Finding What it Means to be Human in Aurora’s ‘A Different Kind of Human (Step II)’

Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 7:09pm

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Norwegian pop singer Aurora’s latest album, A Different Kind of Human (Step II), is altogether glorious and weird. The psychedelic album feels like an encounter with “the third kind” put into song; in fact, if Aurora claimed to be extraterrestrial visitor from another realm, I would believe it in a heartbeat. But while the album feels like a brush with the surreal and impossible, the core themes are very human.

Over the course of 11 breathtaking tracks filled with hypnotic drum beats, dreamy vocals and poetic lyrics, Aurora explores what it means to be human. The album opens with “The River” —  a song already symbolic in name alone. Rivers provide, create and destroy, at once fostering fragile ecosystems and threatening terrible, raging floods. “The River,” mystical yet upbeat, feels like a song of healing. Aurora explores the delicate balance between self-preservation and self-destruction. Singing, “And you let the river run wild,” she explores the significance of allowing oneself to be vulnerable, to be emotional. In a society where far too much importance is placed on maintaining a pristine public image, “The River” is a song of words everyone should — and needs — to hear. “You can cry,” she croons; how often do we allow ourselves to feel, freely and completely?

Aurora carries the listener on a journey to visit their inner self, exploring the relationship between more “primal” instincts that would mark us a human, and the conditioned behavior of modern society. Even the album cover evokes the experience of opening up and engaging with the true intensity of our emotions: Aurora crouches, naked, with her eyes closed and face turned upward, hands beneath her chin open and splayed wide. Every aspect of her posture and mannerisms emphasizes a level of vulnerability and peace that people often shy away from.

The album itself doesn’t force these essential questions upon the listener — nor does Aurora serve answers on a silver platter. Rather, her music — both strange and evocative — prompts the audience to form these inquiries themselves. As she sings of freedom, feeling and healing, one can’t help but wonder: In humankind’s quest to build civilization, was something lost along the way?

Other tracks like “Animal” explore a primal perspective — literally. “I’m an animal / Hunting for an animal / Hunting for love / Lost in a concrete jungle,” Aurora sings, reimagining “civilized” life in the primal context of the most basic human — or, rather, animalistic — behavior. This concept is emphasized, too, in the song “Hunger,” which plays like a chant, or a spell, edging on something wild. Aurora beckons the listener to follow her through this mind-bending exercise of self-exploration. “All we’ve ever had is hunger,” she sings in a line that echoes both through the song “Hunger” and the rest of the album.

But a hunger for what? Nourishment? Companionship? Wealth? Or maybe that more abstract concept of hunger — that powerful, devouring sense of necessityreferring to the human “hunger” for anything and everything. Almost every behavior or action can be characterized by desire or necessity; sometimes we see signs of both. As civilized as we may claim to be, how far can one escape from these twin pillars of the mortal psyche?

Aurora ends the album with eerie, yet beautiful, whispers of other worlds, of home. She sings of leaving the “impure” realm to travel somewhere else, but where, she does not say. In the end, it may not be a matter of a physical departure, but rather a spiritual one. No, I’m not talking about religion, but of personal acceptance and freedom of feeling. In a world that is quickly becoming conditioned to hate the self, and instead encourage the (sometimes dangerous) quest for the ideal, it’s high time we learn to be OK with who we are. It might be scary, but it seems Aurora is here to guide us home.