created by cello and stringed instruments as the entire song connotes the stark reality of an experience of a borderline fence. “Angels look away, and bar the pearly gate down here at the border. I’m just an animal.” The weighty lyrics demand that you face the experience of being treated without dignity as you struggle to survive. This song is a masterpiece.
“Worthless” is another pinnacle, from the distorted deep low rhythm, set to the prominent combination of kick drums, organ and shaker, to the crescendo-pressured, searing lyrics. “Two quarters in my hand nothing else in my pocket… I never did wrong. I was kind and careful, til the day you called me worthless,“ the lyrics tap into the sinister cycle of abuse of another person and what it does. This song is intense both sonically and in its message.
“Figure It Out” again creates incredible deep tension with cello and the concept that she will “figure it out” despite the darkness is something that is universally recognizable at an emotional level. “The Question” explores sharp imagery and an interplay between gender roles. “Velvet Curtain” poetically portrays “lost dreams of glory” and “singing to the mezzanine.” “Minneapolis” highlights angst in a relationship and the urge to move on. “Anthony” juxtaposes imagery of a literal house on fire, and times when your life is figuratively going up in flames.
If you want a listen to something that’s fresh, a collection that’s much more than “good” lyrics over proficient yet predictable musical arrangements you absolutely must run, don’t walk, to your nearest place of purchase to get this one. The entire album is an intense listening experience from the lyrics to the raw vocal tones to the musicianship and the production.