Unlike her 2018 debut, the London-based Dutch singer-songwriter’s second album, Cleaned The Windows, is all original material, and also two tracks longer, van Essen accompanying herself on Spanish guitar and/or piano with various contributors proving additional instrumentation along the way.
It opens with the strummed slow waltzing, sad piano ‘Two Strangers’, a musing on a relationship’s premature fading with separation (“Will love die when it’s only just begun…And did you tell me not to wait, dear/Unmoving like a tree in spells of rain”), a theme continued in the more uptempo ‘I Waved, You Waved’ (“weeks have passed and I don’t know you/Anymore/Can’t you see that we are through…I asked for secrets, you gave me your doubts/And they weigh me down”). The downbeat tenor persists with the guitar and keys-backed ‘Spelling Lonely’ (“Let me tell you how to spell lonely/It’s spelled just how it sounds/Weeks of no real conversation/Of words rarely found”) with its musical hints of ‘Jealous Guy’ and, guessingly related to when she first moved to London, that sense of trying to find ways to pass the time, adding an autobiographical note as she sings “If your surname starts with van/Work three jobs, keeping nonchalant/Keep as busy as you can”.
Staying introspective and with perhaps a hint of Cohen , the slowly swaying fingerpicked folksy, fluttering piano and strings-coloured Americana of ‘23/32’ opens with how “Two years ago when i was 23/I looked to the future but I couldn’t see it” and proceeds to ponder on growing older (“People in their twenties wondering if they’re happy/People in their thirties having therapy/At 40 you’ll be free/At 48 maybe”) before ending on the positive but pregnantly open note of “at 32 I fell in love with you”.
In reviewing her first album, I drew comparisons with Kate McGarrigle and they are equally apposite here on the beguiling melancholia of ‘For The Singing’, a song about loss and grieving (“You’ve gone to a place we can’t follow, you’ve left us for/The playground and for the singing…And every day we think of you”) that embraces clarinet and euphonium into its palette. Loss can give way to new beginnings, which seems to underpin the bittersweet circling guitar pattern of ‘A New June’ that balances the sadness captured in the quilting imagery of “and all the things that were said/I’ve sewn into the bed spread/Each stitch a word but in three weeks/ I will have reached the border” with the coming of a new spring and, from there to the simple acoustic fingerpicked notes of the tenderly sketched ‘In The Morning’ (“In the morning at the kitchen table/I study the pattern on a china cup/Stem, node, shoot, bud, petal, leaf/I’m spilling coffee on the table top/Today I would write to you/If only I had words to use”) where, once more, initially negative notes are supplanted with a positive sense of release (“yesterday I woke in my bed/To the sound of birds’ wings clapping overhead/My heart cries louder than the seagull…The river carries water to the sea/The birds carry my words”).
She sustains that theme of waiting for things to return to life as the album works towards its end, first with the lilting gentle sway of ‘Count the Days’ (“In the winter months you crave the sun/And count the days till May begins/You wait for warmer days”) and the promise of better things. On the circular guitar patterns, cascading scales and soaring vocal notes of ‘The Sun Moves Around’, from whence the album title comes, it follows the seasons of life and the warming of the sun in the company of faces found, its observation that words too are gold echoed in the echoey piano tinkled ‘Words’ where they are also “like cool clear streams of water” on a song that feels like a quiet acceptance of time passing and letting your thoughts be clouds in a low hanging sky as Rachel Finegan’s trumpet brings a burnished warmth to the final notes.
Earlier, looking back to childhood dreams of the world ahead, she asks her younger self, “will you still write songs and will you be strong”. I would say the album offers a very reassuring yes.
Artist’s website: www.gerivanessen.com
‘In The Morning’ – official video: