A Story of Anger
An LP from an artist like French producer Sierra aka Annelise Morel is always an interesting proposition; having come to the attention of scene DJs and clubbers via several dancefloor friendly singles and EPs over the last four years or so, the question is whether her particular brand of synthwave and EBM touched compositions will work in the album format. A Story of Anger does a reasonably good job of taking Sierra’s existing strengths – namely her knack for nasty mid-tempo grooves and her flair for dramatic builds and releases – and applying them to more fleshed-out songs that work beyond the discotheque or goth club.
Where much of Sierra’s catalogue up to this point has been focused on crafting portentous bangers with her own vocals relegated to a support role, her debut long-player finds her voice taking more of the spotlight. Especially in the first half of the record we get a considerable amount of Morel on the mic, often departing from her now familiar monotone and leaning in on more melodic delivery. Opener “Never Right” has plenty on what brought Sierra to our attention via its slow boil intro where thrumming bass programming builds and builds until it breaks out into a mid-heavy synth attack that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside cuts by new-school industrial rockers like 3Teeth or HEALTH (with whom Sierra collaborates on the record’s “Holding on to Nothing”), but it’s the breakdown where Morel adopts a halting whisper to get across the song’s tune that is most memorable. Immediate follow-up “Stronger” goes even further, building around a mournful electric piano lead, with the big modulating bass secondary to Morel’s lyrics. While not a spectacular vocalist, she makes good use of what she has and doesn’t stretch beyond her ability to deliver; you get everything you need to know about the tune of “So Blind” direct from her lips, and “Holding on to Nothing” displays considerable emotion via her wounded and reserved performance.
Given that, it’s a little odd that the record’s weaker moments are in the style that Sierra normally knocks out of the park. A track like “In My Veins” should be a gimme with its big string arrangement and head-nodding rhythm programming, but ends up feeling paint by numbers; we’ve heard this from the project before, and more distinctly and memorably. Similarly there’s a sameness to some of the mid-album cuts (“By Fire”, Carpenter Brut collab “Power”) in terms of sound design and arrangement that keeps them from sticking with the listener. It’s not a problem all the less vocally-oriented songs face – “Club 21” works a subtle EBM bassline with finesse, and the higher BPM of “Your Shadow” sets it apart – but it’s the record’s most traditionally song-like cuts that stay with the listener on repeated listens.
Those criticisms aside, there’s plenty to like and admire about A Story of Anger as a debut LP; it takes some big swings where it could have played things safe, and you have to admire the push towards grander sounds and ideas it displays. As an expansion of Sierra’s scope as a project A Story of Anger works, and provides plenty of new angles for Morel to explore in future releases.