Anything Can’t Happen feels like the product of an artist connecting, conversing, and collaborating with their own power.
I’ve heard somewhere that giving yourself over to your instincts — letting intuition guide your choices as opposed to making calculated decisions — is a form of prayer. It’s an acknowledgment of a power greater than ourselves; forces existing in our universe that move around us and through us but are not necessarily of us. In a recent interview, Toronto-based songwriter Dorothea Paas describes the phenomenon: “When I write a song,” she tells Exclaim! , “because I’m self-taught and I don’t know the theory of what I’m playing, I think it’s very instinctual. It’s very emotion-led.” Though she doesn’t directly describe this surrender as prayer, she later shares that, “Being a performer, sometimes it feels confusing to understand why I’m being given any kind of platform or why people will want to listen to me. There’s part of me that wants to surrender to something and be like, ‘Well, if this is what’s happening, I want it to be good.’”
And indeed, what’s happening to Paas is very good. In letting go and letting her music make its own way out into the world, Paas delivers a stunner of a debut: Anything Can’t Happen is her long-awaited foray into the spotlight after years of working with a myriad of fellow artists, playing solo shows, and dropping the occasional self-released EP. Anything Can’t Happen radiates with the sense that her mellifluous melodies and sometimes abstract arrangements are spontaneously forming in the moment they are sung and played. I get chills listening to the opening of “Perfect Love,” always expecting it to turn into something akin to “Gold Dust Woman,” but then Paas starts singing in her higher register, leaving me dizzy with awe. There’s a similar disorientating feeling when Paas calls back to opening track “One” at the start of closer “Running Under My Life,” until the latter expands beyond the former’s half-minute runtime into clouds of gauzy synths and layered vocals. That’s when you realize it’s not a callback but the other way around; “One” is a preview of what has been running throughout Anything Can’t Happen this whole time. The free-form nature of “Running Under My Life” initially feels at odd with more structured songs like “Closer to Mine,” but highlights Paas’s more experimental tendencies, veering close to the edge without falling off the cliff into a full-on post-rock workout.
Whether it is the abstract folk impressionism of “Running Under My Life” or the brushed drums and glistening piano of “Container,” Paas’s music is always the perfect setting for her unconventional, highly personal lyrics. What on the surface sounds like a series of everyday observations and musings reveal themselves to be profound poetry — and quite possibly prayer. “Worrying is like water / trying to get the lowest point / filling any container / always drawn to the lowest point,” she sings on “Container” before acquiescing to the fact that no matter where worry flows, whatever state it takes, it is hers to carry forever. She sounds resigned, but not defeated, which is a subtle but substantial distinction to make.
Anything Can’t Happen feels like the product of an artist connecting, conversing, and collaborating with their own power. Maybe it’s a stretch to call it prayer, but there are enough moments on the album that feel as if they’re being guided and dictated by external forces. Paas has reckoned with the relationships that inform the songs and with her self-perception as an artist and creative being: “It’s so hard to trust again when you can’t even trust yourself,” she sings on the title track, but Anything Can’t Happen should once and for all dismiss any doubts she or anyone else may have: like water, Paas is finding her way, carving her path, commanding her power and strength.