Antoní - Holding Tight Lightly (Album Review)

Antoní is an artist who grew up around the forest town of Ilmenau in central Germany. Perhaps influenced by her surroundings, she imbued her worldview with a fairytale-esque charm evident in her debut album, Holding Tight Lightly. Produced with collaborator Can Güngör between Şen Bakkal Studios in Kadıköy, Istanbul, and Antoní's apartment in Leipzig, Germany, the songs gathered here are rich with instrumentation and obscure song ideas, delivered with both angular folk-rock performances and more delicately hushed moments. Antoní demonstrates wild creativity in her approach, though credit is due to sharp mixing and shimmering production, which give her detached style an effective punch.

The opening track, "Meteor Swarm," starts with Antoní's warm, intimate, Nick-Drakesque vocals, playing over gently plucked acoustic guitar. The singer eschews memorable lyrics in favour of the more abstract "Attending your soliloquy feels kind of lonely/Attend to my attentiveness and savour it slowly" before electronic instrumentation joins to create a beguiling slice of anti-pop sweetness.

The sense of dance underpinning the jubilant "Ascending Rivers" inspires a joie de vivre mirrored in the anti-nihilistic lyrics ("What a shame to feel nothing at all") before a dreamlike ambient sequence with intoxicating key changes plays out. Co-producer Güngör lends his vocals to the space-lounge-act-country-tinged "Where Do I Begin," a transportive cut that houses the sharp statement "Maybe I need you like an atheist needs God," which could be inflammatory to those who identify with such a label. It leads one to appreciate the more innocuous indecipherability of "Made Up Of Words," with its poetic balderdash stippled with twinkling synths.

"New Arpeggio" has a drastically dynamic energy that rises from slick, acoustic finger-picking to more symphonic and all-embracing. What it's about is anyone's guess, but such is art. Antoní doesn't pander to her audience; instead, she challenges them with strange songs which go wherever they want to while contradictorily possessing opaque and translucent qualities.

In the second half of the record, the straightforward piano balladry of "Fossil" accentuates the idiosyncrasies of Antoní's work. She is not shy of using strange nouns like "insect fossils" in her songs or letting the music morph into a cinematic cosmic voyage, sweeping strings lending exotic airs. "Morning Song" pits the placating elements of ambient folk with darker and industrial-leaning percussion and production. This dichotomy marks this otherworldly album, especially on the ethereal and easy-on-the-ears title track. 

However, this at-first-glance breezy experimental folk music focuses primarily on musicality and vibe over songwriting traditions. Perhaps that's why songs like "Thin Ribbons" and "The Lampion's Shadows Swing" stun us with their uncomplicated connection, not by whisking us off to some hidden world in the artist's imagination. Along with the gorgeous instrumental closing track, "Judith (Outro)", these are the shortest songs on the album but some of the more memorable.

Elsewhere, the album highlight, "Shallow Banks", is a psychedelic jam on both the beauty of independence ("I need to feel lonely out here, It's just for me") and theoretical physics ("There are molecules floating between moments"). The production on this track achieves clarity without compromising the album's mystique, as does "Judith", with its fetching electric guitar work, balmy vocals, and sweeping orchestration.

Confidently produced and expertly performed, Holding Tight Lightly has a heavy-handed whimsicality permeating most of its runtime. Its dreamlike nature makes connecting on a personal level not so effortless, though, in the end, the album proves to be substantial and well-mapped out with songs that speak to the rewards of letting your imagination run free.