Luna Rossa is an acoustic project from Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards, best known as members and principle writers of the highly acclaimed Swansea-based rock band Panic Room.
The words “acoustic album” tends to suggest rootsy folk-orientated or heavily stripped-down recordings, but “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies” takes a rather different approach. For much of the album the dominant sounds are Jon Edwards’ expressive grand piano and Anne-Marie Helder’s remarkably versatile voice, supported by strings and sparing use of acoustic guitar. Occasionally you’ll also hear some spidery electric guitar, programmed rhythm tracks, some of Anne-Marie’s flute, and all sorts of other strange instruments.
After an initial drone, opener “The Dark Room” starts with a rolling piano figure accompanying the vocal and gradually adds layers to build into the closest thing the album has to a conventional rock song. The following “Heart on my Sleeve” is a spine-tingly beautiful atmospheric ballad with the string section prominent, and I love the moment towards the end where Anne-Marie uses her voice as a solo instrument with a wordless vocal line while the strings take up what had been the piano line. Then “Mad About You” is a complete change of pace, an uptempo love song based around acoustic guitar and percussion.
Aside from the delicate cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “Book of Love”, all songs are co-written by Anne-Marie and Jon, and quite a few of those songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Panic Room record despite the absence of any crunchy guitars or a rock rhythm section. But I’m also reminded of Jon Lord’s post-Deep Purple classical work, especially on the instrumental “Leaving for the Last Time” with some evocative flute from Anne-Marie. The laid-back improvised feel of “Cloud” recalls the mood of Kate Bush’s “50 Words for Snow”. There are moments recalling Massive Attack at their most song-orientated, especially on the powerful closer “Gasp”, with it’s dramatic piano chords and multi-tracked backing vocal that some might recognise as the intro tape used in Panic Room’s most recent tour.
It’s an extremely varied record; rich and layered in places, sparse and minimalist in others, experimental in some ways yet anchored in melodies that get stuck in your head after just a few listens. This a work that’s pointless even to try and pigeonhole, It’s not really a rock album as such, certainly not prog-rock in the traditional sense, yet with its elements of classical music and touches of electronica it’s progressive in the original meaning of the word. The quality of the songwriting combined with Anne-Marie’s ever amazing voice should appeal strongly to Panic Room’s existing fans, but I can also see this record also having a far wider crossover appeal.
For more information, including how to pre-order the album, visit the Luna Rossa website at www.lunarossa.co