Opening your second album with a song like ‘The Ghost’ is a surefire way to put the listener’s concerns about a sophomore slump to bed. From the crunchy, bassy synths and spoken word that kick things off, and through to the wailed, pained chorus of ‘stop haunting me/please/just leave me be/please’ this track is not only evidence that Anna’s talent hasn’t dimmed since A Common Turn, but also proof that she hasn’t stood still and is here with an evolution of her sound. ‘I Can Hear The Birds Now’ comes next. There’s a gentler, more poignant sound to this one – a soft but captivating guitar and a clear sense of longing and disquiet in the lyrics. And then we’re into ‘Pavlov’s Dog’, a song whose instrumentation wouldn’t sound out of place on Radiohead’s In Rainbows – but whose lyrics and vocal performance are pure Anna and totally captivating. This is one of the standout songs on inFLUX and the bridge of ‘I’m here/I’m waiting/I’m salivating’ will be replaying in your head for days.
At just three songs in, then, this follow up to the Picky Bastards Podcast Album of the Year in 2021, shows a new and more diverse palette to Anna’s music, while at the same time maintaining the personality, openness, and truth that made the debut so special. ‘Crown Shyness’, in its central concept more than its sound, feels more like some of the debut – it is very much a story being told in the way that ‘Baby Grand’ was. But it, like a couple of the songs that precede it, has another engaging and almost catchy chorus that will come back to you in the early hours of the morning when you’re trying to get to sleep. Anna plays with her words here – telling us that the person she is singing about is ‘in my dreams an awful lot’, but tripping us up when she indicates that this means ‘this dance is over for us.’ That contradiction, that pulling the rug out from under the meaning we expect, is a central theme of the album – and might explain the choice of inFLUX as a title.
And ‘contradiction’ might actually be the key word to sum up the structure and messaging of the album as a whole, particularly when you look at how things switch up in the middle section. ‘Say My Name’, with it’s jazzy squeals and wounded calls for connection, couldn’t feel further from the title song that follows it. ‘inFLUX’ is probably the most joyous sounding and danceable song Anna has released so far – a celebration of what she exclaims in the song’s chorus: ‘I want to be alone/I’m happy on my own/Believe me.’ And while you have to believe her when she sings this so emphatically, it is the contrast with songs such as ‘Say My Name’ and ‘Hungry’ that make the album so fascinating. In ‘Hungry’, she isn’t lonely but is ‘hungry for more time with you.’ So, with the more time you spend with the album, the more you sense that Anna is celebrating how we do have more than one side to our personalities – that we feel different ways at different times – that we are, almost always, in flux.
‘Feet of Clay’, ‘Touch Me’, and ‘The Orange’ continue these themes as the albums draws to a close – admitting at separate times that she is ‘afraid of being trapped’, that she changes her mind at the drop of a hat, that she has ‘forgotten what it’s like to want something, to want someone’, and then, on superb final song ‘The Orange’, that ‘if this is all that there is, I think I’m gonna be fine’. Anna switches viewpoint on an almost song by song basis. ‘The Orange’, though, feels like a very purposeful closer – it is the song that most speaks of self-acceptance, happiness with your own company, an understanding that with the expected flux of life comes moments of clarity where everything feels just fine.
So as a follow up to A Common Turn, this does feel like an album where, lyrically and thematically, we are dealing with an artist who has battled some of the previous demons, accepted the daily flux of life, and found a way to focus on the moments when life feels most complete. But in a musical context – Anna also seems to have taken that feeling, that love of contradiction, into the songs. At moments explosively ecstatic, at others wrought with emotion – and filled with influences and sounds from areas not explored on the previous LP – the album brings a bunch of disparate sounds and feelings together to create a powerful and impressive whole. Most impressive of all is the fact that, after an album that sent Picky Bastards into a spin for the whole of 2021, Anna has released something as good if not better.
Words by Fran Slater