Anna Burch on “Quit the Curse”

Smiling Faces and Heavy Hearts

May 18, 2018 Photography by Ebru Yildiz Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett
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Over Skype, Anna Burch often finishes her answers with an awkward giggle; as if she prefers gift-wrapping presents over opening them. The title of her excellent debut LP Quit the Curse strikes as a tongue-in-cheek bristle at romanticism and superstition. But behind its carefree dream pop-glistened framework, one can sense a sleight of hand. There's calculated poise veiled beneath Burch's devil-may-care demeanor. Her piercing eyes don't scream "naïveté" as much as "mileage" and "self-possession."

Burch's music sits contently in a defected and grounded state for the time being. Not that she hasn't dipped her toes in the conceptual: when she took a break from playing with her alt folk-collective Frontier Ruckus, she attended grad school in Chicago, writing a thesis on Busby Berkeley's choreographic relation with avantgardistic movements. The trailer for Berkeleys iconic musical 42nd Street actually has a synopsis that could easily apply for Quit the Curse: "A story within a story, a show within a show, a backstage drama of kicking heels, smiling faces, and heavy hearts," the narrator bellows in the trailer.

In many ways, Quit the Curse sounds like an American folk record uncomfortably wearing the skin of an indie rock record. One of the album's most enjoyable quirks is Burch's tendency to fumble syllables on the wrong accents ("suburBIAN," "plasTERED"). Though blithe and ethereal, she doesn't hold to the illusion of keeping her flaws from plain sight. "Yes, it is a debut record, it's certainly not a perfect record," Burch admits. "It has its flaws, especially in the way it was recorded. Considering that, it's incredible to me that the album came out as something cohesive. I'm now making mental notes and how to approach things in the future."

At the ripe age of 30, Burch finally controls her own musical narrative, something that long eluded her in Frontier Ruckus. "When I started to write my own songs, I was able to separate feelings with questions like, 'Does this define me?' whereas before I had trouble separating myself," she says.

The songs on Quit the Curse depict foggy days of dysfunctional relationships, substance abuse, and suburban ennui. Problems now given their proper place on the proverbial cupboard, the mirth of new scenery softening the blow over time.

Indeed, Burch's move from Chicago to Detroit gave her the necessary level-headedness to make her personal demons universal. Three years have passed, a new relationship providing sufficient cushion to reflect back without feeling excessive weight on her shoulders. Every once in awhile, though, she lets those pesky and cursed ghosts of yonder back in. Burch's dream pop armor is shed most on "Belle Isle," a breathtaking country-folk song more reminiscent of Brenda Lee or Nancy Sinatra than her indie rock peers. "I've done many foolish and hurtful things," she croons in a bare-boned chronicle of past digressions, and congruently, how they still define her today. It's the one song on Quit the Curse where she doesn't fumble her syllables, where her voice directly hits home.

"That clean slate you think you have, well, it eventually becomes clear you're still carrying a lot of problems you left behind," Burch explains. "New narratives introduce themselves, and old habits inform the new impulses. It provided a lens to look through to write in a more self-aware way. Something I probably couldn't do if I was still living in Chicago, when I was more entrenched in my own personal dramas."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.annaburchmusic.com

 

 

 

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