Imagine finding shelter in a cave, right before a heavy storm. You enter a completely new and extraordinary micro-universe of sounds and atmosphere. You feel safe and curious about the mysterious space. That’s the impression I had while listening to Hannah Schneider‘s solo album “Ocean Letters”.
As she says, “Ocean Letters” feels like her first solo album – even though it actually is not. With this record, she opened the door to a completely different musical self.
“Just before the pandemic hit, I picked up a book at my local bookstore. It was a beautiful little illustrated piece called Havbrevene (The Sea Letters) by the fantastic Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen – a letter correspondence between the sisters The Atlantic Ocean and The Mediterranean Sea. Then the world as we know it closed down, and I was left alone with my thoughts (…). I started reading Havbrevene, and a new world opened up in my mind. A world where the earliest and smallest creatures back from the earth’s beginning met the existential worries, hopes and dreams of the modern world we live in. (…) Even though it seemed like we were at a crucial moment in history, I suddenly felt that we were all just a part of the long haul. On that note, this album came to life,” she said about the recording of “Ocean Letters”.
The album opens with the deeply touching piano-based “We Will Be the Only Sound in the World”. The song is extremely minimalistic in its form. Still, it has the great power of pinning the listener to the chair, waiting for more to come. It truly feels, from the very first note of the album, as if these songs were the only sound in the world. No wonder it was already part of our Advent Calendar of 2021.
Exploring complex little worlds
“Ocean Letters” LP is full of songs that have a lean structure. Yet they create an intense listening experience. Rich, complex little worlds of their own. You can explore them over and over again and always find something new. Like in “It’s The Season”, which has an amazing flow, almost teasing towards R’n’B. Not something you’d expect on an album that’s at its core an acoustic, piano-driven one.
Hannah Schneider dives into each song as if it was an endless ocean. Full of mysterious reefs and undiscovered depths. You can hear in each composition, that she is a relentless explorer. She doesn’t rush anywhere and wants to examine each note, each vibration of the vocals. Such attention to every detail gives the listener an extraordinary chance to uncover many surprising elements of the songs.
There are songs that take us deep down into the ocean. While others, like “Outside Of Time”, feel like taking a deep breath after emerging from the water. No matter what is the specific vibe, Hannah Schneider’s “Ocean Letters” as a whole creates an atmosphere of stillness. You can almost touch the time that has stopped. “The world’s gone still now, I hear you better now,” Hannah Schneider sings in one of the songs (don’t miss the music video to “The World’s Gone Still Now”). We can hear in each composition that she really took the time to listen while recording these songs. This isn’t an album created in a rush, in between doing million other things in life. “Ocean Letters” gives the sense of hitting a pause on the progress of time. A sense of a world on pause.
Viking sailors and great ocean depths
In between the contemporary compositions you can hear Hannah Schneider referencing to folk and subtle maritime themes. Like in “Sinking Shores”, which made me think of Viking sailors. Sailors on a journey into the unknown, leaving their homes and loved ones behind. “Ocean Letters” goes through time and space. It can make you imagine the depths of the ocean and ancient heroes’ stories. It can direct your thoughts towards the cosmos, as well as towards your childhood home. The power and beauty of this record are creating a safe space for the listener to go wherever they need to go at a moment. It is a gift to make a record that is able to capture undivided attention each time it is played.
Hannah Schneider was able to lock so much complex emotion in unpretentious compositions on “Ocean Letters”. She speaks softly, yet her powerful message comes through: Do your best during your short stay on this earth, try to notice the beauty and complexity of it. And remember, we are not more than a blink of an eye in the long history of this universe. It has been here long before us, it will be here long after our end. That can be a comforting thought in these uncertain times.