Isolation, desolation, a sense of failure, and loneliness; just some of the things caused by the breakdown of indigenous industry and collapse of local economies.
“Empty House, No-one’s been around, the neighbours gone, there’s no-one left in town”
So begins ‘Motor City’, the solemn opener to ‘Empty House’, the international debut album from Norwegian band, Snøskred, and song which has the collapse of car manufacturing in Michigan at its heart .
‘Motor City’ with its soft, Americana wistfulness, contains some memorable moments of slide guitar and harmonica, which together produce glorious sequences harking back to John Barry’s wondrous soundtrack for ‘Midnight Cowboy’. Despite having a pretty bleak theme, the song ends with the merest hint of hope. A delightful, lingering dream sequence comprised of ascending, guitar and synth chords, gives just the faintest notion of pealing bells heralding good news.
“Seems I’m winnin’ 9 times outta 10, All it takes is a weak link in the chain”
When you play the track ‘Preparations’ you will hear one voice and one voice only – and it’s not that of a Lars Ove Fossheim – who’s in the vocal driving seat for this ride. It IS that of one Mr. David Byrne – for those too young to know, I have embedded the wiki – go read & then listen to Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense. Best track on the album by a country mile (I can hear all the “critics” groaning). David Byrne super-grouping with Bowie and Suede. Need I say anymore?
‘Preparations’ is a far cry from the REM “End of the world as we know it” darkness of the first ten minutes, but in a humorous twist of irony, the band have used those very same words in its lyrics!! This little belter, brimful of chiming guitars, sweet synths and doolally lyrics, would, thematically, make for some great visual fodder, should Snøskred have a mind to make an off the wall, Monkees meet Talking Heads type video.
Next up is another personal fave, ‘Blurred Out Lights’, and yayhay, a song in which I can actually hear some R.E.M and, wait for it, Yo La Tengo (#privatejoke!). I must also confess to hearing a lot of what one might call, Charlie Watts style drumming on this album, and none moreso than on this little number. Was Kyrre Laastad channeling his inner Charlie in the hopes of getting some “Satisfaction”? Who knows.
Be that as it may, this is a cracker of a track that finds Fossheim and Klaseie rockin’ out on their guitars and hopefully having a lot of fun in the process. Veering in an R.E.M. country-psych direction with a spacious vocal, this track starts off “harmlessly” but builds gradually in an upward spiral, until after a brief trompe l’oreille, it explodes into an instrumental frenzy of chaotic guitars and an insistent free for all on the part of the R/S.
Mirage: “an unrealistic hope or wish that cannot be achieved”
Having already reviewed Snøskred‘s latest single, ‘Mirage’, I’m not going to explore it any further. Suffice it to quote: – “A musical chimera, ‘Mirage’ is a series of musical layers – a melding of several sketches, spliced and diced, that have been very haphazardly “mille-feuilled”.” You can read the full review, here.
“Is there someone looking out for us? The same way every shepherd looks out for all his sheep, But there’s no-one, looking out for me”
Next up is ‘Lexington Hotel’, virtual home to Klaseie’s mob nightmares, the inspo for the track. Tantalisingly hypnotic, it undulates to the provocative beat of the rhythmically synced R/S whose densely compacted sound adds to the tracks intensity, by making it feel somewhat claustrophobic. Ingeniously, drummer Kyrre Laastad used three different drum kits, congas (and not to my eternal shame, bongos #blushes) and a vibraphone to concoct the deliciously languid and cavernous percussion. Yum.
The vocal has Damon Albarn stamped all over it, with Klaseie having that same Albarn-esque way of letting the vocal slip effortlessly from his lips – languorous, subtly playful, and nonchalantly cool.
A rich, sticky ooze of dark toxicity, ‘Lexington Hotel’ lures, captivates and holds you in thrall to its highly potent, dangerously addictive nature.
“So this is what it’s all about, time stands still when you’re around, the pieces fall in place, the puzzle’s done”
‘Puzzle’ is a cheeky little thing, full of “Sunday Morning” vocals, happy clappy percussion, extended guitar chords like noonday rays of sunshine, and an uplifting medley of groovy synth sounds. All of this is underpinned by Martin Hvidsten Berger whose adept shaping and expression of the bass lines both drive the song and glue it together.
The album closes with the track ‘Homeless’ which essentially tells the story behind how three different people became homeless when the world economically imploded and the boom went bust, thereby blowing the lives of those living within it to smithereens. It’s a stirring, lyrically pensive track, in which an accusatory vocal is filled with spaces leaving its indictments hanging in mid air, above an intensely moving instrumental accompaniment.
A sombre end, it brings ‘Empty House’ full circle to a close as solemn as the beginning. This album runs the gamut of emotions, touching on tough, stark subject matter, expressing it with clarity, and just the right amount of empathy to resonate with the listener. The dark is interspersed with moments of light frivolity that give the album balance. Musically it is technically proficient, instrumentally adventurous, and excellently arranged. Self-produced by Karl Klaseie and Kyrre Laastad, it is a well polished but yet not too shiny production, retaining enough grit to have an edge.
‘Empty House’ is a carefully crafted disparate world, full of colourful virtual visitors and fleeting influences, but at its heart sits an oasis of tranquility and calm in which the listener can mindfully reflect upon its thought provoking messages and stark real-life themes.
Snøskred are: Kyrre Laastad: Drums, Lars Ove Fossheim: Vocals and guitar, Martin Hvidsten Berger: Bass &
Karl Klaseie: Vocals and guitar. The band embarks on a promotional tour in April; full details can be found on their Facebook page. You can also follow them on Twitter.