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.