ASTRID WILLIAMSON-WE GO TO DREAM.
ASTRID WILLIAMSON-WE GO TO DREAM.
Despite just releasing her sixth album, We Go To Dream, Astrid Williamson is still one of music’s best kept secrets. That’s despite a career that’s spanned three decades. Astrid Williamson’s career began in Glasgow, where the Shetland born singer was studying music.
Astrid Williamson was born in 1971, and brought up in the beautiful Shetland Islands, in Scotland. On leaving school, Astrid Williamson headed to the the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy Of Music. By the time she graduated, in the early nineties, Astrid Williamson had cofounded Goya Dress with Simon Pearson and Terry de Castro.
Goya Dress were a Glasgow based indie rock band. The lineup featured bassist Terry de Castro, drummer Simon Pearson and Astrid Williamson on guitar, piano and vocals. They signed to Nude Records, and released the first of four E.P.s in 1995.
Now signed to Nude Records, Goya Dress released their Bedroom Cinema E.P in 1995. It was produced by Tristin Norwell, and was well received by critics. So, later in 1995, Goya Dress released their sophomore E.P.
For their sophomore E.P. a new producer was drafted in. Mark Freegard was the man chosen to produce the Ruby E.P. It featured a string quartet, which was arranged by Astrid. Her classical training was coming in useful. While the Ruby E.P. was very different to much of the music released in 1995, Goya Dress were seen as rising stars of the indie scene.
1996 proved to be the biggest year of Goya Dress’ career. That was the year they released their debut album Rooms. It was produced by John Cale. Nude Records it seemed were backing Goya Dress every step of the way.
The decision to bring onboard John Cale seemed a masterstroke. Previously, the former Velvet Underground bassist had worked with countless bands, including many up-and-coming bands. He came with a wealth of experience, and was a progressive and pioneering producer. If anyone could bring out the best in Goya Dress, it was John Cale.
Rooms was released in 1996. Critics were won over by Goya Dress’ distinctive style. Their brand of indie rock struck a nerve with critics. Things were looking good for Goya Dress.
When Rooms was released in 1996, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Nor was the lead single Crush. For Goya Dress and Nude Records this was a huge disappointment. However, nobody knew who disappointed Goya Dress were.
Later in 1996, Goya Dress released their Glorious E.P. This proved to be Goya Dress’ swan-song. Not long after the release of the Glorious E.P. Goya Dress split-up, and Astrid embarked upon her solo career.
Boy For You.
After Goya Dress split-up, Astrid Williamson decided to embark upon a solo career. She signed to Nude Records, the label Goya Dress had been signed to. Then Astrid as she was now billed as, began work on her debut album.
Astrid penned the ten tracks that would become Boy For You. With her band in tow, which at the time, featured the two other former members of Goya Dress, Astrid headed into the studio. Producer Malcolm Burn guided Astrid through the recording of her debut album Boy For You. It was released in 1998.
Before the release of Boy For You, critics had their say on Astrid’s debut album. It was described as beautiful, ethereal and haunting. Boy For You was a captivating and spine tingling album. Sadly, it wasn’t a huge commercial success. Nor were the singles I Am The Boy For You and Hozanna. However, it was only Astrid’s debut album. There was plenty of time for success to come her way.
Astrid Williamson’s next recording was with Stephan Eicher on his album Louanges. It was released in 1999. By then, the Swiss singer-songwriter was an experienced artist. Louanges was Stephan Eicher’s tenth album. So, Astrid was able to learn from the veteran singer. This was the case with her next recording.
In 2000, Astrid was asked to sing backing vocals on Twisted Tenderness. This was the third release by Electronic. They were formed in 1988, by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner of New Order. Astrid was rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in music. This was good experience for her sophomore album.
There were five years between the release of Boy For You in 1998, and Astrid in 2003. By then, Astrid was recording as Astrid Williamson, to avoid confusion with a group also called Astrid. However, it wasn’t just a new name Astrid had.
While Boy For You was released on Nude Records, Astrid was released on Astrid’s own label, Incarnation Records. Astrid had founded the label after leaving Nude Records. It would release Astrid’s next two albums, including Astrid, which was recorded in Brighton.
Recording of ten of the tracks on Astrid took place at the Milkhouse, Brighton. Astrid was produced by Robert White. Gone was the band that featured on Boy For You. They were replaced by multi-instrumentalist Robert White. He took charge of synths and programming. The only other musician to feature on Astrid was Terry Bickers, who played guitars and harmonica. Astrid looked like the start of a new era for Astrid Williamson.
History seemed to repeat itself when Astrid was released in 2003. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim. While Astrid was a stylistic departure for Astrid Williamson, her new sound suited her. Sadly, when Astrid was released in 2003, it wasn’t a huge success. While fans of Astrid Williamson bought her sophomore album, she was struggling to win over new fans. That wasn’t going to be easy, given she was on a small label. However, with artists relying more and more on the internet, the future was bright for Astrid.
Day Of The Lone Wolf.
Another three years passed before Astrid Williamson released her third album, Day Of The Lone Wolf in 2006. By then, Astrid had signed a contract where her Incarnation Records licensed its releases to One Little Indian. They were one of the bigger independent labels, and had the marketing power that Astrid needed.
The licensing deal wasn’t the only change Astrid had made. She decided to produce her third album. This made sense. Astrid had been around studios for eleven years and watched various producers at work. However, she kept former producer Robert White onboard as engineer. He was always there if she needed guidance. However, Astrid’s decision to produce Day Of The Lone Wolf was noticeable.
Just like Astrid, Day Of The Lone Wolf didn’t feature a large band. That was a thing of the past. Especially since Astrid was able to play guitar, piano and synths. She was also able to program. This opened up a world of opportunities. Rather than use musicians, Astrid could program virtual instruments. This was, after all, the era of digital audio workstation. Albums could be recorded at home. However, Astrid didn’t turn her back on “real” musicians. She brought in a rhythm section, strings and percussion. They added some soul to Day Of The Lone Wolf. It was ready for release in 2006.
Prior to the release of Day Of The Lone Wolf, critics had their say on Astrid Williamson’s long-awaited third album. No wonder it had taken so long to record. Astrid Williamson had written, arranged, produced and played many of the instruments on Day Of The Lone Wolf. She also added her haunting, breathy and ethereal vocals. Critics hailed Day Of The Lone Wolf as Astrid Williamson’s finest album. One track stood out, the haunting Superman 2.
It just happened to be the lead single from Day Of The Lone Wolf. The followup was Shhh. Sadly, neither of the singles nor Day Of The Lone Wolf were hugely successful. While Astrid Williamson’s fan-base was expanding, she still wasn’t enjoying the commercial success her talent deserved. However, Astrid Williamson wasn’t going to give up.
Here Come The Vikings.
Now based in Brighton, Astrid sought inspiration from home, for the title of her fourth album. During the late 8th and 9th centuries, the Shetland Islands were colonised by the Vikings. Astrid’s fourth album title seemed to be referencing her homeland’s past. So could the closing track, The Stars Are Beautiful. On a clear night in unspoiled and beautiful Shetland Islands, The Stars Are Beautiful. This was one of ten tracks that became Here Come The Vikings.
Written and produced by Astrid Williamson, Here Come The Vikings featured the Shetland siren at her sensual best. Against a backdrop of guitars and piano, Astrid’s vocal veers between seductive, needy, hopeful and frustrated as she sings about love, lust, loss and regret. She even quotes poet Walt Whitman on Sing the Body Electric, which closes Here Come The Vikings. It’s an album of sensual, emotive and cerebral pop that should’ve brought Astrid Williamson to the attention of music lovers everywhere.
Just like Astrid Williamson’s previous albums, Here Come The Vikings was released to widespread critical acclaim. Astrid Williamson, it seemed improved with age. She was the musical equivalent of a fine wine, and Here Come The Vikings was a vintage.
Despite its undoubted quality, still chart success eluded Astrid Williamson with Here Come The Vikings. While each album sold well, it seemed that Astrid Williamson was destined to be forever a singer that flew under the musical radar. That was unless she signed to a major. Sadly, that was beginning to seem unlikely. Either that, or Astrid Williamson changed direction musically.
After four albums where Astrid Williamson carved a niche combining pop and alt rock, a performance at the 2010 Brighton Festival saw the Shetland born singer change direction musically.
This came about when Astrid saw Leo Abrahams perform as part of Brian Eno’s Pure Scenius project at the 2010 Brighton Festival. She was captivated by the former Roxy Music guitarist’s performance. From that moment on, Astrid knew she had to work with Leo.
So, Astrid sent the first of dozens of demos to Leo Abrahams. Eventually, he relented and agreed to work with Astrid. The result was Astrid Williamson’s fifth album Pulse.
Pulse featured ten tracks penned by Astrid Williamson. These soundscapes were produced by Astrid Williamson and Leo Abrahams. The result was Pulse, where Astrid Williamson changes direction musically, a genre-melting album. It was released in 2011, a year after Astrid met Leo.
When critics heard Pulse, they were impressed by Astrid Williamson’s “new sound.” It was variously ethereal, eerie, haunting, intimate, lush, mesmeric and spacey. Elements of ambient, dream pop, electronica, folk, shoe gaze and techno are combined over ten tracks. While it was very different to Astrid Williamson’s previous albums, it oozed quality and introduced her music to a new audience on its release in 2011. However, since then, Astrid Williamson’s loyal fan-base have wondered what direction her next album will take? Will it feature the old or new Astrid Williamson? After four years of waiting, We Go To Dream, was recently released licensed to One Little Indian who released Astrid Williamson’s sixth album.
We Go To Dream.
Four years after the release of Pulse, Astrid Williamson made a very welcome return with We Go To Dream. It features eleven new tracks. Each of these tracks were penned by Astrid Williamson. She recorded these tracks with a small, but talented band.
Given that Astrid Williamson is almost a one-woman band, she doesn’t need to bring onboard many musicians. Astrid plays autoharp, fiddle, guitars, piano, Rhodes Piano, synths and adds vocals. She also arranges strings. The rhythm section features drummer Christian Parsons, bassist Richard Yale and Steve Parker on electric guitar. James Orr takes care of drum programming, and plays synths and keyboard Jamie Orr. Violinist Cye Woods makes a guest appearance on Vermillion, a beautiful ballad. It’s one of the We Go To Dream’s many highlights, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening We Go To Dream is the title-track. It showcases Astrid Williamson’s “new sound.” A myriad of beeps and squeaks are joined by slow, pounding, mesmeric beats and a slow, wistful piano. They set the scene for Astrid’s tender, breathy vocal. It’s joined by strings. As they sweep, a bass probes and a roll or drums are added. Astrid’s phrasing is slow and deliberate as if she’s considering every word. Her vocal is multi-tracked, so she adds spacey harmonies. By then the arrangement has grown, and has become a beautiful, dreamy soundscape featuring the new Astrid Williamson.
A buzzing bass synth is joined by beeps and squeaks on Loaded Like a Gun. Soon, an eerie vocal is sung through a vocoder. It’s aided and abetted by thunderous beats. They accompany Astrid as she heads for the dance-floor. Soon, Astrid becomes a dance-floor diva. Synths, keyboards and beats are combined. Add to this, a healthy supply of poppy hooks and Astrid’s cerebral lyrics. Her lyrics chastise violence and false prophets, as a dance-floor anthem unfolds. This is an anthem with a difference, as the lyrics have a substance, something lacking in most dance music.
Washes of spacey synths shimmer into the distance on Hide In Your Heart. They’re soon joined by broken beat drums, keyboards and waves of lysergic, space-age synths. They provide the perfect backdrop for the haunting beauty of Astrid’s dreamy vocal. Later, snarling synth are added to the broken beat drums. One thing stays the same…the quality of Astrid’s vocal as she sings: “I just wanna hide, hide in your heart, we should be together.” Seamlessly, disparate musical genres, including broken beat, dream pop and electronica combine as Astrid Williamson showcases her versatility.
There’s another change of direction on Vermillion, a truly beautiful ballad. It features Astrid delivering a heartfelt, breathy vocal. She’s accompanied by an autoharp, piano, guitar and Rhodes Piano. They’re all played by Astrid. The only other musician to feature on Vermillion is violinist Cye Woods. She adds beautiful, haunting strings. They prove to be the perfect foil for Astrid. So does the autoharp and harmonies. Each of these instruments play their part in what’s without one of the highlights of We Go To Dream. I’ll go much further, and say that Vermillion is one of the most heartachingly beautiful songs Astrid has recorded during her seventeen year recording career.
Big, bold, spacey beats are joined by otherworldly synths on Ambienza. They’re soon joined by a dreamy, ethereal vocal from Astrid. It floats in and out of the arrangement. So do spacey keyboards. Reverb is added, creating the spacey sound. The reverb is also added to Astrid’s vocal, giving a similar spacey sound. It’s cocooned amidst washes of synths, while the mesmeric beats and keyboards add to Ambienza’s ambient, lysergic and dreamy sound.
It seems with each track, Astrid Williamson changes direction. This shows how versatile she is. Scattered however, features Astrid at her best. It’s a piano lead ballad with some of the best lyrics on We Go To Dream. They’re about being unable to escape the “control” of an unhealthy relationship. As Astrid sings: “I wish I was braver, I wash I were wise, but my heart still turns over, when I look in your eyes.” They’re part of a captivating, thoughtful song; one that made all the better for the understated arrangement. It allows Astrid’s vocal to take centre-stage, and the listener to focus on the lyrics. Their among the best Astrid has ever written. She seems to be maturing as a songwriter with every album.
Say Goodbye sees Astrid head to the dance-floor again. This is a song that sounds as if it was recorded in Munich, by Giorgio Moroder. Drums take the tempo to 124 beats per minute. This is dance-floor friendly. Synths, keyboards and bass are added. They provide the backdrop for Astrid as she metamorphoses into a dance-floor diva. She jumps on what’s like a musical roller coaster. There’s occasional rises and falls in the tempo. The best example is at the end, where the arrangement is stripped bare, leaving just keyboards and Astrid’s pensive vocal. Not only is Say Goodbye dance-floor friendly, but ripe for a remix.
Against a haunting, minimalist arrangement, Captured begins to unfold. Astrid scats before a piano plays slowly and poignantly. Soon, beats are added and a fiddle. It adds an atmospheric sound. By then, Astrid is adding an impassioned, hopeful vocal, singing: “set me free.” She does this against an arrangement that’s atmospheric, haunting and spacey. Just like Say Goodbye, Captured could be remixed and transformed into something even Astrid never imagined.
Synths almost tick as Astrid delivers an ethereal vocal Home. Soon, a curveball is added. Thunderous beats are added. So are strings and keyboards. By then, Astrid’s vocal is a scat, before being swept away atop the choppy keyboards and pounding beats. She’s singing: “take me home again, wrap me up again, take me home again.” As Astrid sings hopefully, strings sweep urgently and another uplifting and dance-floor friendly anthem unfolds.
My Beautiful Muse is very different from Home. It’s a thoughtful ballad, where electronica, folk and pop combines. The lyrics are quite beautiful. Especially the poignancy of: “standing there in your cast of dress, don’t ever think that you are less, cause falling in love, is not something that can be bought.” Astrid delivers the lyrics against a melancholy arrangement. Drums are to the fore, while swells of strings also play a leading role. Augmenting the drums and strings are electric guitars and keyboards. They frame Astrid’s heartfelt, sage like vocal.
Closing We Go To Dream is Saint Saviour. It’s a thoughtful, piano lead ballad. It’s built around the lyrics: “oh Saint Saviour, what do you know? won’t you take me now, or will you let me go.” Poignant, thoughtful, wistful and ultimately beautiful, it’s the perfect way to close We Go To Dream.
It’’s always risky leaving four years between albums. There’s the possibility that the artist will be forgotten about. While that’s happened to many up-and-coming bands, it wasn’t going to happen to Astrid Williamson. She had just reinvented herself with Pulse, her fifth album, released in 2011.
Pulse was the most eclectic album of Astrid Williamson’s career. Everything from ambient, dream pop, electronica, folk, shoe gaze and techno were combined by Astrid Williamson. She takes this even further on We Go To Dream. It’s without doubt, the most eclectic album of Astrid Williamson’s six album career.
From the opening bars We Go To Dream, right through to the closing notes of Saint Saviour, Astrid Williamson combines a disparate and eclectic selection of musical genres. There’s the folk, pop and rock or Astrid’s first four albums. However, there’s diversions via ambient, broken beat, dream pop, Euro disco, electronica, house and even a hint of psychedelia. There’s something for everyone.
For DJs and dancers, there’s anthems like Loaded Like a Gun, Say Goodbye and Home. Then there’s the ambient sound of We Go To Dream, Ambienza and Captured. Captured has a haunting sound, while Hide In Your Heart is best described as dreamy. However, Astrid Williamson comes into her own on We Go To Dream’s ballads. Vermillion, Scattered My Beautiful Muse and Saint Saviour features Astrid Williamson at her very best, not just as a vocalist, but as a songwriter. She’s come a long way since Boy For You.
When Astrid Williamson released Boy For You, she was just twenty-seven. Boy was released to critical acclaim in 1998, and showcased the ethereal beauty of Astrid Williamson’s vocal. Back then, it was obvious that Astrid Williamson was a hugely talented singer-songwriter. Many critics thought that it was only a matter of time before commercial success came Astrid Williamson’s way.
While Astrid Williamson has enjoyed a degree of success, she’s never reached the heady heights her considerable talents deserve. If talent equated to commercial success, then Astrid Williamson would be chart-topper. She’s a talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. However, that’s not the way the music industry works.
The widespread commercial success that Astrid Williamson deserves has so far, eluded her. That’s why Astrid Williamson decided to reinvent herself on Pulse. Astrid Williamson continues that reinvention on We Go To Dream. It’s without doubt, the most eclectic album of Astrid Williamson’s career.
So much so, that We Go To Dream is a magical mystery tour through musical genres. Seamlessly, Astrid Williamson flits between and fuses disparate musical genres on We Go To Dream. Effortlessly, Astrid Williamson squares the musical circle on We Go To Dream, which features something for everyone. We Go To Dream is also one of the best albums of 2015, and features the welcome return of Astrid Williamson, the Shetland born chanteuse with the ethereal voice.
ASTRID WILLIAMSON-WE GO TO DREAM.