Alanis Morissette has long escaped rigid boundaries.
Morissette shocked the world in 1995 with the release of her magnum opus — Jagged Little Pill, an experimental alternative rock album that not only refused to be confined within the current established musical genres but also toyed with the stigma surrounding the expression of female sexuality and angst.
It is therefore no surprise that nearly three decades later, Morissette has once again embarked upon an unexpected path. Storm Before the Calm, devised through a collaboration with electronic instrumentalist Dave Harrington, marks Morissette’s first meditation album. The album comprises 11 tracks completely devoid of lyricism. Morissette’s haunting vocalizations occasionally emerge throughout each soundscape, but the central focus of the album lies within a recurring series of piano chords, electric strings and gong clashes.
While Storm Before the Calm is a cohesive body of work, each song manages to remain distinct and memorable. Morissette transports listeners to a myriad of realms; she evokes ghostly apparitions, clunky playfulness, painful bargaining, triumphant basking, cathartic purging and reluctant acceptance.
The album succeeds in both soothing and disorienting the listener. Morissette incorporates several elements of nature to ease listeners: percussive thuds throughout “Light — The Lightworker’s Lament” mimic thunder, the movement of Morissette’s vocalizations throughout “Purification — The Alchemic Crunch” model waves and instrumental effects within “Ground — I Want to Live.” emulate the pitter patter of rain. These subtle allusions to nature help immerse listeners into a mindful state.
However, there are moments throughout the album that are quite jarring. “Safety — Empath in Paradise” concludes with a strange, electric fade out that pierces the ears and clashes with the otherwise harmonious impression of the track. Furthermore, “Mania — Resting in the Fire” pulls greatly from Morissette’s rock roots. Full of scratchy discordance, the soundscape brings an intensity that may initially appear counterintuitive to Morissette’s goals with this body of work.
However, Storm Before the Calm, as the album title suggests, does not exist solely to instill tranquility. Morissette exemplifies through the diversity of each track that this album intends to encompass a vast array of emotions and stages of healing. Some soundscapes pacify, while others agitate.
While the songs coexist quintessentially, at times the album feels too lengthy. With only a mere 11 tracks, the work in its entirety manages to provide an hour and 47 minutes of content. Most tracks are approximately 10 minutes long, and at times, it feels like a slog to move through the album. Given that meditative sessions tend to be much shorter, listeners may be discouraged from listening to the album in one sitting. Unfortunately, this would diminish the overall listening experience as the album is very much a sum of its parts.
Because of this dramatic change from Morissette’s previous work, fans of her iconic songs “You Oughtta Know” and “Ironic” may not flock to Storm Before the Calm. The punk punch Morissette used to pack does not quite translate to her exploration in the New Age genre. In fact, nothing inherent about the composition of Storm Before the Calm feels uniquely Morissette. The aspects of the musician that have bolstered her to fame — the goosebump raising quiver of her mezzo-soprano voice and her provocative lyricism — are lost.
While the sound of Morissette’s voice interweaves throughout the album, it is not recognizable as Morissette’s. The slight tremble in her voice while reminiscing over a difficult memory and the eerie quality it adopts while processing her rage are nowhere to be found. Her work feels hollow without these facets.
Storm Before the Calm is not a particularly remarkable addition to Morissette’s discography for these reasons. However, the project itself aligns very well with Morissette’s artistry. Morissette has been practicing meditation since her 20s, so her decision to partake in this unconventional genre indicates a prioritization of presenting her authentic self rather than solely striving for commercial success.
The vulnerability that launched Morissette to stardom is embedded within Storm Before the Calm. Whether it is an angsty ballad or an electric instrumental piece, Morissette bears all.