On her debut album Quit the Curse, the Detroit-based Anna Burch made a fresh start, staking her claim as an artist in her own right after a stint in Frontier Ruckus, delivering a deceptively dark record whose breezy hooks made it easy to overlook its downcast lyrical content. The contrast between those two elements made for a winning combination, but its follow-up, If You’re Dreaming, is cut from much different cloth. If anything, not having to rely on the tried-and-tested juxtaposition of upbeat music and dark lyrics this time around has resulted in an album that’s true to the circumstances in which it was written. Themes of personal upheaval and general uncertainty are to be found throughout If You’re Dreaming. If her debut was the sound of her achieving liftoff, her second album finds her crashing back to earth.
In spite of Burch’s circumstances, the album’s an impressively focused listen; it took shape out of decamping to a studio in the Catskills in upstate New York, where she reunited with drummer Matthew Rickle (who was behind the kit on precisely a third of her debut) and struck up a partnership with the owner of said studio, Sam Owens (who records as Sam Evian). His fingers are all over If You’re Dreaming, with credits on all 12 tracks, and the arrangements found therein suit the record’s introspective tone – weary and bruised, yet undeniably welcoming thanks to Burch’s clear and confident voice.
A languid listen from start to finish, If You’re Dreaming is a marked change of pace from what Burch is known for, both under her own name and her other gig as part of garage-pop collective Failed Flowers. “Can’t Sleep” opens the album as it means to go on, her voice imbued with a sense of restlessness; the laid-back sound of the record often lays bare her worries. “Are you gonna see this through? / Seems everything you do gets undone,” she wonders, before her vocals soar into the song’s wordless chorus. Penultimate track “Every Feeling”, meanwhile, views both romance and artistry as matters of the heart, and holds them in equal esteem as she tries to figure out her next moves in both: “We’ve commodified every feeling / What’s left in my heart to sing that’s true? / I’d sing it to you.”
“Party’s Over” passes for upbeat in album context, yet it speaks of wanting to sack off social obligations in favour of staying in, the ‘compulsory’ feeling of going out to see and be seen at odds with Burch’s more introverted urges. She’s out of place in public gatherings and wanting no part of them as the song’s woozy, intimate vibe acts as a conduit for her defeated tone. As she opines elsewhere, “maybe it’s gone beyond a need to get some rest,” but while the overall feeling is one of rueful self-examination, the album never gives in to despondency; later, she checks herself on “Tell Me What’s True” and admits she just needs someone around to ground her in times of melancholy: “Don’t go, I need you / To tell me what is true / My perspective’s skewed / Don’t know what to do.”
Overall, If You’re Dreaming is a surprising listen, with Burch opting not to expand upon the sound of her debut and instead pursuing a different, more exploratory path as she continues to hone her melodic instincts while learning to slow down and look within. The deeply personal nature of the record feeling like she’s inviting the listener into her world for its 38-minute duration. Reflective by nature, it might not have been her expected next step, but is nonetheless a beautifully delicate album that benefits from repeated close listening.