Let me start off by saying this: Ana Liil is definitely not the album I thought I bought. My first experience with Apoptose came with their brilliant 2010 album Bannwald, and I’ve been following their work since. However, having bought Ana Liil in 2014 or 2015 shortly after its release, it has been sitting on my shelf for no apparent reason for a couple of years. I’m glad to say that time has now passed as apparently I’ve been denying myself one of the most interesting albums of the genre in recent years.
Starting with appearances: Ana Liil continues in the six-panel folded digipak format tradition—in all of its visual pleasantness and, well… practical worthlessness—that Apoptose is known for. The album art introduces the listener to the titular character in all of their glossed green-and-brown glory, each unfolding and detachable piece introducing a new perspective to her persona. All the pieces are very pleasant to look at, and the booklet further enhances the air of mystery around the album. All in all, it’s most definitely an Apoptose album on the outside.
Going inside, though, the first thing I felt was astonishment. Being used to the dreamy landscapes and never-aging forests of Bannwald, the chirping great tits (the birds, that is) of Nordland, or the creeping urban misery of Schattenmädchen, the active soundscape (and, above all, the ability to simply engage its audience) was surprising, to say the least. In practice this means that there’s a lot more vocals and comprehensive rhythms this time around, both of which still gracefully complement the given theme of eerie unfriendliness—or more correctly, lack of friendliness—on the album.
Possibly the strongest example of this humane yet beyond natural psyche of hostility can be found on the second-to-last track, ‘Forget Your Face’, in which a soft male voice, like from beyond the wall of sleep, keeps telling the listener how he’ll never talk to them again. This, combined with the chilling finale in ‘Schnee’ (narrated by the frail voice of a girl), leaves the listener with a feeling best described as longing. To quell the longing, one is compelled to listen to the album again with now-learned ears and a new perspective. It is this willingness and appetite to repeat the experience that makes this album so beautiful.
Even with the new, more engaging elements in the music, saying that Ana Liil is nothing like Apoptose’s earlier works would be a lie. Even though less prevalent now, the earlier dark ambient soundscapes are still there, although this time perhaps on a bit more tangible and concrete level. Listening to the album’s titular song, you could think that the little Ana Liil is one of the sisters who wandered into the Bannwald all those years ago. Who’s to say she isn’t?
Ana Liil doesn’t want to be your friend; she lives in an entirely separate world. Perhaps at night you’ll see her shape behind a grimy window in the neighbourhood, or you’ll hear her singing from afar. But you will never get closer to her. ‘I don’t know who she is,’ Apoptose says. ‘One day she just emerged. Like a thought that sounds logic in your dreams but completely strange in daylight.’ Apoptose’s Ana Liil plays with your expectations. This album spins within close range of those dark ambient realms that Apoptose became known for since the early 2000s. Songs like ‘Meer der Ruhe’ or ‘Schnee’ still bear this signature, but at the same time they show a new quality of songwriting. Both feature the frail singing of a girl who keeps the dusty shadows at bay. On ‘Forget Your Face’, ‘Adrenalin’, or ‘Ich Verbrenne’, Apoptose replaces the reverb-charged tracks by songs full of voices and haunting melodies. But beware: All is not as it seems.