Berlin-based artist and political-journalist-turned-indie-icon Annika Henderson has finally come out with her long-awaited sophomore album after an eleven-year hiatus. Her eponymous 2010 album was comprised of dub and minimal wave reinterpretations of classic folk rock tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Kinks, and Yoko Ono, with instrumentals that bonded like a magnet to Henderson’s frosty vocals that have drawn comparisons to the likes of Nico and Jane Weaver. Her self-titled record was produced by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow while Henderson was playing in his experimental band, Beak>.
Unfortunately, her debut was not positively received at the time. Pitchfork panned the album and called it a “minor pet project.” But that wasn’t enough to stop the record from becoming an enduring cult classic. Welsh indie darling Cate le Bon, who has been compared Anika a number of times, has frequently cited Henderson’s work as a major influence on her own music.
Anika’s new album Change was released on July 23rd through Invada Records and Sacred Bones, and unlike her debut, this beautifully fraught new collection of songs are all original compositions. It is a project that is hopeful for change and filled to the brim with angst about social ills, filtered through Anika’s icy and nonchalant vocal delivery that made listeners fall in love with her over ten years ago. Change sees Anika’s work take a left turn into a tunnel of effervescent synth blips and incredibly catchy synth-rock bass grooves on tracks like the opener, “Finger Pies,” where Henderson laughs in the face of intimidation, incinerating the self-centered subject of the song with her deadpan delivery (“Theory is you’re a monster, that you hate yourself/Afraid, afraid of you/Afraid, afraid of you.”)
On “Critical,” Anika adopts the role of a conniving murderess. “I always give my man the last word, I always give him what he deserves/But don’t forget that little twist of cyanide I put in his little gift,” she sneers over rhythmic Jane Weaver-esque computer blips. For me the highlight of the album was “Naysayer,” where Anika’s menacing vocals ascend with fury against a wall of sirens and helicopter-blade effects. “You say I can’t have it all/You say I can’t have what’s yours/I don’t want this world,” she righteously spews over spiky percussion, droning synths, and rhythmic helicopter blade effects.
On the anthemic title track, Henderson’s signature detached vocal delivery is nowhere to be found. Instead she adopts a much more emotionally-introspective tone. The hope that she expresses for a better world despite the cynicism of her peers is palpable as she chants, “I think we have it all inside/I think we can change, I think we can change,” with so much conviction that even her most ardent doubters are bound to come away from the song believing her.
With the electric-piano lamentation “Never Coming Back,” Henderson mourns a world on fire. Inspired by Rachel Carson’s environmental science book Silent Spring, the lyrics are filled with anguish and uncertainty (“I saw the warnings/I turned a blind eye, kept my hands over my ears/Before I could take a stand, it was too late/You were gone.”) “Freedom,” is another commanding touchstone on the album comprised of a repeated spoken-word mantra: “I’m not being silenced by anyone, least not you, least not you,” she chants over piercing synth drones. The final track, “Wait for Something,” trades the rest of the album’s electronic sheen for a guitar and drums setup, ending on a hopeful note as she commands with perseverance, “Don’t hold onto the past it’ll take you down… Be patient for something new.”
Certain critics have complained about points on the album where Henderson seemed to be lacking certainty. But considering the fact that the record was written and recorded at the height of the pandemic, the occasional uncertainty just adds another layer to the album, because it speaks to an ultimate truth: No matter how much conviction or confidence we may have in our own beliefs, it is virtually impossible to be alive at this point in history without experiencing any sense of doubt; so it’s only natural that her levels of certainty fluctuated throughout the album.
Favorite track: “Rights”