Denver, Colorado R&B/neo-soul artist Anna Orsborn, who records and performs under the mononym Annabelle, is kicking off 2020 right. In the two weeks since her full-length album, XI:XI, was released, it has been continually well-received among various musical outlets and streaming sites. Prior to that, Annabelle achieved initial success with a half-dozen singles and an EP, Mood on the Moon, over a two-and-a-half-year span. Now, she strives to be in the best shape as her career prospects are further realized.
Indicative of her present milestone, the album’s title is 11:11 written in roman numerals, which, according to Annabelle, represents everything being in the right place. Its opener, “Glass,” is equally expansive as it is dreamy, with her vocals making a natural transition into the instrumentation. On the surface, I’d consider her vocal tone akin to the common wave of modern pop that characterized the earlier part of the previous decade, but it does manage to blend distinctly in terms in terms of the surrounding involvement. Both this song, as well as the track to follow, “Come Correct,” share a cohesive theme of perseverance, and utilize the space around the tracks to showcase the effectiveness of the beats individually. That level of synchronicity continues through the next few tracks, “Mother Nature” and “Won’t Go Back,” and further carries a message of staying grounded amidst burgeoning success. I appreciated how the latter track incorporates Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1, as it still emits some distinction while also switching up the pace of the album.
From the latter half of the album, there seems to be a shift in thematic perspective, from that of one’s career to their outlook on relationships. While “Playin’ Fair” deals with the ethics involved in playing the field, the following track, “No Promises” states that even if some relationship were to subsequently come about, its consistency is not guaranteed. At this point, there is also a shift toward a looser, throwback-oriented R&B sound. The vibe dials back a bit further on in favor of emphasizing Annabelle’s vocal tonality, which also excels competently in a hip hop style just as well. By the final track, “War Child,” Annabelle’s thematic leanings come full-circle, as they put her career approach in summation – to achieve all she can while conquering sporadic bouts of doubt in the process. Once again, this is another song that I can especially appreciate instrumentally, as it focuses on a rather interesting textural, guitar-laden foundation that wraps up everything, even with the track’s short length.
Overall, XI:XI demonstrates that Annabelle has chosen her path wisely. Each track is filled with authentic soul and relatability, and incorporates a sense of space that is seldom utilized in modern pop music. Full-length territory can be difficult to tackle, particularly after a successful run of shorter releases. However, the consistently solid content on this album, coupled with the positive reception it’s received thus far, are clear indicators that it was a risk well worth having taken.