Album | Anna Tivel – Living Thing

2020 was a year of confusion, heartbreak, and resilience. It was tough, but it was also a time when creativity flourished in new ways. Thus it was with Oregon based songwriter Anna Tivel, who remarks, “I wrote feverishly in the strange chaos of that year, suddenly out of work and attempting to understand the shifting human fabric, the depth of desperation and the overwhelming tenacity of spirit.” 

The result is Living Thing, an album full of life and rhythm, a study of the human condition and what we break down to when our daily routine is stripped back. Due to Covid restrictions, Tivel had no band to record with, so the sonic layers of the album were created in a studio together with her friend and collaborator Shane Leonard.

Living Thing showcases the singer’s gift for examining what it means to be human through the lens of evocative imagery: “Shadows moving on a yellow moon” in ‘Silver Flame’; “the colour of the city/glowing like a halo in the haze” in ‘Bluebird’; Tivel calling for someone to “move the bruise inside me” in ‘Kindness of a Liar’; and “the last note of neon/still melting the ice in the glass” in ‘Altogether Alone’. The musical accompaniment is upbeat, tinged with melancholy, but always offers a glimmer of hope, the promise of a new morning.

The tracks paint a visceral picture we can all relate to, conjuring memories of sitting alone staring out of the window (‘Gold Web’), pondering the great questions of who we are and what is out there (‘Silver Flame’); our lives condensed down into small(er) spaces like vans and rooms, determined to hold onto our past lives; struggling to accept the profound effects of lockdown on our mental health (“the harder you listen, the harder you break/and nobody told you that’s okay”, ‘Real Things’); dreams of a better tomorrow, of wanting to fool ourselves that everything is okay (‘Kindness of a Liar’); and seeking comfort in anything that has remained unchanged, such as the setting and rising of the sun (‘Bluebird’).

In ‘Two Truths’, Tivel reflects on how Covid, as with most struggles, brought out the best and worst in people, and reminds us that darkness and hope can exist side by side; ‘Desperation’ perhaps describes how the pandemic highlighted the social inequalities and flaws of the state, of healthcare, and social care more starkly than before, the music running toward the chorus as the singer seeks to leave today behind; and in ‘Disposable Camera’ and ‘Altogether Alone’, she reminds us to focus on what truly matters, to heal old wounds and seek connection, to remember that though we are alone, we are all alone together.

Living Thing is as much about humanity’s experience of Covid as it is of Anna Tivel’s own personal reflections of that time. We are left, in ‘Gold Web’, to ponder her musical offering whilst the thunderstorm swirls around us. Time to think. Time to remember. Time to breathe.