Dreams Versus Reality: Oh Land Returns with Wishbone

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Danish singer/songwriter Nanna Oland Fabricus, better known as Oh Land, returns this month with her third studio album, Wishbone. Her previous album, the self-titled Oh Land was made up of dreamy tunes and lyrics that explored fantastical worlds. “White Nights” and “Sun of a Gun,” two of the most recognizable tracks from that album, easily conform to the fairy-tale quality that pervaded it. However,Wishbone alternatively presents itself as an album of contrasts, particularly between the immortality of dreams versus the ephemeral lives of man. First off, Wishbone sonically reflects this idea of contrasts, with its skimpy instrumentals in sync with lush vocals. The title of the album itself is a contrast, too: a wish is a very abstract concept that only exists in our minds and manifests mentally, whereas a bone is an internal and very concrete body part that builds us physically. Nanna explains, “In the end we are all just bones and meat, and we will all turn into dust, but our wishes, souls, thoughts and dreams and all of that just continue to float around. This album is about that kind of juxtaposition.”

The album opens with the eerily dreamlike track, “Bird In An Aeroplane” that immediately reflects the theme of contrasts that Oh Land has designated for this album. It begins with hollow space-like sounds, reminiscent of other alternative artists like Alt-J or Santigold, but is soon infused with Nanna’s airy voice. As the title of the song suggests, Nanna’s lyrics create a comparison between herself and “a bird in an airplane” – a clear contrast between the natural flight of a bird and the machine aviation made possible by man. However, the bird being insidethe airplane implies the feeling of being trapped, perhaps limited. The song speaks to this, the pre-chorus goes, “Every machine has a promise to break, Stuck in a dream that I cannot escape.”  Also, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the sounds of machine gears grinding in the background. Perhaps, Nanna is trying to impart a message regarding the rapid pace at which technology (and in that sense, our lives) is developing. She sings, “We’re flying over mountains higher every day, I’m trying to keep up…While you are gaining height I’m fading into grey, and away…” This too speaks to another contrast: when the entire world is in such a hurry to progress, what happens to those of us who want to slow down? Regardless, when listening to this tune, you may just find yourself absent-mindedly swaying back and forth – the catchy beat along with hypnotizing lyrics and vocals will quickly pull you into the rest of the album.

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The third track on Wishbone, titled “Cherry on Top,” is a charming yet melancholy tune about growing up, and it’s also my personal favorite. The first lyrics depict a “small boy, big teeth, going in for a bite.” In just a few seconds, though, it moves to “now the champagne’s raining on your window, and you’re all alone.” Already, it’s easy for listeners, particularly college students like us, to begin contemplating the status of their lives: what are we doing? Where are we headed? Countless thoughts can branch from these two questions alone. Nanna brings us back to reality in the chorus, with a sweet reminder that insatiability isn’t always the best: “You can have it all but you’ll never stop, ‘cause all you ever want is the cherry on top. And all you’ve ever dreamed of, it ain’t enough, You’ll never fill that hole with the cherry on top.” In between the chorus and the verses too, she adds a melodic series of “slow down’s.”  All of these lyrics are laid over a lovely piano melody; it’s rustic in a sense, but a "synthy" percussion is still discernible, creating yet another contrast between old and new. In the final verse, it’s hard not to get chills at Nanna’s delicate voice singing powerful lyrics that provoke what they speak: forcing us to become “trapped in your [our] thoughts.”  When we’re at a point in our lives where it seems like all we can do is work for our future, Oh Land brings us back to savor the present. Nanna reflects on this directly in an interview regarding Wishbone as a whole album, stating “I wanted to make music that reflected the life that I live right now and the person that I am right now, rather than the person that I aspire to be and the life that I dream to live. I felt like I was in such a chaotic place that I wanted the songs to witness that—instead of retouching it.”

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The album nears its end with a hauntingly beautiful ballad, titled “Love You Better.” Little besides Nanna’s gentle voice constitutes this piece; there’re a simple melody strummed along on an acoustic guitar, soulful harmonies, but in its entirety “Love You Better” glides like a lullaby.  The lyrics keep a relatively consistent pattern, corresponding with the poetic quality of this song. As for what the lyrics say, they narrate a moment, in which one wants to give someone something, but isn’t quite ready yet. This moment is most beautifully depicted in the third and fifth verses, or stanzas perhaps. These two sections of the song stand out as they stray from the usual pattern of the other verses and they reverberate with gorgeous imagery. “When the moon is just a scar of light, And the sky, a purple bruise, I will wait here in the window, ‘Til you come back again, I will love you better then” gives just a hint of what this intriguing ballad embodies. When asked about “Love You Better,” Nanna says, “It’s a song that fast-forwards a bit…It says, at some point I’ll be able to give you this. I know that I can’t now but this is how I want it to be and I’m sorry that it can’t be like that now. I will do everything better when I get older.” “Love You Better” is an enchanting song, achieving its goal as the penultimate track of holding the audiences’ attention through to the end of the album.
While I’ve only discussed three of the tracks off Wishbone, you need to listen to the entire album to truly understand its magic. It can be purchased on iTunes, or you can stream it for free on Spotify or New York Times’ Press Play. Be sure to leave us with your thoughts below!
What We ThinkLaura Yoo