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Anna Burch’s letter from an abandoned zoo

| Thursday, February 8, 2018


Diane Park | The Observer

Peering through the mangled segment of fencing, her veins run cold. From a distance, the overgrown vines and bushes looked manageable. But here, alongside the century-old crumbling remnants of the zoo — once the gem of Belle Isle — the weeds posture monstrously above her.

“I’ll give you a lift,” he offers.

She obliges, stepping into the cusp of his hands and squeezing through the oblique sliver in the fencing, nearly tearing her jeans in the process. A can of spray-paint slips from her windbreaker, tumbling into a nearby shrub. She recovers it, careful not to cut herself on the scattered shards of broken glass.

He climbs through the sliver.

“Follow me. I have to show you something,” she says.

The two ascend slipshod steps to a skyway of sorts — crisscrossing above the flora-coated remnant of a long dead man-made jungle. “We’re in ‘The Goonies,’” she thinks. “Or maybe we’re the kids from ‘IT,’” she concedes, rather gleefully.

When they reach the central building, a conic spire overlooking the central meeting area, she leads him inside, up a spiral staircase and onto the terrace.

On the terrace, her message, painted two days previous in elegant script, reads clearly on the concrete ground of the meeting area: “Did I freak you out?”

She certainly did. He’s not ready for the relationship. Not even ready for a talk. But he won’t tell her. He’s not that smart, nor that noble.

She hands him the spray-paint, anticipating a response. The ensuing uncertainty pulls her into the headspace of Detroit songsmith, Anna Burch.

Anna Burch’s debut LP, “Quit the Curse,” is the kind of art that inspires other art. As I listened to the album, the above narrative formed in my head, transporting me to the rickety walkways above the Belle Isle Zoo, an island hideaway in the middle of the Detroit River where teens often venture (against their better judgment) spray-paint in hand.

The abandoned zoo, and the youthful forays that take place within it, set the backdrop for Burch’s debut LP “Quit the Curse” (see: “Belle Isle,” the record’s fifth track). Lucid joys of a lost time — when Martha Reeves had reason the dance in the streets and Lou Reed could relish in the simplicity of his Sunday mornings — permeate both the Belle Isle ruins and Burch’s music with an adolescent’s melancholic ambivalence.

In her lyrics, Burch enters into a dialogue with a “he” figure, an object of unrequited love. Burch sings that she craves the ecstatic “fireworks” of “the night we made out on Belle Isle,” but he, in his hermetic emotional state, postures as one “2 Cool 2 Care,” content only with the process of “slamming all [his] drinks” and folding uncertainties into “all [his] friends” and “all [his] meds.”

Burch doesn’t set out to write a carbon-copy lovelorn indie record — “From what I can see, reciprocity, is boring,” she writes to her cold object of desire, “but I’m tired of unrequited love stories” — but a romance carried out on other, less orthodox, terms.

Burch’s songwriting leads the listener to question whether anything really exists in dichotomies (especially love). Conversations between intentions and action almost never play out cleanly — “I forgot to fake the way I was feeling / I guess it’s too late / Now all my cards are showing.” The unedited version of things (reverberation and distortion bouncing around a mix) often manage to contradict our well kept plans — elucidated in the clean, spare and elegant structure of a 60s indebted guitar-pop arrangement.

For some, the realization that perfection, or at least comprehension, only appears “In your Dreams,” is a terrifying prospect, but Burch finds solace in the notion. Love — real, honest to God love — entrenches itself in a relationship when the question arises: “Now what, what else can I do / When you’re there’s nothing more to say / And I’m still with you every day?”

And there’s no answer to this question. The quandary stands out the open, awkward and gangly, until we choose to accept it or continue our quixotic journey towards an unforeseen definitive.

This need for certainty is the curse that plagues my characters, the  starry eyed young woman and freezes the romantic lemon of a boy in the zoo. Conversely, uncertainty (read: the future, growing up, “insert quantum episode here”) rightly freaks us all out.

Do we just give up?

Or can we, as Burch puts it, “quit the curse?” Can we live “Knowing it’s not about the waiting” in a state where we “Don’t even know what [we’re] anticipating?”

Or do we resign to stay the safe side of the mangled fence?


Artist: Anna Burch

Album: ”Quit the Curse”

Label: Polyvinyl

Favorite Track: “Asking 4 a Friend”

If You Like: Phoebe Bridgers, Alvvays, Bonny Doon

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5


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