After a gentle, lullaby-like opening, “Anna” develops into a brisk, melodic composition that, backbeat notwithstanding, I’m tempted to call a ballad. What, after all, is a ballad? Traditionally, it’s a poem, typically suitable for singing, in which a story is told, often a romantic and/or tragic one. Note too that ballads often are set to an ABCB rhyme scheme, which is what “Anna” employs as well. I say it’s a ballad, and a splendid one at that.
The story being told, obliquely, is worth unpacking. The Dutch singer/songwriter Jori, who records as Cloud Cukkoo, tells of seeing a homeless man on a Dublin street, on a cold day, collecting coins in a Starbucks coffee cup with the name “Anna” on it. “Not even the cup was his,” she says. She wrote this song in response; in it, she alludes to his hardships as the man addresses the (imagined) woman whose name graces the discarded cup. It’s a simple but striking premise, brought to life with even-handed production, an incisive chorus, and Jori’s deceptively formidable voice–don’t let the song’s catchiness distract you from her lovely depth of tone. I especially appreciate the clean soundscape, driven by rhythm guitar, unfussy percussion, and well-placed keyboards: a beautiful aural counterpoint to the hyperactive, over-processed pop songs that grab clicks and followers in our mixed-up world.
Originally from a country village in the Netherlands, Jori relocated to Berlin in 2022 to be able to take part in a more diverse and vibrant creative community. She has some older material up on Bandcamp but doesn’t seem to be using that site at this point; your best bet for checking her music out is over on Spotify. “Anna” was just released last week; MP3 courtesy of the artist.
Starts quiet & goes places
At once introspective and expansive, “About Imagining Things” is never as quiet and unassuming as it may seem. Turn your radar on and from the outset you’ll sense a song pushing at its constraints, beginning with that itchy-echoey synth loop that starts us up and serves as the rhythm section for the first 1:50. While this and an acoustic guitar comprise the only accompaniment heard for a good long while, that scratchy background sound, increasingly mechanical in demeanor, hints at spaces and ideas that outstrip the “singer/songwriter with a guitar” trope.
The melodies—subtle but sturdy—are also a hint. While the verse might sound like an ordinary chatter-style lyric—I said this thing to that person and now it’s a song–La Loye elevates matters by crafting a melody with grace to it, an eight-bar line with some soft but gratifying resolution. And it sets up the gentle chorus (0:49), a repetition of the line “I can’t figure this out/I can’t figure this without you,” which finds some artful descending intervals to land on as a cello floats into earshot. The first clear sign that we may be heading in unforeseen directions is how the cello ends up droning itself to the front of the mix as the verse starts up again (1:11). At 1:50 we glide into a spacious new landscape, percussion soon kicking in with a half-time stutter, guitar and maybe a mandolin creating with the drumming an oceanic momentum underneath a bridge-like extension to the earlier melodies. We are in pretty much a different song now, driving forward as the guitar gets heavier, a synthesizer sweeping some arpeggios into existence before things de-clutter towards the end and we are left only with that throbbing mechanical rhythm that started us going three and a half minutes earlier. And a lovely, adventurous, rewarding three and a half minutes it was.
La Loye—for the record, she appears to prefer to stylize this in lower case: la loye—is the 24-year-old Dutch singer/songwriter Lieke Heusinkveld. “About Imagining Things” is a song off her debut EP, To Live Underwater, which was released at the beginning of the month.