Amber Arcades is the moniker of Dutch-born musician Annelotte de Graaf.
“If it were called American Heartbreak, you wouldn’t bat an eye,” says Annelotte De Graaf of her second album as Amber Arcades, the stunning European Heartbreak. “American” as a prefix has entered pop culture’s lingua franca, a way to add gravitas by prefacing a noun with that national adjective. But “European”? People don’t often try that. “Somehow calling it European Heartbreak feels far less comfortable, almost like it’s a statement in itself,” De Graaf says.
It’s a perfect title for the record, though – for a selection of songs that flit around Europe, from Berlin to Spain to the south of France. One song, “Goodnight Europe”, even addresses the pan-European disenchantment that has given rise to right-wing populism, and sees De Graaf wondering whether people like her must shoulder some of the blame: “Europe, it’s not you / I’m starting to think it could be me,” De Graaf sings, “My left ideals / And university degree.” It’s European not just in lyrical theme but in the sly sophistication of its music: songs that carry with them the air of open-topped cars on clifftop roads, of cocktails on the terrace at sunset. And then the lyrics undercut that sunny mood, artfully and skilfully.
European Heartbreak is a leap on from Amber Arcades’ debut, Fading Lines. First there’s the depth of its lyrical themes – “alienation, the fluid nature or memories and human concepts like nationality and the human condition” – but there’s also the fully realised musical aesthetic of the record, which is more melodic than Fading Lines, more compelling, but with a delicious lightness of touch, alongside quirky garage rock on “I’ve Done the Best” and “Where Did You Go”.
Bringing together the talents of Chrisy Hurn (vocals, guitar), Nimal Agalawatte (bass, synth) and Brandon Munro (drums), the band hail from Hamilton, Ontario and were named Basement Revolver due to Chrisy’s basement apartment, rather than any trigger happy leanings. Their ascent to the spotlight has been a steady trajectory, capitalising on the success of their debut single “Johnny” in 2016. The track garnered endorsements from DIY Magazine and Exclaim! as well as respected tastemakers Gold Flake Paint, who hailed it a “‘favourite song of the year” contender. They had stumbled across a sound that is capable of stripping listeners of inhibition, yet heavy hitting enough to leave a lasting impression.
Underwater Boys is Tom & Nick Klar - two brothers who make dreamy, fuzzy pop music in brighton. Drawing influence from Cocteau Twins, Beach House, The Cure, & Tame Impala, their sound is characterised by Tom's sweet, otherworldly falsetto, and multi-instrumentalist Nick's woozy, ethereal soundscapes.
While on the surface an Underwater Boys song might sound bright and blissed out, their music is also bubbling with anxiety and tension, with lyrical themes of mental illness, existential dread and malaise. This dichotomy is at the heart of what Underwater Boys do. It is joyful, celebratory music about battling with the darkest parts of yourself - being vulnerable, and trying to get better.
Amber Arcades / Basement Revolver / Underwater Boys