Dorothea Paas Shows That Anything Can Happen on 'Anything Can't Happen'

BY Alex HudsonPublished May 5, 2021

Dorothea Paas could probably write a real banger if she wanted to. That much becomes clear on "Closer to Mine," one of many standout tracks on the Toronto singer-songwriter's entrancing debut album, Anything Can't Happen. After the song's peculiar intro of dissonant chords and start-stop rhythms, the arrangement suddenly coalesces into a surging groove and, momentarily, it seems like it's going to turn into a kraut-punk scorcher. But then, just 10 seconds later, the whole thing breaks down into drifting ambience and distant, operatic coos.

It's an exciting moment that perfectly captures what makes Anything Can't Happen simultaneously familiar yet unpredictable. Paas draws on classic folk and rock influences: the Neil Young-esque groove and Laurel Canyon harmonies at the crescendo of title track "Anything Can't Happen," the pastoral acoustic fingerpicking of "Perfect Love," or the birdsong vocal runs throughout the album.

But even when Paas traverses these familiar folk landscapes, she prefers to take the road less travelled. Her skronky chord voicings and angular rhythms hint at post-hardcore and noise rock, even when they're performed as quiet folk songs. Try to imagine Joni Mitchell fronting Shellac at a coffee shop and you might get some idea of Anything Can't Happen's beautiful tension. Bass on the album is handled by one of the songwriter's many admirers in the Toronto music scenePS I Love You shredder Paul Saulnier, whose fretless fireworks add to the subtle complexity of the minimal instrumentation.

"Frozen Window" is particularly austere, its tense arpeggios crawling along for six minutes. The bare arrangement highlights the poignant beauty of the words, which tumble out in the freeform style of recent Mount Eerie albums: "Sitting on your couch not speaking / I feel you losing interesting in me / I sense the image you had of me shifting / Revealing all of my flaws / Yes I love myself, but like a mother, in spite of it all / It's hard to see myself in a positive light / It's hard to hear the sound of my voice the way it is in my head." Paas has said that her music explores themes of non-romantic love, and while her operatic delivery tends to highlight emotion over enunciation, Anything Can't Happen is peppered with these moments of startling melancholy.

The album finishes with "Running Under My Life," its dreamscape synths evoking Twin Peaks and Blade Runner rather than the usual folk influences. It's not what you'd expect from the finale of a folk songwriter's debut album. It just goes to show that, on Anything Can't Happen, anything can happen.
(Telephone Explosion)

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