Album Review | Dorothea Paas’s “Anything Can’t Happen”

For over a decade, Dorothea Paas has played her unique style of folk-rock for audiences across America, and now the Canadian-born singer-songwriter is releasing her debut album Anything Can’t Happen to the world.

With the guitar grittiness of Neil Young, lyrical mastery of Joni Mitchell and the searing vocal energy of Sonic Youth, Paas’ music doesn’t shy away from the iconic influences that culminate to create her unique sound. Those ten years spent writing, performing and evolving her artistry have led to a project that paves new ways in a genre that tends to be immovable.

Anything Can’t Happen feels more mature and intricate than the usual debut album. Every song feels like a confession – honest, explicit and spoken without inhibition. At first, it’s very easy to feel like you’re intruding on a personal conversation between Paas and the instrumentation. Yet, like with any true confessional writing, the mix of perspectives and changing emotions that ruminate through the songs enable the listener to feel welcomed into the album rather than alienated.

Confessions of love and loss are the main themes of the album, but don’t let that sway your perceptions of Paas as an artist. These confessions occur with both an immense sense of self-awareness and creativity. They climax in the shape of the penultimate song, and a personal highlight of the project, “Frozen Window”. The song feels like a daydream, with layered guitars and twinkling keys that slowly lower in tempo as the song comes to a mesmerising conclusion. The lyrical content is at times dark, but Paas’ ability to create an expansive instrumental, with textures and sounds that sway in and out of focus, means that the listener is thoughtfully steered away from that bleakness and into a much brighter tone about universal love and hope.

Paas grew up in Toronto, in a religious household where she sang in choirs and played guitar with a church worship group. As a self-taught songwriter, it was this choral music and the pop music she heard on the radio that influenced her musical approach. Her music isn’t necessarily spiritual, but more of a deep exploration of self through the sharing of stories and thoughts. Though, that’s not to say that her experiences with the church haven’t shaped her understanding of the power of music: “Initially I wanted to get away from [religious music] because I thought it was manipulative, the way that music worked in the church to control people’s emotions. But now I want to tap into that again because I think it’s really powerful.”

There’s no greater evidence that Anything Can’t Happen is about the journey of understanding oneself than the fact that this project has undergone so many different permutations before this version came into being: “It takes a long time of living, having conversations, crystallizing ideas, to come to a place where these songs exist,” says Paas. “You need a lot of time to reflect on everything that’s happened.”

The song “Closer to Minebeautifully elicits this exploration of self; Paas sharing her journey of learning to love her body and mind. Lyrically, Paas is full of questions about herself: Do you try to fix it? / Or do you leave it behind? / Do you try to hide it? / Or do you learn not to mind? These confessions of insecurity and personal doubt powerfully embody the challenges that Paas had to face while becoming her own person after leaving home: “I definitely wanted to fit in,” she says. “But I was also trying to change and grow.”

Meanwhile, the instrumentation is one of the more exciting on the project. With a switch-up of drums and heavier guitar through the bridge and hook, the music acts as the positive light that Paas lyrically spends the album trying to find. There are times across the album when the soft swoon of Paas’ vocals gets lost or muddied by the heavier instrumentation, particularly on this track, but the self-awareness that Paas has for her sound and skill means that she very quickly balances out the mix.

Paas has a sophisticated song writing style that explores common topics in creative and uniquely conceptual ways. This, she says, derives from the influence that Stevie Wonder has on her work, and his ability and belief in the power of music to connect people with larger truths. This search for connection and togetherness through her work means that her album also presents the listener with more open and anthemic tunes.

The title track is a great example of this. It’s anthemic hook and alt-rock groove implore the listener to share the sentiment of the song. While the lyrics remain in the same vein as the rest of the project, there’s more room for the listener to engage rather than just listen. The song is possibly the least musically dynamic on the album, but still works as a great example of Paas ability to write for crowds of fans and new audiences alike. The track is bold and maybe a little cliche, but it’s still hard not to sing along to the hook on the second listen.

Dorothea Paas has spent the last decade honing her songcraft and her debut album Anything Can’t Happen perfectly demonstrates the maturity, complexity and impressive musical intelligence that she has. The project shows an artist who effectively uses music as a confessional and cathartic way to explore themselves without alienating the listener. There are some wonderfully enthralling tracks on this album, and though at times, it feels Paas’ voice gets lost in layers of the mix (which is a huge shame!), this project is perfect for any indie folk-rock fan who needs a summer album to sway to.

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Album Review | Dorothea Paas’s “Anything Can’t Happen”
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