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Apus is the debut album from Betty Lenard. It takes its name from a constellation that is visible in the southern hemisphere that represents the bird of paradise. So the album is a journey away from the familiar, and into an exotic place. The first and last songs on the album make clear the nature of this journey. Apus opens with Drain a Cup, where the protagonist has a nice cup of tea before heading off to bed, and beginning to dream. Sleep, which closes the album, takes its protagonist through the dream state into the waking state in the morning. So I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that Apus is a journey through an unsettled night of vivid dreams.
The narrator finds herself in a state of uncertainty about a love relationship. So the dreams reflect her hopes and fears. Some are the kind where the dreamer is the main character, while in others, the dreamer merely observes the story. The music is a mix of electronic and programmed parts and organic instruments processed electronically. The songs often start without a regular beat, build to a consistent groove, and then fall apart, only to recombine in new ways. So you can never be sure which instruments are real and which are not, and the emotions are so powerful that they tend to be unstable. Haven’t we all had nights of dreams like that? Betty Lenard sings in a high soprano that is full of emotion, and she also provides overdubbed background vocals. So she is in control of putting over most of the emotion here, and she makes it work beautifully. Lenard also has excellent dynamic control, and she can alter her tone in more ways than most singers. All of this serves the songs.
Lenard is not a wordy writer. She leaves holes in her narratives, just as you would experience in a dream. They make sense while you are asleep, but tend to whither in daylight. Writing songs this way means risking leaving your listener frustrated, but Lenard never has that problem. Soldier is one of the songs where the dreamer is an observer. Here is, literally, a soldier who is weary of war and ready to lay down their arms. Metaphorically, here is a person who has viewed relationships as battles to be won, and has come to the realization that all of these victories aren’t bringing happiness. The song works beautifully on both levels. In Risky Girl, there is a tension between the dreamer and the subject of the dream. At first, the dreamer seems to be just an observer, but it becomes clear that the actions of the “risky girl” also have a direct effect on the narrator. It is never clear what the relationship is between the two, but the emotions come through loud and clear. Dancer uses the movements of the human body as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of a relationship. In Engrave, the Norse winter goddess Skadi has built a fortress of ice which imprisons the protagonist’s feelings. The narrator encourages her to break out, and set her emotions free.
Taken as a whole, Apus is a musical dreamscape. The words reflect a state of emotional flux, and the uncertainty that goes with it. Betty Lenard puts it all together beautifully. Apus is both fascinating and moving. Lenard’s next album may be a further journey into dreams, or it may take place in the waking world. I don’t know which it will be, but I am eager to find out.
Betty Lenard: Soldier
Betty Lenard: Engrave