Generally I believe in quality over quantity, especially in the case of music. I'd rather wait four years for David tao to release one album that I could listen to for the next four years, than have Jay Chou release one album a year which would only occupy me for the next month or so before moving into the back store of my music collection. So when Ann released her newest album <What's Next> after a one and a half year break, I definitely had a really good feeling about it. And turns out as predicted, the album is absolutely amazing. It's got this concept of <What's Next> that seamlessly interweaves itself throughout the album, discussing directions, right or wrong, this idea of searching, and yet comfort at the end of all the 'if's. This album is so full of ideas of what is uncertain in our lives; however Ann puts them across so eloquently with the help of her creative team (including Mac chew, Jonathan lee, Li jian Qing and Kenny Hsieh) in a way that tells us that nothing in life is for certain, but holds a subtle optimism that allows us to anticipate whatever's next in our lives.
The title song <What's Next> is everything that it's name stands for. From the fresh and organic sounding pluckings of the guitar, it creates this idea of optimism, anticipation, enthusiasm for what's next. It really is a very hard concept to encompass through both the lyrics and the arrangement, and I do think that Jonathan Lee, a veteran in the industry did an amazing job of it. An interesting fusion of violins and jazz trumpets work surprisingly well together to form the specific yet usually elusive atmosphere this song requires.
In her second track <Right and wrong>, Ann adds another dimension to her album, this time putting forth the idea of right and wrong, and when answers will appear to her. One of my Favourite songs on this album for its sudden change in rhythm in the chorus, it just makes me want to start dancing ; an unexpected but pleasant twist to the song which I love.
Her third song <Half a Life> is a little darker than the previous two tracks, but what I find so interesting is the way in which Ann puts forth her ideas and her music which by right should be very indie, but yet can be accepted by many people despite this. Also I would never have thought screaming incorporated into a song could be done well (see Elephant Dee EP review),but somehow Ann manages to make it aesthetically acceptable in a song, even for cowards like me! But either way, her message comes through strong and clear in a folk-infused track which mainly makes use of guitar, bass and snares to create a punk rock vibe.
The lyrics not only for this song, but throughout the album are short, sweet and simple. No fancy structure changes but Ann's talent lies in evoking emotion even through simplicity of her words. The words that strike me most in this song are these: "don't wanna see my life go this way it's getting me so bored today", which basically sums up the meaning of the song succinctly. As she watches the days and months and years go past while she's done nothing, it's time to start looking forward to what's next and overcoming this obstacle in her path. Even in the pre chorus the nifty strings arrangement helps to lift spirits before making a smooth transition back into a punk atmosphere. The thing about a lot of the songs on this album is that they inherently reflect this concept of "What's Next" in the twists and turns that each song takes. There's a happy part where you wouldn't expect there to be; turns out to be a sad song when the arrangement at the start was just sleepy and comforting. This album represents to its core the unpredictability of life; in essence we never know what's coming next, but yet it all happens so quickly and seamlessly that we have no choice but to go with it.
<I also want to be her> is another one of my favourites on this album (it also incorporates unpredictability into its arrangement here!), mostly because I love the rhythm of it. Reminiscent of Hebes <请你给我好一点的情敌>, this song has similar themes about love triangles and also incorporates a very vintage rock feel to it. But seeing as Hebe's song was nominated for the golden melody awards when it was first released, you really don't see too many of these songs just lying around. I personally feel this one has a little dark humor to it; in the sometimes cheerful arrangement and Ann's sweet voice, kind of sounds that way to me.
<If you've really thought about it> is like Ann's sequel to <是什么让我遇见这样的你> in that both of them have really long names and have quite an open atmosphere within the song. But that's where the similarities end. Unlike many artists who try and imitate their hit songs and reproduce them over and over, Ann is unafraid in experimenting with new sounds and ideas. This song has more of an electronic feel to it, bringing us back to Ann's electronic folk roots.
<Searching for pixies>has a really interesting element that holds the entire song together, which is the layering of the vocal tracks, sometimes creating multiple layers of harmonies, and sometimes switching the vocal tracks so that the end of a phrase seems more distant. Also the structure of the song itself is unique and really makes it stand out, going from verse into a pre chorus with no lyrics, and then into the chorus. Just as the title suggests, the song really brings the light, mainly due to the wide use of vocals in this song. <Just pretend tomorrow is still far away> reflection the human instinct of fearing the unknown, and does so with a Balinese influenced arrangement too!
The last two tracks of the album are also my professed favourites, <Changing Houses> and <Comfort>. <changing houses> starts off with a jazz/Bossa nova influenced intro before ebbing into simple clicks before transitioning into the cheerful and really cute chorus which I love. But the thing I love most about this song is the lyrics, which juxtapose the cheerful melody with this idea of leaving what is familiar completely, making the unknown seem less fearful and more like an adventure. At the end of the lyrics, Ann says <I want to let go of all the sad stories>, indicating that we should move on with the present rather than keeping scars of the past. The last song, <Comfort> is not the typical song you'd expect with this name, but with Ann nothing is ever as you expect it! A very chinese sounding chorus fused with the Balinese sounding xylophones, and even a little bit of brass combines together surprisingly well. The lyrics are a little different from what you'd expect from Ann because they were co-written by Jonathan Lee himself, but to me they add another level of sophistication, and his experience also adds more of an atmosphere of comfort to the song.
Don't forget to also check out the acoustic version of <If you've really thought about it> which is called "Don't go" and features a male part sang by Kenny Hsiao, one of the members of Ann's creative team.
Overall, one of the most thought provoking albums I've heard in a long time. And it's had a lot of competition these days it seems, but Ann really did rise up above the rest. So you know what they say, quality over quantity! Truly inspiring and beautiful album. I'm already looking forward to the next one, no matter how long I have to wait.