Amber Arcades is the nom de plume of Annelotte de Graaf, a Dutch experimental pop musician. De Graaf is a chameleon who reinvents herself with every album, drawing inspiration just as easily from experimental pop music as from the music of the American folk tradition. Her music is characterised by poignant melodies, dreamy vocals and reflective lyrics.
It was almost ten years ago when Annelotte de Graaf self-released a couple of EPs as Amber Arcades; pricking the bubble of ethereal dream pop on her eponymous debut, then donning a slow strum for the ‘Patiently’ EP. She was taking time out from her legal career in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, to tell tales of white fuzz and the meaningful patterns between unrelated random things, daydreaming onto alternative radios and into a studio in New York to record an album proper with Ben Greenberg on hand to colour in her personal observations of the world and its ‘Fading Lines’ (2016).
“As much as she can write a killer pop song – ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘Right Now’ are jangly guitar pop par excellence – the slower, more meditative songs hit the spot just as sweetly. ‘This Time’ is a delight, think Françoise Hardy fronting The Smiths with the addition of a pedal steel player. On the closing ‘White Fuzz’ she channels her inner torch-singer, more Marlene Dietrich than a someone in an indie group, as a wash of tremolo guitars pick and strum in the background over a song of regret and heartbreak.” The Line Of Best Fit
“A lot of people have told me that listening to my songs makes them feel a weird mixture of melancholic and blissful feelings at the same time” Amber Arcades circa 2016
Two years on and Alpine cabins and a thumbed world weariness set the scene for an altogether more fragile collection, a song cycle of ‘European Heartbreak’ which dissects the end of an era. It reaped the plaudits; “a shining picture postcard of emotion” that’s “filled with Human optimism”, the press trilled. All delivered with Annelotte’s “sweetly inscrutable voice”, a one-liner that brought about comparisons to Mazzy Star and Broadcast, with lyrics that undercut that sunny mood, artfully and skilfully.
Amber Arcades’ ‘Barefoot On Diamond Road’, released on Fire Records in February 2023, is the antidote for heartbreak, conceived remotely with original sparring partner Ben Greenberg, it’s Annelotte all grown up; a coming of age set in a new town with new positivity underpinning her, as ever, beautifully crafted and highly personal observations on life, love and how it all should or could work.
“This record really reveals parts of me and my relationship with being a musician and making music. It’s like a reckoning, more in the moment, realizing how important it is to do things for the right reasons and how that can change your process into one that embraces what exists, including yourself.”
Immersed in an all-consuming wall of sound, Barefoot On Diamond Road is like My Bloody Valentine gone acoustic, it shouldn’t work but it does; it’s a juxtaposition of textures, from skittery, uneasy dancefloor beats to symphonic kosmische, a baroque pop tapestry side-stitched with cellos and harps with a plaintive steel guitar echoing in the distance. It’s a record of engaging maturity, filled with slow motion builds and epic lifts that elevate it to dizzying heights with all of the drama – think The Gun Club sitting back with Portishead, anything could happen, it’s an imaginary film… PJ Harvey lurks in the shadows.
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NB: The name Amber Arcades comes from Dutch writer Godfried Bomans’ Grimm-esque fairy-tale of a woodland hermit who tells of his endless arcades of pillars, giant mirrors and infinite pearls.