Review Summary: An occasionally-entrancing collection of covers, bogged down by its one-note nature
Giving an album the title Songs From Isolation and releasing it towards the tail end of a pandemic which has dramatically curtailed many people’s social lives feels a bit on the nose, but it’s hard to imagine a better artist to pull this off than A.A. Williams. Throughout her short but impressive career, Williams has excelled at crafting emotional soundscapes evoking loneliness and dread, themes which seem deeply fitting here. In this case, Williams is working with a slate of nine covers, widely varying by time period, genre, and fame. The end results are solid when analyzed song by song, but the effort falters as a whole.
It is rare for a cover album to be an artist’s career highlight, and Songs From Isolation sadly doesn’t break from this trend. There are some brilliant ingredients here, generally the same ones which Williams has showcased previously: beautiful, emotive vocals with the charisma to carry a song, arrangements often showcasing admirable musical restraint, and a talent for atmosphere. The problem here though is that the release as a whole ends up being a bit of a slog to listen to. While dynamic changes are utilized to great success, the overwhelming predominance of slow-paced, almost exclusively piano and voice-driven renditions one after another leads to listener fatigue by the end of the record. In the end, this observation acts as a reminder of how crucial the occasional metallic flourishes and harsh vocals from Cult of Luna’s Johannes Perrson were in forging last year’s Forever Blue as such a brilliant release.
The black-and-white tinted album art gives a hint about the music to be found here. Williams doesn’t stray from her trademark Gothic-tinged indie and folk background, with each song being a somber and subtle affair. Tunes range from the inescapable like Radiohead’s “Creep” (well-done but not a highlight) to deeper cuts like the closing selection, The Smashing Pumpkins “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” (one of the better tracks on offer). The album centerpiece, Williams’ take on The Moody Blues’ masterpiece “Nights In White Satin” is arguably the most jaw-droppingly impressive song, but the Pixies cover “Where Is My Mind” and a skeletal rendering of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” also stand out.
Songs From Isolation won’t persuade anyone previously unimpressed with A.A. Williams’ output, but it is a worthwhile listen for the already-converted. For those on the fence, take a look at the tracklist and give one or two of the most appealing songs a chance. Williams has again demonstrated her talent as one of the musical world’s rising stars, this time through giving her own spin on other artists’ work, but this will be far from one of her defining works.