Ane Brun: How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow review – words and songs to live by

Norwegian musician has managed to wrest something very beautiful from depths of her grief

How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow
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Artist: Ane Brun
Genre: Singer / Songwriter
Label: Balloon Ranger Records

Following the death of her father in 2016, Ane Brun was thrown into a period of grief and emotional turmoil that culminated - as many major life traumas often do - in a bout of creativity. In a bid to salve her sadness, the Norwegian musician decamped to a cabin in the mountains last year, a la Bon Iver, and wrote almost all of the songs on both this album and her previous release After the Great Storm – which was released only last month.

Brun’s eighth album may come hot on the heels of its predecessor, but this is a very different set of songs. After the Great Storm was a largely upbeat affair, perhaps the equivalent of a screaming into the void to expend energy and grief; these songs negotiate catharsis in an altogether more tender and vulnerable way. As the title itself suggests, it’s the flipside of the same coin: songs borne of the same experience, but approached from two different stages, with stripped-back instrumentation to suit.

Bookended by the soft orchestration of fragile opener Last Breath and a plaintive piano-based version of Don't Run and Hide from her last album, Brun lays herself bare on this album. There is melancholy in spades, true – but there is also a sense of gritty resilience, as songs like Closer attest to. Here, she acknowledges her heartache while throwing a lifejacket to those in a similar quagmire, singing "When you're in your darkest hour, you think you'll never recover . . . this is how we grow closer". Guitar-led tracks like Song for Thrill and Tom, and Breaking the Surface (the only song here written after the onset of the pandemic) nod to Joni Mitchell, while Meet You At The Delta's striking yet subtle key change mark Brun out as a skilled writer of melody. Trust, meanwhile, is one of the only songs that is bolstered by a full backing band, slipping into a slinky groove and demonstrating the full tilt of Brun's wonderfully pliable voice.

All in all, Brun has managed to wrest something very beautiful from the depths of her grief. In such respects, the first line that she utters on the album –"'so, life goes on'"– proves both poignant and encouraging. These are words and songs to live by, despite their sorrowful source material. Download: Trust, Last Breath

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times