Opener “In Heaven” creates a good mood: a slowly dancing ballad that can be heard through a shroud. The quiet synthesizers and the processing of Annie’s voice disappear when the complications vanish from the lyrics and leave an impotent chorus. It’s cheese from the 80s, but it’s cheese with the best presentation: the ABBA-like melodies from “Corridors of Time”, the Burt Bacharach influence from “It’s Endlich über”, the synthesizers from the final prom dance and the Gouda Great, the entirety of “The Streets Where I Belong”. Annie remembers an affair with a guitar thump “Every Breath You Take” and then sweeps away the fourth wall so that her dream lover can play the guitar hero: “Take it away, Johnny!” In almost every song Annie remembers the past, more precisely told of her past in a film that she can set to music. The hometown she remembers is not Norwegian Beachian Kristiansand, but Hollywood in its shabbiest form. The bad guys she woos are called back in softest focus. She remembers having heard songs many times – never just one Song, but her song.
Decades collapse into an impressive blurring. The two most cited inspirations from Annie and Storm are Twin peaks 1990 and David Cronenberg’s auto fetish film crash in 1996; in between is the ’92 of Forever ’92, a year, said Annie, who stayed with her. The nuclear fears that preoccupied the 1950s and 1960s and were even interpreted in the 80s also hang around. The 1988 LA pokalyptic film Miracle Mile it’s all over Dark hearts: It provides the name of one song, the source of the samples of another song, and acts as a spiritual forerunner thanks to its capricious Tangerine Dream soundtrack. There’s a meta-nostalgia at work too: taken together, these inspirations sound a lot like the last decade, over apocalypse pop of the early 2010s and then over Random access storage, Italians do better and other synthwave soundalikes.
Dark hearts is best in its most artificial form. The moments aimed at “reality” seem to be less: the dusty acoustic Americana (Annie-mericana?) Outro to “Miracle Mile” or the jagged arrangement of the title track and the stinging of seriousness (“an examination of family relationships” she said stretch straight a little bit). Far better is “American Cars”, which bears no resemblance to the robust real things, but is reminiscent of an American car advertisingif scored by Badalamenti and Moroder. In another song, “break free and then never look back” may fare badly, but as delivered in Annie’s Sotto Voce and surrounded by Storm’s sighing background vocals, it’s a pure mood. “Mermaid Dreams” is half-spoken word and all melancholy. “The Untold Story” is so heavy with “Live to Tell” synths that the production almost entirely clouds over Annie’s voice telling this story – which it may be about.
Towards the end comes the apocalyptic that is almost expected in 2020: a Skeeter Davis riff in “Countdown to the End of the World”, then the end of the world delivered via “The Bomb”, the next thing that comes closest Dark hearts to a full dance song. But both tracks are less dramatic than hazy; The former makes it clear that Judgment Day is actually just an “ordinary day,” and the latter, despite being full of air horns and trance synthesizers and sampled screams about nuclear war, is more of a quiet groove than a blast. It’s the end of the world and everyone just feels it somehow. The most revealing lyric Dark hearts is one of the Miracle Mile Examples: “Forget everything you’ve heard and go back to sleep.” Who of us hasn’t been preferring a dreamland lately?
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