On the last Friday in September, Aurora Aksnes (releasing music under the name AURORA) surprise released her sophomore album, Infections of a Different Kind (Step 1). The album consists of only 8 songs, with the promise of a “Step 2” to be released at a later date. As to why the young Norwegian songstress chose to suddenly drop the album she stated, “Now is the time everyone needs a good surprise.” And what a surprise it is.
Despite the somewhat shorter playtime, Infections is a behemoth of an album; encompassing a unique musical and thematic landscape that includes tribal chimes, layered synths, and a live 32-man choir. The lyrical content of the album deals with dense topics such as loss, revenge, love, God, acceptance, and what it means to be human. It could seem like this young artist bit off more than she could chew with the concepts on this album, but Aksnes elegantly manages to craft intelligent songwriting displayed by her crystalline voice that somehow manages to capture childlike wonder and infinite wisdom all in one breath. Each track deals with the complicated emotions we all feel but can’t name, and attempts to give them a voice; “Forgotten Love” tries to find the peace and acceptance amidst loss, while “All is Soft Inside” violently exudes what it means to feel too much.
The intense production of her first album, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, felt like a glacial wall of sound that often overpowered her voice. The production of Infections however, while still heavy, feels more contained and deliberate. Aksnes had a much larger hand this time with the production process, and it shows. There’s a sophistication with the sound on the album that makes it clear the Norwegian native has matured quite quickly and is now more comfortable in her element.
Songs like “Queendom” and “Churchyard” are more structured and easily accessible pop songs, with the latter consisting of a sinister beat that can easily get trapped in your head. But while both are solid tracks, they can feel a bit too simple and pale in comparison to the rest of the album where the line between pop and experimental gets a bit hazy. Songs such as “Gentle Earthquakes” and “Soft Universe” pull you in with their unique textures and layered vocals. On “Forgotten Love,” Aksnes croons confidently in the aftermath of loss; ‘I release my body/And there is no ghost of you inside/I am moving on/And thank God you let me try.’ And perhaps the most intense song on the album, “All is Soft Inside,” manages to craft soft, vulnerable words around dark rhythms and violent pulses, and breaks into the final chorus with a soaring howl set above the beat of tribal drums.
The album ends with the title track; a stark contrast from the songs before it. Featuring only her voice, a piano, and minimal production, “Infections of a Different Kind” contemplates God and what it means to be human. After spending 30 minutes wrestling with complex emotions via music that makes you want to perform ritualistic dances in a fairy-lit jungle, Aksnes finally sits down and cries, ‘I beg, I beg to be drained/From the pain I’ve soaked myself in/So I can stay okay/And more than okay for a while,’ finally offering a chance to heal.