A courageous, intensely focussed experience...

Look at the cover of Canadian singer songwriter Anna Horvath, aka Merival, new album ‘Lesson’.

The cover depicts a single shot from a children’s ballet class. There is a form to the left hand side that is holding a pose. The centre of the image features a reflection of another dancer holding the same pose, but if you look closely you’ll see a child resting its head on someone’s lap trying to get a good view of the class. Their view is warped due to seeing things in reverse, but they get the gist of the class and what’s going on.

‘Miles’ opens the album with Merival’s touching vocals and scratchy guitar. This is pretty much as good as it gets and tells us everything we need to know about the album. Her vocals are pristine and have a clarity that makes them atmospheric and wistful in equal measure. The guitar has a nostalgic vibe to it, whilst sounded completely contemporary.

There is also clever wordplay going on too “miles never had the heart of me, miles never had that part of me” and “Most of us have paid a price, running on the fuel of bad advice, taken from a soul in constant vice, skating out upon thin ice” are devastating in their simplicity, but hammer the feeling of being heartbroken.

But what is most striking is the amount of space ‘Miles’ have. At times there isn’t anything going on apart from faint reverberations of either her voice or guitar. This is a brave move and tells us this isn’t your average alt-folk album. The two tracks however that seem to encapsulate ‘Lesson’ are ‘Sinner’ and ‘Good Enough Again’.

On ‘Sinner’ Merival delivers her strongest vocal performance on ‘Lesson’ and the inclusion of drums and bass makes everything sound bigger and bombastic. Lyrically there is a confessional vibe going on, with Merival wanting to talk to a past lover but never actually being able to.

However its Michael Peter Olsen’s string arrangements that is the star of the show. Slowly the violins, viola and cello creep up on you. At first you don’t really notice them as everything is about Merival’s vocals and guitar work. And then BAM! they are all you can focus on.

After a few listens you realise that they were always just lurking furtively in the background, before making their attentions known, but once you’ve heard them it’s impossible to listen to the song again without them being your sole focus.

‘Good Enough Again’ her vocals gloriously lilt and sway until Merival makes rise to that note, oh that note, before taking her foot off the gas and the gentle swaying continues. All the while the music starts off lucid, but slowly builds in power and aggression. This is what Merival does best. She starts soft and slowly and by the end she’s full on raging/soaring.

Clocking in less than 25 minutes ‘Lesson’ gently drifts and undulates along as we are taken on a laidback, but riveting, ride through unrequited love, never uttered conversations and straight up breakup ballads. It’s an album that gets more intriguing and oblique with each listen.

Merival possess a voice that doesn’t need to do much to get her message across. Whether she’s gently listing and lilting or bellowing we feel the passion and emotion of these songs and her pain.

Look at the album cover again. After listening to ‘Lesson’ we are that child. We are trying to make sense of the stories Merival has told us. We don’t know all the facts, and some of the information is skewed and distorted due to her perspective, but we get the gist. She was hurt but she’s getting over it and moving, and that is the lesson.

You will move on but don’t force it.

8/10

Words: Nick Roseblade

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