The Lonely Cry of Space and Time, a stunning new album by musical shape-shifter Anna Coogan, is for those unafraid to steep themselves in heart-wrenching honesty and to contemplate our place in the universe. She sings about the rising oceans, seeking other worlds, collateral damage, and how we sink or swim together.
An anxious darkness that has followed Coogan throughout her life is reflected in her powerful guitar playing, balanced with hope, light and beauty in operatic interludes and optimistic lyrics. On the title track, she celebrates one of the more hopeful news stories of 2016—the detection of gravitational waves:
The rolling waves receding from
The darkest star still reeling from
The dawn of time, the dark begets the light…
So here we are, we’re listening
The Lonely Cry of Space of Time is the result of a spirited and longtime collaboration between Anna Coogan and drummer Willie B (Brian Wilson). Wilson has toured with Neko Case, Jamie Lidell, and Johnny Dowd, among others. He merges ferocious energy with a deft touch that pushes Coogan to the outer edges of her musical creativity.
After composing several original scores for historic silent films in their hometown of Ithaca, NY, the duo began layering operatic vocals and ethereal guitar over aggressive drums and synthesizers—moving into uncharted waters that blur the lines between opera, film noir, and rock. Their live performances have been described as “enthralling, beguiling” by the Rheinische Post (Dusseldorf) and simply, that they “blew away the crowd” by thterrortime.com.
Coogan’s edgy and engaging live performances have been hailed as a “festival highlight” by The Times of London and “glorious” by Glasgow Metro. Boston born and classically trained in Austria, she spent her twenties in Seattle, busking among fishmongers in Pike Place Market before filling larger venues in the region. Her music has been featured on ABC TV, KEXP, the BBC, RTE 1 (Irish National Radio), and WDR 4 (Cologne, Germany). After her move to New York state in 2011, she co-wrote and toured a record with JD Foster (Calexico, Patty Griffin), and joined Americana-punk veteran Johnny Dowd on recent albums in addition to live performances at Lincoln Center and throughout Europe.
Anna Coogan and Willie B will release The Lonely Cry of Space and Time on April 28, 2017.
LONG FORM BIO
“So here we are/We’re listening… Won’t you show me other worlds, please?” The Lonely Cry of Space & Time
Anna Coogan has been preparing for this moment her whole life, ever since she was a girl growing up in Boston, MA, influenced by her classical opera training and her father’s protest albums by Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. After several efforts with her Pacific Northwest-based alt-country band north 19, a pair of well-received indie solo releases (2010’s The Nocturnal Among Us and 2012’s The Wasted Ocean) and a collaboration with producer JD Foster (2014’s Birth of the Stars), Coogan’s latest, The Lonely Cry of Space & Time, is a stylistic breakthrough.
The album, a virtual two-person effort which features Willie B (Brian Wilson) on drums and Moog bass, combines Coogan’s three-octave soprano vocals, electric guitar soundscapes and pointed social commentary into a fierce cohesive piece which combines the personal and the political, in a musical hybrid of rock, country, pop and classical opera into a unique whole. Her new direction was born from her series of performances in her adopted hometown of Ithaca, NY, in which Anna and Willie B created live musical accompaniments for vintage silent films.
The title track for the album – with its praise for scientific reason and rationality and its intimations of extraterrestrial life – was originally composed to accompany Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov’s campy 1929 Aelita, Queen of Mars, which likened an alien invasion to the Russian Revolution. The inspiration was the discovery of gravitational waves by a group of researchers, with an actual audio sample included at the very end. “I’m optimistic whenever there’s a news story that doesn’t involve death and destruction,” says Anna, revealing that one of her relatives was part of the team that unearthed the sounds.
Two of the disc’s goth set pieces, “If You Were the Sun” and “A Wedding Vow,” evoke a childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme, both created to accompany French director Jean Epstein’s grisly 1928 horror film, La Chute De La Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher), the latter playing over a scene in which an unlucky bride is buried alive.
Anna explains that much of the apocalypse-now-fueled The Lonely Cry of Space & Time was written and recorded during the run-up to the historic 2016 election, a reaction to such hot-button topics as inflammatory campaign rhetoric (“Collateral”), the implicit threats to immigration (“Wishing Well”), the environment (the title track) and Middle East unrest (the first single, “Burn for You”).
A distinct stylistic change from her previous work, Coogan explains her shift from the acoustic Americana of her past to the jangly, electronic buzz of the new album could be described as her “Judas moment.” As a guitarist, think of her rubbery, pneumatic, wah-wah sound like a combination of PJ Harvey, Courtney Barnett and her personal favorites, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot.
“The music I’m making with Willie is pretty different that my older work,” she says. “I felt I had reached an end point in what I’d been doing, at least for now.”
Just as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On were steeped in the tumultuous ‘60s, Anna Coogan’s The Lonely Cry of Space & Time is inextricably linked to the flammable present. The more accessible songs, like the girl-group “Sylvia,” a nod to poet Sylvia Plath, the new wave dance-pop of “Meteor” and the blues-country ballad “Follow Me” (co-written with JD Foster and Willie B) are intensely personal. Still, other tracks, such as “Collateral” (with its plea not to be typed or controlled by inflammatory words), “Burn for You” (an “apocalyptic lullaby” in which she describes “the brushfires of empire burn”) and “Wishing Well” (a pro-immigration plea which insists, “If they throw wide the gates, if they slam the doors/Keep on swimming until you find the shore”), all deal with how political issues affect the individual.
There have been many attempts at rock opera in the past, but The Lonely Cry of Space & Time is something different. Call it operatic rock, a genre previously explored by the likes of Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, Lene Lovich, Yoko Ono and Freddie Mercury, among others. Coogan studied opera at the prestigious Mozarteum University of Salzburg in Austria, before moving to Seattle, where she worked as a fisheries biologist in Washington State and Alaska, which goes a long way to explaining her frequent use of water as a metaphor. In fact, a drought in the Finger Lakes region of New York where she lived in part was a factor in the immediacy she brought to the new album.
A true independent, Anna releases her own albums and books her own tours, which have taken her all over the world, including international festivals like the Blue Ball in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Maverick in Suffolk, U.K., as well as the Glasgow Americana Festival and Celtic Connections in Scotland. She has also played extensively in Germany and the Netherlands, and toured as a member of the Johnny Dowd Band.
“Oh let the oceans rise/To the shining skies,” she sings. “I will burn for you.”
On The Lonely Cry of Space & Time, Anna Coogan does just that, providing a shiny ray of hope for a world seemingly bent on self-destruction, deftly weaving the personal and political into a yin-yang hybrid.
“I think the two have been intertwined in me for a long time, since I was a kid” she observes. “And these days, I don’t feel as alone in my perception of current events.”
And now, neither do we.