AURORA Is Back With a Vengeance
I have to admit that I approached the new AURORA album, The Gods We Can Touch, with deep trepidation. AURORA is one of my favorite modern artists. She’s quirky and dramatic. This makes her exciting to listen to unlike much of the formulaic pop on the market. After hearing some of her more recent singles, especially some of the acoustic remixes, I was worried that she had fallen victim to the disease that has infected many artists during the pandemic – retro eclecticsm. That’s where artists create a jumble of songs based on previous eras while abandoning the artists core sound. Billie Eilish, I’m looking at you. AURORA has always defied easy classification – is she pop, electronica, dance pop, new age, folk? – so she has a little more play in what she can do without sounding like something she’s not. Still, given how many artists have used the pandemic to write silly retro and “jazz influenced” music, I hit the play button with a worried heart.
And all that worry was for nothing. The Gods We Can Touch is a fantastic album. Whatever odd experiments AURORA conducted during the pandemic were just that – experiments. Her classic mash up of styles is evident from the opening instrumental, “The Forbidden Fruits of Eden” which flows effortlessly into the operatic pop of “Everything Matters”. The latter has that trademark sense of urgency and creepiness mixed with simple beats. The addition of French singer-songwriter Pomme (who deserves her own review) makes adds a different voice to the music that amplifies, rather than competes with AURORA.
The sense that you are listening to another AURORA masterpiece continues as the album progresses. Songs such as “Giving in To the Love” and “Cure for Me” are packed with upbeat dance pop that is the one of the hallmarks of AURORA . They may be even more upbeat and have heavier instrumentation than tracks on previous albums, but that only makes them seem more “AURORA” . “Heathens” is another example of AURORA being more herself. It starts with her characteristic ethereal vocals but then grows into heavy drumbeats. It is big, theatrical, and dramatic. “Heathens” is how AURORA would have always produced music given a bigger budget, which I surmise she now has. It’s nice to be an international rock star. “A Temporary High” is also classic AURORA writ large. It has 80s dance beats (and synths and guitar work) but is fresh. In fact, unless you were around in the 80s, it’s unlikely that you would recognize the influence. Again, this is what AURORA does best.
Just because The Gods We Can Touch stays mostly with the core AURORA sound, doesn’t mean there isn’t some experimentation. In “Artemis”, “You Keep Me Crawling”, and “The Innocent” we see Latin influences. However, they are just that – influences. AURORA is not trying to write a Latin style song; It is clear she is looking to integrate some Latin beats into what otherwise are AURORA -style songs. “The Blood in The Wine” sounds like it came off the soundtrack for a modern spaghetti Western, complete with a wailing vocal that would make Ennio Morricone proud. Even so, it’s still AURORA , just a different facet of AURORA .
There was one song I was most worried about, “Exist for Love”. It is a basically a 30s style jazz ballad. On its own it made me think “Oh no! AURORA is doing jazz songs. Gag!” That was the reaction when I heard it as a single. Within the scope of the album, however, it seems more like a welcome quiet interlude before the bombast of “Heathen”. Such is the value of good production.
AURORA explores some new musical styles without straying too far from what makes her interesting and unique. The Gods We Can Touch is, instead, AURORA on steroids. She has taken the best of her mélange of progressive rock, folk, new age, indie pop, dance pop, and electronica, added some new stylings, and amped up the production. This is AURORA turned up to 11.
My worries were unfounded, and AURORA did not disappoint me. This is her most artistic and mature album to date. Like St. Vincent, AURORA has shown herself to be one of the best artists of the 2010s and 2020s.