To be honest when the PR for the new Milburnvideo landed in my inbox I stared blankly at it, my facial expression taking on that quizzical ‘who?’ look! I’d never heard of Milburn – had no prior knowledge of them, or their music.
So it was, with a slight headache, a touch of a cold and the daunting task of packing for a holiday making up my Mardi-soir, I decided to venture forth and have a deco at this ‘unknown entity’.
Good guitar intro, bit of impending doom bass, and wham. It’s Alex Turner!
No seriously, I’m not that up on singers from Sheffield, natural habitat of Milburn. In fact, the only singer I know from Sheffield IS Turner and for the record, Joe Carnall does kinda sound like him. With an added dash of Tom Ogden, thrice removed relation of Hilda and frontman with “tears of gold, my Charlemagne” Blossoms. I’ll put the resemblance down to geography and indigenous Northern accented vocals.
So … ‘Midnight Control’. Bit rock, bit indie, bit pop, it reminds me of some of the sounds that used to populate the chart toppers of my ‘disco days’ – back when music was pure, its intention was clear, and it had stalwart, dedicated fans who went out each week and didn’t just pay for it, nooo, they queued up to pay for it!
Retro rock guitar vibes and a soulful vocal take centre stage ahead of some funky blues-bass and piano, all held in check by well tempoed, understated drumming. This is good stuff, more than good, pretty top notch in fact. It’s a song with an easy rhythm, that’s both well arranged and skilfully produced, just without the prerequisite overcoat of oil slick that so many similar bands opt for these days.
I have no idea why Milburn’s sound means nothing to me, but I’ll be making a point of deep diving into their back catalogue.
Cue words about the video! Young page-boyed chick (I can use the term, I’m female) dressed in ’70s tribute outfit of wallpaper coloured stripey top, and high-waisted, bell-bottomed, “no elastane in these babies” jeans, high kicks the night away in Sheffield City Hall.
With more stretch on her hamstrings than Ibrahimović, she Can-Cans and Night Fevers across a rubix cube disco floor – the kind that used to be found in Club “Anytime Anyplace Anywhere” back in the day! I’m told her dance routine is ‘Northern Soul’, something about which I must confess total ignorance! But it’s a neat video that goes with the retro disco-hall vibe of the song.
‘Midnight Control’ is part of a Double A along with track ‘Forming of a Fate’, available now via iTunes and usual digital outlets. Milburn have just kicked off a UK tour and I’d post the dates ‘cept they’re all sold out BAR – Sep 27 – Carlisle The Old Fire Station, GET ON IT CARLISLE!!
You can follow the band on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with their antics, hijinks and further music releases.
I’ve met Dagny … she’s the funny, self-deprecating, bubbly young woman, with whom I spent an hour chit-chattering before cajoling her into posing for a daft photo in the foyer of the Clarion hotel in Trondheim.
That was back in a snow-ridden February, just before she was due to play to her live set as part of the Trondheim Calling Festival. The Norwegian popstrel wasn’t feeling 100%. Her throat was a little scratchy. She made herself a hot drink and went up to have some quiet time in her bedroom.
Three hours later she blew the sox off a capacity crowd sardined into the massive glass menagerie that is the Rockefeller venue, with a kick ass performance that had them screaming their appreciation and baying for more.
She was going to the States she told me, to work with some top liners, producers, other musicians, play some lives, shoot the breeze, soak it all up, #livethedream. It was all hopefully gonna kick off for Dagny before the end of the year.
Now here we are in September, the sun is getting low in the sky and the evenings longer. What better way to transition from the azure days of Summer (what Summer?) to the hazy shades of Autumn with the sun-soaked, rainbow hued pop songs of Dagny’s debut EP, ‘Ultraviolet‘.
Five nuggets of pure pop gold, ‘Ultraviolet’ has had UK music media in its thrall since its release a few days ago. We’re thinking especially of PopJustice Ed in Chief, Peter Robinson, who’s been raving about it with a capital R!
This bouquet of punchy pop kicks off with a retro-vibing, beat-tastic bamarama. With its guitar licks carved out of the ’70s and a melody dug up out of the garden of Now That’s What I Call The ’80s, ‘Fight Sleep’ is what you might expect to hear if legendary singer/songwriter Cathy Dennis, she of Kylie mega-hit ‘Can’t Get You Outta My Head’ fame, was to do a disco remix of tub-thumper ‘War Baby’ (just don’t tell TRB!).
Dagny has a strong voice and carries this weighty track well, but, and this is just a personal observation, maybe the vocal would be served better with a little less of the accentuated end of line upticks!
Lead track ‘Ultraviolet’ is the perfect ‘getting ready with the girls before a night out‘ anthem. Rife with ‘all American’ rock riffs and rollin’ percussion, this is the kind of number the Pinks of this world do so well, and, which the US of A, home of all things rock-pop with a danceable pulse, buys by the Platinum-coated bucket load. This is slick, strobe-lit, high-school pop, and with its upbeat, ‘oh-so-memorable’ catchy hooks, ‘Ultraviolet’ should have gaggles of teens and tweens everywhere reaching for their hairbrushes.
Mid-stream finds us in Taylor Swift/Ariana Grande territory with the pure pop beats of ‘Too Young‘, a track that sees Dagny show a more youthful, lighter side to her oft smoky vocal. This hands in the air head-bobber, is pure iridescent spinning disco ball. An NRG driven sing-along that will demand you dance your ass off to its compelling gold-plated melody lines and pulsating beats.
Next up, it’s the big one. ‘Backbeat’, the track that propelled Dagny’s into the world of mainstream pop and etched her name in the minds of Euro-pop-media. Released in late 2015, it lingers long with its infectious OHs and speed of light handclaps, hyperactive drumming and driving guitars. An instrumental winner wrapped around shimmering synth loops, it’s enriched by an intense vocal delivery, and yeah ok, we have those Dagny upticks again, but in this instance, they kinda work.
To be fair, I guess when you’re starting out and trying to be remembered, you need to nail an evo-stick trademark. I get it guys!
The EP finale comes in the form of flamboyant, ‘Fool’s Gold. A sparkling stunner of a pop diamond, it’s fuelled by a propulsive mid-line of synth wrapped guitars and blood pumping percussion. If this doesn’t get your toes tapping, head nodding and hips swinging then see a doctor about getting your pulse checked, as it’s quite probable that you’re dead.
With 5million plus streams on Spotify, it’s a class A pop rocket. A turbo charged stomper that perfectly book-ends this blast of an EP.
If multi-coloured, heart stoppin’, summer lovin’, fluorescent, pure unadulterated pop is your thing, then Dagny‘s music is for you. Five star recommendation for teens, tweens, popstrels, party girls, girls who just wanna have fun, boys who like girls who like boys, and high heeled, sequin swept, glammed up disco queens. Do It!
Dagny’s ‘Ultravoilet’ EP is available to buy, stream, download via all the usual digital channels, links here.
“We’re gonna take it around the world Ride these wild horses”
Just when you think the week can’t get any more chaotic, up pops master of the unorthodox Beck, with a new off the rails video for his not so cut and dried single, ‘Wow‘.
A follow up to 2015’s ‘Dreams‘, it will feature on his upcoming still to be named album which should see the light of day later in the Autumn.
Where ‘Dreams’, which was as close to mainstream as I’ve ever heard Beck get give or take the odd moment, swung on the side of indie pop, ‘Wow’ sees this unique talent return to his maverick best.
“It’s my life, your life Live it once, can’t live it twice So nice, so nice Song’s like a tidal wave, take you on a getaway”
The song pulls between hip hop and dark electronic pop with shades of Ennio Morricone thrown in for good measure. Spoken word verses recall the poetic rap of ‘Loser’ while the uplifting chorus strains are falsetto in gloria.
‘Wow’s visual accompaniment is a frenzied melange … a series of kooky vignettes spanning spaghetti westerns to the sheer multi-coloured mania of Monsters inc. Mini-me ‘The King & I’ choreography is juxtaposed with some middle aged mindful meditation zebra crossing stylee, while a dude with the biggest orange backside you’ve ever seen this side of the ‘Nutty Professor’ gets down to the groove.
And then there’s Beck, resplendent in his all-black cowboy finery, replete with silver plate and suede fringing. An intermittent vision a bit like a flashing torch, he jumps and side-steps to the beat with the all the jittery nrg of someone on a diet of sucrose, in a scene set against an unchoreographed backdrop of continuous highway traffic.
“It’s your life Falling like a hot knife Call your wife; secular times, these times My demon’s on the cell phone To your demons, nothing’s even right or wrong It’s irrelevant, elephant in the room goes boom Standing on the lawn doin’ jiu jitsu Girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih tzu”
Look beyond the zany top notes, and smell the sense underneath … this is Beck, having whetted his lyrical nib, inking incisive life observations through abstract imagery.
Two stellar single samples, two polar opposites. What lies between on the album is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure. If these two tracks are anything to go by, this is going to be one #WOW LP.
Beck’s as-yet-untitled album will be released on October 21 via Capital Records. His single, ‘Wow’ is out now, available via the usual channels (links below), and you can watch its zany visual here – #rideemcowboy #giddyup
RöykSund have dropped a new track, ‘Never Ever’. I haven’t been this excited since I discovered their totally Nordic cover of ‘Ice Machine‘ on YT just over two years ago – a cover which I might add, heralded new blogging beginnings and triggered the creation of DervSwerve.
One of life’s happy accidents, I happened upon it when trying to find a live version of the Mode B-side, and there to my surprise were two guys seemingly plugged into the Norwegian grid, a previously unheard of singer and a troupe of mutant ninja drummer boys ripping the skins off their snares. All in the glorious scarlet haze that was Live on Lydverket!
It was love at first sight/sound/beat … The Tundran vocal with its Himalayan reach and the hypnotic spaghetti bolognaise of electronica with more twisting loops than the London Orbital, served with a black army of insistent drums on the side. To this day, it remains my fave DM cover and, one of my preferred Röyksopp collaborations, of which there have been many.
Aside: RöykSund, if you do happen to read this, there’s more than one Mode fan wants to know when you’re going to release ‘Ice Machine’ as a single!!
There’s nothing wrong with stand alone Röyksoppor Susanne Sundforreleases, far from it. Nor their third party collaborations for that matter. It is simply just that there is something truly magical about this triumvirate – this supreme collaborative being – that transcends all others.
Blessed with more talents than a Babylonian tax collector, RöykSund fuse ingenious electro-engineering skills with an unsurpassed ability to deliver the most immaculate of soaring vocals that retain enough pop sensibilities to keep them down on the dancefloor. And that’s exactly where you’ll find ‘Never Ever‘, down and dirty on the dancefloor, writhing around to a ‘Soul Train’ remix, dressed as a ‘Desperately Seeking’ Madonna wannabe.
Frosted vocals, more cut glass than British royalty are thawed by hot, pulsating electronica in this ‘classic pop’ comp. Indulging in analog synths of a calibre that’d make Alan Wilder cry with nostalgia, and more hyperactive beats than Phil Oakey and Georgio Moroder could have imagined in their wildest ‘electric dreams’, this is strobe-lit 80s disco-mania accessorised with fine Norwegian crystal – instead of paste and leopard skin – and its addictive. Intoxicating in fact.
‘Never Ever’ is pure disco ball. A spinning, glittering dance track that harks back to an age of pioneering electronica, when Jackson was king, Madonna was queen, and Mode ruled the world.
Susanne Sundfor plays Oslo Spektrum this coming Saturday 17th – tickets plus free download of her new single, Reincarnation, here. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know who you might spot in the crowd, #RYXP.
Listen to ‘Never Ever’ via the Spotify or Soundcloud links below.
There’s something about Ponette’s ice-coated, Nordic Noir sound, that conjures up images of front-woman Helene Svaland singing dreamily, eyes closed, whilst standing in the middle of a dark, lonely expanse, empty except for a myriad dark shadows slinking under the pale light of a low mid-winter moon.
In addition to Svaland, this Oslo based quartet, comprises Johannes Amble, Ivo Gutu, and Johan Fredrik Bolli, and on the evidence of their socials, they formed about two minutes ago! Competent, well cemented musicianship says otherwise, and based on the fact that their debut EP entitled, ‘I’m Alone’ was both self-recorded and produced, one imagines they’ve clocked a fair bit of mileage on the musical clock.
Wearing dark pop with more panache than a Lagerfeld muse, Ponette have all the silk lined presence of a band who’ve already arrived, before they’ve arrived. Classy, well produced, synchronised, subtle, their sound is tailored by master-craftsmen of electronica. Vocal nuance is beguilingly understated, vocals are exhalations trapped in a frosty after-mist.
The band have just released their debut EP, ‘I’m Alone’a fire and ice production featuring four intertwined yet disparate songs. Each track builds up from a foundation of darkly brooding, expressive electronica, reaching its acme at the top end of Svaland’s wistful, enchanting and youthful voice.
Opener, ‘Hunt Them Down’ makes for a lavish entrance into the shadowy world Ponette have carved out of forbidden electronica. It’s blown open by a fanfare of doom-laden synth/bass that is silenced mercilessly, by a cold wind laden with looping grizzles, which in turn, stands down to make way for a melodramatic arpeggio of jungle drums. It’s across this bleak landscape that Svaland casually drapes a disaffected vocal.
Next up is lead track, ‘Made of Blood’, the only single to be lifted from the EP. A gossamer confection anchored down to a dark sump by leaden beats, it has moments of sublime loveliness when gentle guitar riffs create a shimmering ripple effect while Svaland’s vocals gently fall like flakes of snow.
Speaking of Svaland’s voice, there are moments when it rises above the clouds, festooned with a quirkiness that is redolent of that other Nordic ice-queen, Bjork. On a superficial level Helene Svaland’s voice is softer, more delicate than her Icelandic counterpart; that softness overlays an immutable force, the proverbial iron fist in its velvet glove, albeit one that’s been left overnight in the freezer compartment.
“We fall from our high horse, we don’t know how to fly, the rules are slightly different now, ‘cos we grew out of the comfort of our innocence, we don’t know right from wrong anymore, ‘cos the red line is crossed”
Relief from the gloaming comes in the form of track three, possibly not coincidentally entitled, ‘Relief’. Just what the doctor ordered, sonically at least, it’s a melodic dance through lightly played, spacious guitar, barely there echoey drums, and flurries of hyperactive synth squiggles. The vocal lays low, restrained but intent on its purpose.
The lyrics, sharp and incisive, provide a counter to the fragile finesse of the instrumental. A propos of nothing, the shutters are lifted, everything is energised and the result is electric. Thrashing guitars and propulsive percussion wreak havoc through a two minute outro of meandering synth that flows into the EP’s finale.
“So don’t choose me, I’m not choosing you … Love me I’m alone”
Title track ‘I’m Alone’ is the only one with an uptempo rhythm, if you could call it that. Jittering electro percussion hyperventilates against handclap propulsion, while synth and guitar lines twist and writhe. The tracks contains some moments where it slips into some very well played funereal keys and damning drums, but overall this is a catchy pop song that balances light and shade to perfection.
A song about love, but not a love song, lyrically it’s a conflict of emotional need and destitution. It closes with an extended semi-classical-electro sequence, probably this EPs finest instrumental wine, which very cleverly, Ponette have saved til last.
On this EP, Ponette explore and mine a vast and dark terrain. They purge the fractious, stripping away any protective veneer, laying bare raw emotions across an expansive, skilfully painted Nordic soundscape. For a debut EP, this is a mightily impressive offering. An album, if and when it follows, will be a test of their ingenuity and staying power. Proof, if it were needed, that Ponette have what it takes to elevate their music to the next level.
When you press play on a Susanne Sundfortrack, one half of you anticipates the full ‘Wuthering Heights‘ of unfettered electronica to unfurl its thrashing tentacles amidst a frantic storm of flashing strobes. Your other half calmly waits to be served up a morsel of one of the Norwegian’s more graceful vintages; a subdued acoustic delicacy with a zephyr light caress.
What you don’t auto-expect from the Queen of Norway is a full blown cajun-cowboy number replete with more slide than Mississippi mud. A folksy kind of track that would be more at home nestling in the ancestral black mountain home of Anne Lise Frøkedal.
But that’s just what the multi-award winning singer/songwriter has just gifted her fans, in the shape of 4-D country ballad ‘Reincarnation’. An evocative poem shrouded in the ethereal, at first it’s grounded in dancing shadows, warmed by flickering embers of instrumentation. Then after an intense build, it’s swept gloriously upwards by desert winds to heights where it soars astride the wings of an eagle.
“I might be crazy, baby lately, I don’t believe the news, They say it’s ending, to stop pretending, to start looking for clues.
A glass cylinder, where we can linger, let me take us to the stars, I won’t be missing, your tender kissing, ‘cos the light will wipe up all the sky”
A turn of guitar phrase comparable with Lee Hazlewood in his prime: a vocal of such purity and genuine loveliness; one which is as perfectly nuanced as that of Julia Holter on the ridiculously glorious, ‘Gold Dust Woman‘. These two things alone ensure ‘Reincarnation’ surpasses all its acoustic predecessors.
A cloud of harmonies painted with a light wash of synth add a touch of poignancy to what is an already moving atmosphere. Percussion in the form of waves of crashing cymbals, underlines the sonic build, adding a dash of drama to the intensifying score.
Susanne Sundfor is renowned for the crystalline quality of her far-reaching vocal, but for me, her voice goes beyond purity and clarity. Hers is a terrifically expressive and animated voice, a voice with which she breathes life into intricate lyricism that itself runs the gamut from deeply painful to ecstatically euphoric.
“Do you believe in reincarnation, ‘cos I thought I saw your soul. flashing and dancing on the horizon”
Impressive vocals aside, it is the slide guitar that triumphs on this enchanting journey from mother earth to another realm. Whoever is playing this amber tongued instrument is one seriously skilled and talented musician.
He/she doesn’t just play, they stroke and caress those strings with such a gentle force as to provokes the most heart warming and soul-stirring of sounds. This is amber nectar on an par with Scotland’s finest single malt – rich, golden, potent, delicious and most important of all, satisfying.
‘Reincarnation’ is a song one could visualise Susanne singing at a nocturnal gig in a open field. A scene dotted with small woodpile fires set against a backdrop of inky night, where a sky filled with opaline stars reflects the heavenly loveliness of the angelic choral finale of this Norwegian lullaby. One wonders if this will make the Spektrum setlist when she plays Oslo next week?
‘Reincarnation’ is available as a free download here – Susanne will play Oslo’s finest venue, Spektrum, on 17th September – some tickets still available, details here. For further information regarding the download, Susanne’s upcoming gigs and future releases, follow her on her socials – Facebook– Twitter.
“A fairground attraction of blurred lines and hazy flickering lights, with fireflies overhead, darting around the twilit sky” – thatis how I’d describe my initial reaction to ‘Shere Khan‘ the latest single by Danish trio, Slaughter Beach.
It’s a light spattered, wind tossed song, which interestingly has its own real life, shadowy backstory:-
“When I made the early demo for ‘Shere Khan’ I didn’t intend to write about anyone in particular, but as the song progressed I realised that I was writing about this friend of mine … a friend who has a special kind of hold on the people he spends time with … and the effect he has on me, for better and worse.”
Don’t be fooled by the fact that trio Nikolaj Westi, Hasse Mydtskov and Mads Emil Aagaard have only been playing together in the guise of Slaughter Beach, since 2013. As individual musicians, they have a bit more mileage on the clock. Their skillful collective is a wonderfully eclectic confluence, the expert nous of which has ensured a constant evolution of sound, as evidenced with each passing release.
‘Shere Khan’ itself is quite the intoxicating meld of tropical, fantastical, victoriana, music hall and fairytale. It plays to the bands strengths, diffusing hazy harmonies through the lilt of stonewashed falsetto vocals, and by sprinkling electronic imaginings over hypnotic looping wonders, will-o-the-wisp guitar, and slacker beats.
The track is at its most captivating, when it slams a jam on the blur button thereby creating a long hazy bridge to the instrumental outro. Like Alice through her Looking Glass, we are transported into a dreamy, Madagascar-esque tropical wonderland, complete with birds of paradise that coo and trill amidst gleaming rounds of the most delightful of synth carousels.
“All around there’s people coming round for a ride in your magic car”
‘Shere Khan’ gives quite the sardonic shot across the bowels to those who have the power to bewitch, buoy up and blight in equal measure. In fact, the songs incisive lyrics are so sharp it’s in danger of cutting itself.
This is a glowing reverie filled with beguiling, superficial images. The mesmeric conceits and fairylit delights of the fairground, an hypnotic world into which we are drawn by a seeming that is never reality.
The faux glamourous backdrop of palm lined boulevards set against a fading azure dusk, in which we are swept away like Lucy Jordan, into long laughter filled nights. High on sparkling joie-de-vivre, we hang fixedly on every delusive word that drips from the insincere mouth of our ‘special friend’.
By shrouding their dark lyrical underlay with a myriad uplifting musical sequences strewn with fragments of pure genius, Slaugher Beach have managed to create the loveliest of iridescent musical allegories out of the most bittersweet of memories.
‘Shere Khan‘ by Slaughter Beach is out now viaBrilliance Records & available via all digital channels. Theirupcoming ‘Heroic Dose’ EP is scheduled for release on 7th October. For further info, see socials below.
Fresh from our foray into the glass menagerie of Dave Bayley & other ‘animals’, we venture forth into the thorny jungle of their chosen North American tour partners, Pumarosa.
September marks new territory for this blog, or to be all uber-metaphorical, this boat has set sail into previously uncharted waters. Mind you, there could be an irony in our gliding into the ‘dark side’ of the Irish sea at this juncture, all things #Brexit considered …#thatshiphassailed
Sounding a bit like Pat Benatar diffused through a thick and gritty haze of guitar, Pumarosafront-woman Isabel Munoz-Newsome jauntily drops the words, “…oh you stupid son of a bitch, yeah you stupid son of a bitch … you tell me stories I want to believe in” and I’m sold.
Bagging a premiere for latest single ‘Honey’ on Huw Stephens’ BBC radio show, Pumarosa are obviously not short of high level support. More importantly, they have also firmly established a loyal following amongst the more savvy, less shouty of the music media, like VPME and Pigeonsandplanes.
To top it all off, the band has been enlisted by experimenters du jour, Glass Animals, to join them on their late Autumn tour of North America and Canada. Tour dates below also include some NYC/LA Pumarosa headliners!
Lifted from their forthcoming self-titled EP, ‘Honey’ is the band’s third single, following ‘Cecile’ and debut ‘The Priestess’. It is testament to the bands strong sound and definitive style, that at only three single releases in, they have already generated a heap of interest from both music fans and media alike.
“Stuck inside this dance forever, walking in circles altogether”
Commanding attention from the off, the song is alive with raw energy and powerful personality. Clean, unwashed guitars, with more seesaw flang than a gaggle of emergency services sirens, stride across bolts of electronica and vital drumming to create a right clangourous ding on the ear. But it’s Isabel’s WTF vocal – clean, pressing, questioning, arresting – that soars above the sonorous clamour to draw rightful attention to the track’s fiery lyrics.
Passionate and alive, this song punches at just the right weight, by getting the depth and urgency of its sound just right. A melodic blast of unpretentious music, well produced but not to the point of losing its freshness, ‘Honey’ is a refreshingly honest track that should seal Pumarosa’s reputation, standing them in bloody good stead for their upcoming live dates.
‘Honey’ and the Pumarosa EP are both now on release via Fiction Records (see below) … give it a listen here.
Icelandic rock renegades, Fufanu, have in their usual, unorthodox manner, just dropped a late night surprise release with ‘Sports‘, the lead single from their upcoming as yet to be named, sophomore album. The band made good on their promise to post the track with its accompanying self-directed video, which was conceived of and filmed, in collaboration with Icelandic creatives, DÓTTIR.
Another intensely atmospheric and highly charged affair, ‘Sports’ makes a perfect ‘cruise collection’ outfit, to transition the band from the sound of their debut, ‘Few More Days To Go‘, to its newest sibling.
These Fufanu guys have such a penchant for espionage fuelled, thriller riddled, mystery driven soundtracks that they should be working with spaced out filmmakers and TV dramatists on all things Nordic Noir and Jason Bourne.
‘Sports’ predecessor, the De Vries remix of ‘Plastic People‘, all lopsided wonk and 60s sci-fi, contained an air of dark menace and shady subterfuge that has carried forward into the latest single. As black and forbidden as the nocturnal sea, the track opens with a persistent high voltage thrum and pulse, over which waves of electronica lap and wash, like an ebbing tide gliding over cold dark sands.
Currents of stinging guitar ripple and writhe adding to the tracks already mounting tension, while behind the reverbed scenes lies the compelling yet mellowed vocal of Kaktus Einarsson, redolent of Ian Brown c. ‘Fools Gold’. Einarsson’s wickedly mischievous, high wattage personality shines through an intriguing vocal underlaid with a hint of sensuality.
Exploratory and dynamical, ‘Sports’ is like a taster menu of myriad sample sounds and moving parts. A melting pot of diversity which precludes Fufanu from being wedged into any single silo – indie, rock, electronic- thus allowing their music to explore and evolve label free, in an experimental, alternative universe. In other words, it is ‘genre fluid’.
Fufanu is Kaktus Einarsson and Guðlaugur Einarsson. ‘Sports‘ is available to stream/download now via One Little Indianor the usual digital channels. Fufanu will release their second album later in the Autumn and to keep up with its progress, follow them on Facebook. The band will play the Iceland AirwavesFestival on home turf in November, which will this be this reviewers first time to see them live! We’re excited!!
“All through the years of my youth, Neither could have known Their own thought from the other’s, We were so much at one”
– ‘O Do Not Love Too Long’, W.B Yeats
Minimalism leaves little room for hyperbole. It offers up no place to hide. It leaves both musician and reviewer exposed. No chicanery to smokescreen or dazzle. No scope for canny musical or verbal legerdemain.
This is exactly the position in which, sisters Jófríõur & Ásthildur Ákadóttir of Pascal Pinonhave put themselves. In their new album, ‘Sundur‘, they have laid themselves bare on a sparsely decorated expanse none too dissimilar to their Icelandic home.
This is an album with its roots in their sibling relationship, the beating heart from which it stems and flowers upwards, a slight and whimsical delight.
Taken from the Icelandic proverb, “sundur og saman” or, “apart and together”, ‘Sundur’ charts the ever shifting circumstances of a relationship sundered by distance and necessity but welded at its seams by an unbreakable bond formed since birth.
Togetherness in separation is at the heart of both the album and its opening track, ‘Jósa & Lotta’.
A sepia filtered intro flows into a piano acoustic duet of such delightful simplicity the gentle emotion of the vocal is allowed to float to the fore. Listening to the sisters sing is comparable to watching white light shine through a double layer of crystal. Pure, ice-clear iridescence!
External elements only come into play as the song draws to a end. Taking up an outside looking in kind of stance, these never once cross the threshold to break into the continuum of looping piano sequences. Egg shaker percussion, and search and seek synth lines, evolve into an alien interference to close out a song that subtly contrasts old with new, and the simplistic with a futuristic unknown.
While the album opener centres on relationships between the living, the second track in, ‘53‘, is very much about following and reconnecting with those who have died. While the instrumental hinges on a repetitious guitar loop that encircles the mournful vocal, the delicately crafted lyrics centre on a mother-son tragedy.
The deep pain and unbearable loss suffered by the protagonists are carved with such sincerity and understanding as to clearly evince the keen insight into human reaction and emotion with which the Ákadóttir sisters are possessed.
“I wiped the tears that almost fell, in the church, If I was a prayer, I’d pray for her, & hope that she’s found some heaven”
While Pascal Pinon sing in English, their indigenous language is Icelandic, so it should come as no surprise that their vocal is at its most fascinating when they sing in their native tongue. There are two such songs on ‘Sundur’ –‘Skammdegi’ and ‘Ást’.
Icelandic for ‘love’, ‘Ást’, is an enchantment of icy piano notes that fall like tears through raindrops onto the most fragile of vocals. Accessorised with a momentary burst of melodrama and a handful of guitar strums, the minimalism works because of the songs earnest simplicity.
It is through their on-point use of such simplicity that Jófríõur & Ásthildur Ákadóttir exemplify their proficient and intuitive understanding vocal nuance, pertinent pauses, and spaciousness, used to reinforce thematic weight in an instrumental that itself is practically weightless.
‘Skammdegi’, which means ‘midwinter’ , is another twilit mesmerism. Staggered vocal mirroring melds, forming a 3D vocal of strange, Lothlórien loveliness. The sisters’ voices start this dance apart, pirouetting gracefully around each other, but by the end they are dancing together in glorious unified harmony.
Taking up the instrumental mantle of this menagerie are two tracks, ‘Spider Light‘ and ‘Twax’ (such a great word, isn’t it?). The former has a very retro vibe redolent of the early ’80s electro-labs of OMD or Thomas Dolby mashed with some ’70s cabaret bossa nova.
This electronic trip back in time is reined in by a piano sequence with all the force and agility of a strong breeze. The piece ends with the most chillingly fantastical electronic horror … ‘spider light’ sound effects!
As an accordion player myself, it was only natural that I would be drawn to the strains of ‘Fuglar‘, a muddle of accordion and harmonium, played in seesaw staccato reps redolent of a car alarm. An interesting, quirky ditty in which the instrumental sum of random parts punctuates the vocal. It reminds me of my childhood, when I started to learn accordion, and would sit honking and depressing wedges of notes just to make a musical noise.
‘Fuglar’ doesn’t just give us a glimpse of another dimension to Pascal Pinon’s personality – fun and slightly zany with a willingness to not just think outside the box, but to rip holes in it – it also explores their adept musicianship and wildly creative streak, both of which cross a broader spectrum than first listen might assume. Theirs is an imagination with few bounds, moulded by a musical skill that has learnt through experience that restraint can work to its advantage, and that less is often more.
“For nothing ever stays the same …”
How often does one get the chance to name-check Marlene Dietrich in an album review? Once? Twice if it’s a leap year? This is what I love about ‘Sundur’ – its sheer diversity and eccentricity, and I use that term in the most respectful way possible!
“The main themes in ‘Orange’ is wordplay (repeating phrases but changing one word to alter the whole meaning), diary- or a kind of memoir-styled lyrics and imagining you’re in a piano bar in the 50’s singing about your loves and tragedies.”
The album’s lead single, ‘Orange’ is the kind of song Marlene Dietrich would sing if she were hanging underneath the lamplight today.
“He’s still in recovery from my bitterness”
Exquisitely original, ‘Orange’ is about love, lovers, and breakups. Its old music hall piano instrumental accompanies a keenly penned, incisive and droll-humoured monologue that reminds me of Victoria Wood. This is a wonderful modern day twist on vintage!
The album finale is ‘Weeks‘, one of its few contemporary electro-tracks. It’s an interesting quirk to end a predominantly “reserved” ambience with a mad scientist’s cocktail of knob twiddling and electro “divers alarums”. It comprises a musical frenzy over which an insistent vocal gently punches the fraught air, as it struggles with a claustrophobic atmosphere created by the peripheral electronic entanglement.
“I wonder if time will be soothing or malignant or will it take us back to where we were.
You took my sanity a part one shouldn’t give away and with tenacity your grip is locked across the sea.”
By taking a pared back approach to arranging ‘Sundur’, Pascal Pinon have successfully achieved maximum impact with minimal instrumentation. They have skilfully attained a sound as delicate as egg-shell, a whispering and at times idiosyncratic music that effortlessly evokes the deepest sentiments with a grace and eloquence many can only aspire to.
A series of magical moments at times shrouded in mystery, ‘Sundur’ gives us a glimpse into the secret world of siblings, a fascinating phenomenon that transcends the physical.
For more information and to keep up to speed with all releases and news, follow Pascal Pinon on Facebook. They go on tour shortly taking in Poland, Germany, Holland, France and Britain (alas, no Ireland!): again, full details on their FB page. ‘Sundur’ is available to buy via Bandcamp and to stream on Spotify.