March Add of the Month: GREAT DOUBT by Astrid Sonne

text by Ted Coe

21 March, 2024

For November’s add of the month, KCSB’s External Music Director, Bella Genolio (2023-2024), highlights the album Great Doubt by Astrid Sonne

Words by Bella Genolio.

Album cover for GREAT DOUBT. Music by Astrid Sonne. An Escho 2024 release.

Astrid Sonne GREAT DOUBT (Escho 2024)

Great Doubt is the third full length album released by London-based Danish composer and viola player, Astrid Sonne. This album was released on January 26th, 2024 by the independent label Escho, a Danish imprint that has been around since 2005. Sonne’s compositions stray from viola harmonies (which she is professionally trained in) but rather carefully incorporate elements from genres including electronic, singer-songwriter, r&b, dub, and hip-hop to construct soundscapes that uniquely express various themes throughout the album.

The anxiety-inducing second track, “Do You Wanna?” starts off with looping hi-hats and booming bass drum, setting the tone for the question Sonne repeats over and over: “Do you wanna have a baby?” Though Sonne is the one being asked by someone in her life, the construction of this song masterfully forces the listener into introspection. So many elements come together to build this atmosphere: the buzzing viola that comes in and out, the bass that only rings out on “you,” the piano and guitar resonating on eerie minor harmonic notes. I found myself worrying about my own large life decisions and wondering, “Does Sonne want to bring people into this world?” Sonne seems to be opening her very personal question to the world, inviting opinions and discourse.

The body of “Almost,” the fourth track on Great Doubt, is simple: a four bar string melody replicated throughout the song, subtly altering the arrangement as the song progresses. The lyrics speak of moving on (“Maybe I forget the time sweetheart / Maybe I let go”) and point to both her own feelings and the things she sees around her (“A woman passing by / Clouds moving across the sky”). The lyrics are few but impactful, painting a picture of a bittersweet goodbye that lacks direction. When the vocals end about halfway through the song, the viola comes in beautifully continuing this image. Though there are no words, the viola tells us the narrator is going to be just fine, they will grow with the swells of the music and feel the bright sun on their face.

Beginning with a noisy 8-bit melody, Sonne’s drums come back on “Boost,” driving this twitchy, beat-driven, electronic r&b track. This song is texturally incredible: echoing layered flutes, the droning, ever-present melody, the solo break-beats, the resonating bass notes. The drums, however, are what pulls this piece all together. They guide the everchanging, multilayered instrumentals, coming in and out of the focus, and at one point sounding like they’re in another room.

“Everything is Unreal” starts off with a solo, heartbeat-like bass note. Sonne’s voice comes in close and clear, describing her surroundings and repeating “I’m not going anywhere.” The silence contrasted with the throbbing bass beat turns the listener to Sonne’s lyrics, compelling them to not only pay attention to the words but internalize them, pick them apart and understand their meaning, roll them around in their mind until they’re smooth as rocks plucked from the shore. The song continues and more instruments enter – long breaths of viola, tinny picked strings, pulsing keys – until the vocals dip out and the sound builds to an all encompassing buzz, almost as if they’re trying to lock this track in your mind, leaving you to ruminate and deeply feel what Sonne meant. This spoken-word track is incredibly personal and intimate, it’s one of my personal favorites off the album.

On the last track on the album, “Say You Love Me,” Sonne pleads for affirmation, begging someone to “Say that you love me / Say that you want to hold me.” The urgency is not felt however, her voice is timid and lackadaisical which is only emphasized by the lagging backing beat and off center piano notes. It seems as though Sonne is afraid, she doesn’t know whether she wants to hear what she’s asking for, or deal with the implications of what these feelings entail. This dub-esque final song on Great Doubt expresses the uncertainty of love surrounded by droning hip hop beats layered with strung out viola notes that generates an air of thought for the listener, a final invitation to look inward and examine one’s own “great doubt.”

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Tags: Atrid Sonne, Denmark, Escho, Great Doubt