Album Review: Annalibera — OPIA

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In her interview with the Pants-Off Podcast, Anna Gebhardt discussed the difficulty of coming up with a succinct genre for her band Annalibera. “I was going for a sound that would combine sort of where I came from with what I like to listen to: I like experimental music, I like electronic music, I like classical music and I like rock — you know, like just rock and roll. I came from Nebraska where I grew up listening to my mom’s country music station. So, I was trying to combine all of that into some loud music.”

Listening to the new album, OPIA, from the Des Moines-based band, her list of influences are all accounted for and slathered up in cavernous reverb, which gives the album a hazy vibe. There’s a lot for a fan of dreamy, shoegaze pop here, but the album is much more than that. Gebhardt left the farm to pursue voice and choral studies at Drake University in Des Moines, which paid in spades; her vocals are the centerpiece here, displaying incredible range and variety. She sings in an intoxicating lilting soubrette soprano (think Tori Amos, Kate Bush or even Linda Ronstadt) on songs like “Plants and Lamps, “ER” and “Easter Love.”

All is not ethereal emoting here, however. Track three, “Tequila,” which clocks in at a commercial-break length of 1:05, has tick-tock syncopation propelling squonky guitars and circular bass. Gebhardt gives a hungover tribute to the titular liquid: “We need sunshine! In our blood!” The track is probably meant as a goof, but I would have liked more of it. Pass the lime and salt, please.

While the rest of the music serves to support and complement Gebhardt, it’s more than drapes and wallpaper for these walls of sound. Ryan Stier (who also performs as Extravision) brings the guitar textures to the record. His layered, distorted guitars on “Fourway” and the title track make them sound like they could have dropped off of a Jesus and Mary Chain album. Gebhart sings through a haze of distortion climaxing at the choruses. Her voice pierces the fog like the headlights of an oncoming car: unexpected and illuminating.

In the same podcast interview, Gebhardt revealed the source of the band’s name: the title of a 20th century Italian classical work which translates to “Free Anna.” This idea is exemplified on OPIA. Anna Gebhardt freely goes from song to song and the band faithfully follows, making this album an exciting, engaging listen from beginning to end — an album I can’t stop talking about.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 246.

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