Love has a long half-life.
That's one of the major takeaways from Canadian singer-songwriter Dorothea Paas's debut album, Anything Can't Happen, out today (May 7) via Telephone Explosion. The record — crafted between 2016 and 2019 — finds the Toronto native spinning love and longing into gorgeous, ruminative guitar pop that will take your breath away.
If Paas's dreamy heartbreak ballads sound like they could have been plucked from her diary, that's because they were plucked from her diary. "What spurred the songs was deciding to write more," she recently told me over the phone. "I bought a notebook and decided I'm just going to start writing every day. A lot of the songs come out of my reflections and themes that recur in my journal."
Paas claims that she hasn't fallen in love for a long time, but she's scarily good at tapping into romantic longing — the fantasies, the self-questioning, the disappointments, the gaps. What she's ultimately after isn't love but effortless love, which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist even though I, too, am after it.
"I long for a body closer to mine / but I don't want to seek, I just want to find / I need a lover, one who's perfect for me," Paas sings in "Closer to Mine." On "Perfect Love," she qualifies that statement in a telling way: "Although it was once said, 'perfect love casts out all fear' / I think fear is always in love / it's the risk inherent in allowing anyone near."
Dorothea Paas wants love to be easy.Miriam Paas
For a while, Paas can't make up her mind: "Love should be effortless, shouldn't it? / Or was it ever as easy as I played it back in my mind?" she sings on "Container." Later, on "Waves Rising," she concedes, "It's supposed to be easy to love, but I'm finding it hard." Notice how sneakily Paas shifts from the universal to the deeply personal: "All we want is to be seen and heard / we want so badly to be loved by each other," she continues. "We built up ideas of one another into something so big it was destined to topple over." Then, on "Frozen Window," we get this scene: "Sitting on your couch, not speaking, I feel you losing interest in me / I sense the image you had of me shifting, revealing all of my flaws." Ouch. Still, she's prepared to move on: "Oh, somehow," she sings, "I will love again."
I ask Paas if she wrote these songs around a specific breakup.
"I feel like the formative relationships of my life — when I was young and I fell in love in a real hard way — I come back to those relationships because they give you these impressionistic ideas that are really bold and bright," she replies. "The later songs [on the record] expand out into the forms of love that aren't so much about relationships or heartbreak. [They're] more about universal love or family love. I describe them as love songs about not being in love — love songs about longing and loneliness."
Paas pulled the album title from lead single "Anything Can't Happen," but the lyrics of the song are actually "anything can happen." This was an intentional contradiction. "I started that as a joke to myself," says Paas. "I don't think it would resonate with me or make sense with my approach to just have a song where the lyrics are 'anything can happen' and I call it 'anything can happen' and lean into the inspirational feeling of that. It just didn't feel right."
Dorothea Paas - "Anything Can't Happen" (Official Video) www.youtube.com
"Anything Can't Happen" is one of the more driving songs on a record that mostly strives for something more intimate and patient and ethereal, like a late-night lounge performance. Paas's vocals contribute to this effect in a big way.
"Listening to Joni Mitchell influenced my voice a lot," she explains. "That felt most potent a few years ago when I was writing these songs… I want to feel like I'm taking some of her threads that she started and extrapolating them out into different places." Paas says she's also taken cues from The Carpenters and Fairport Convention. "I'm figuring out what my voice is and what qualities are unique to me over time."
This isn't a new process for Paas, who has a choral background. "I didn't have a context for classical music growing up — it wasn't something that my parents were involved in, they just put me in the opera choir because my neighbor was going," she recalls. "That definitely impacted my singing form even though I was never truly trained or took lessons. I try to draw on some of those classical or baroque elements occasionally."
Paas's other musical influences are wide-ranging. "I'm getting more into classical guitar, which is a mode that I play a little bit on this record," she says, adding that she's found inspiration in the "Ramy" soundtrack. "One artist that I've become fixated on is Issam Hajali. He has this really beautiful kind of classical guitar folk funk record." Other artists who earn Paas's praise include Kim Jung Mi, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Young Thug ("I feel like he's a vocal genius and has really changed what it means to be a singer," says Paas).
When it comes to her own music, Paas is especially proud of "Container." The Canadian songstress says "it feels like a classic."
Dorothea Paas "Container" (Official Video) www.youtube.com
"I like the structure of it," she explains. "It's simple enough that it feels comfortable but it's also kind of wacky with the way that the chords move around and return back to the C all the time. And I feel like the vocals are indicative of my style. I had written the guitar part first and then I riffed that melody line and reworked it one or two times, refining it and memorizing it. I feel like it's a good indicator of my vocal instincts and I like that," she continues. "To have a record of that feels good."
Anything Can't Happen is out May 7 via Telephone Explosion. You can stream and order it here.