Norwegian modernist collective Pom Poko have just released their third single ‘It’s a Trap’ accompanied by an impressive avant-garde ‘toon visual, the work of Olav Fangel Jamtveit, brother of the band’s vocalist, Ragnhild FJ.
A song about release and arrival, letting go to achieve self-awareness, ‘It’s a Trap’ is a quirky, punchy little sherbet that fizzes with pops of 90’s post-punk with more than a hint of glam psych. Without doubt the track benefits from the experimental nous and masterly hand of Highasakite‘s Kristoffer Lo, a man who knows his way around more than a few instruments. Adding his trademark guitar, brass and a.n.other sounds to the mix, Lo has taken Pom Poko’s sound in a more experimental and diverse direction, giving the original live jam the same depth and texture he brings to all his collaborations.
While the instrumental backdrop has some sharp edges, it is chasmed by sufficient wide spaces to counter-balance the intensity. As usual, vocal duties of the infinitely starlit variety are carried off with effortless ease by Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit and if her previous live vocal performances are the benchmark to go by, Pom Poko’s two gigs at Trondheim Callingshould be something else and then some more! During TC the band will also perform a live sesh for P3’s Ruben. Unfortunately for me it’s happening on the Wednesday, ahead of my arrival ‘on scene’.
In addition to their saffron shot nocturnal cartoon visual accompaniment, Pom Poko have adorned their single with the cutest, candy-coloured artwork by Norwegian illustrator Erlend Pederwhich you can see here! The floral bedecked character is as yet to be identified!
In other news, Pom Poko have made it to the Urort Final 2017 (a Norwegian national award for promising emerging artists); if you like what you hear, you can vote for Pom Poko to win this prestigious award, here. #doit
It is a testament to their punky quirkiness that Pom Poko give their facebook page “unofficial status” – hook up with it here to touch base with the band and keep up to speed with their lives at Trondheim Calling and their Urort escapades!
The future is definitely as bright as the characters in their ‘It’s a Trap’ video for this effervescent four-piece – I hope you’ll join me in wishing them all the luck in the world – for Trondheim Calling, for Urort and we-ell, for the future.
‘It’s a Trap’ is available now via Phonofile – http://phonofile.link/its-a-trap . Watch the captivating fam-made visual here.
James Blunt gives his detractors the 2-fingers in latest single, ‘Love Me Better’.
Lifted from his upcoming album ‘The Afterlove’ which is set for release on March 24th through Atlantic Records, ‘Love Me Better’ marks a new departure for the platinum selling artist. Produced by American singer Ryan Tedder(One Republic), a respected songwriter in his own right (Madonna, U2, Adele) its interstitial arc curves through a spectrum of slick R&B before exploding into vibrant uptempo pop.
While reflective lyrics are raw and forthright, they are also both critical and self-critical. Shaped in the humourous fold that is trademark Blunt, they take a side-swipe at the Blunt detractors whilst dabbling in some heartfelt emosh. Fusing high-end R&B with uptown pop, the song, which hinges on catchy beats and gyrating synths, cruises seamlessly through stop-start tempo changes, giving it both a striking rhythm and refreshing vibe.
Coming ahead of his fifth album on which James worked with a diverse cohort including Ed Sheeran and MoZella, the track marks a progressive shift in both sound and style for the ‘You’re Beautiful’ star.
Later this year, November to be exact, will see James Blunt embark on an UK ‘The Afterlove Tour’. A list of dates together with links to pre-order the upcoming album are detailed below. For further information check out James Blunt’s Facebook page.
To listen to ‘Love me Better‘ in full, click onto Spotify here:-
Sandvika natives, Einar Stray Orchestra are to indie music what the Divine Comedyare to alt-pop. In fact, with his suave baritone and predilection for quirky, on-point lyrics and gregarious, orchestral manoeuvres, Einar Stray is for all intents and purposes, the Norwegian Neil Hannon. Tbh, I can’t help fantasising about what spectacular sonic soap-operas the pairing of Stray with Hannon could magic-up … ah, one can dream.
Einar Stray’s five-piece ‘orchestra’, for orchestral they are, have just released ‘As Far As I’m Concerned‘ the second single from their upcoming album set for a 2017 release via Sinnbus & Toothfairy. The follow-up to 2016’s ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’, it’s a lavish affair, awash with resplendent string sequences, bright vivacious melodies and smoothly manoeuvred time changes underpinned by dynamic contributions from the R/S.
Vocally, the sweet lightness of Ofelia Østrem Ossum’s soft mezzo is the perfect foil for the dark shade of Stray’s rich baritone, while lyrically, this cleverly worded opus centres on the theme of the fear of change. “The fear of turning into someone the old you despite. The fear of throwing your life away going in the wrong direction. Moving forward can be terrifying – yet it’s the only way.”
ESO have announced an upcoming European tour kicking off in one of my favourite cities, Vienna, on 13th April. The tour will see them play countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and the UK amongst others but alas, no Irish dates seem to be on the cards! ESO are however lined-up to play Norway’s Trondheim Calling festival and for those of you who like me will be lucky enough to grace those snowy paths from 2nd to 4th February, full details of the artist schedule and conference programme are here.
2017 also sees the release of Einar Stray Orchestra’s third album, which, if the two superb singles are indicative of its overall quality, should be pretty much splendidly symphonic, colourfully creative and in two words, beyond impressive.
Full details of ESO’s tour and their upcoming album release can be found on their Facebook page. Follow them there and on their Twitterpage to keep up to speed with their musical escapades and a possible collaboration with our own Neil Hannon (well, stranger things have happened!).
To read about my own upcoming escapades over at Trondheim Calling, check into my blog, or hang out here on FB or Twitter.
There is something quite compelling about the fusion of left of centre R&B and early ’90s dance with a hint of trance! That’s exactly what you get on ‘No One’s God’ the latest single from Danish duo, Saint Cava.
Based in Copenhagen, Saint Cavan was formed in 2014 by Erika Casier & Andreas Waze – who per their FB page, identify as “gender neutral (It)” #Applause.
With just a smattering of tunes on their Soundcloud page which btw pays mention to an EP – ‘Bliss’ – it’s hard to nail down their backstory: one assumes it is filled with endless jamming, scribbling, crossing out, recording snatches, experimenting and trying to nail as many lives as is physically possible when you’re an unknown band starting out in a busy music hub such as København.
They played SPOT Fest 2016 and most recently have been releasing but as most of the info on them is in Danish, it’s a bit difficult to ascertain any more facts.
‘No One’s God’ is dystopian, disillusioned romance set to damning hypnotic electro-loops with a central line in insistent drum-claps. But perhaps the most intoxicating ingredient in this provocative mix is the retro synth driven dance sounds that transform what is an inherently bleak atmosphere into an altogether more compelling one. Add in a seriously seductive vocal and you’ve got the recipe for one of the best single releases of the new year.
The song is accompanied by a visual conceived of and designed by Danish 3D Graphic artist, Kristoffer Moth. It’s concept is quite apt and reflects the starkness at the heart of the song.
There’s no information ref upcoming live dates etc but you can hook up with Saint Cava via their Facebook page and follow them on Twitterand Soundcloud to tune into their latest releases. We’ll leave you with the video for ‘No One’s God’ – if you listen to nothing else today, listen to this!
Australian rising star Julia Jacklin has just released the video for stunning cover of ‘Someday’ the smash hit by The Strokes.
Recorded live for an in-studio session with Australian radio station Triple J for their celebrated ‘Like a Version’ show, Jacklin performed the song, which won multiple Best International Song gongs worldwide, in her own inimitable idiosyncratic style. Slowing the tempo right down and giving it her trademark country-grunge twist, Julia Jacklin took ‘Someday’ by the ankles and turned it upside down.
A fan of The Strokes chart topper which the singer first heard at the tender age of 12, Julia’s rendition whilst respectful, is as unique and off-rock as one could possibly get. Proving that imitation isn’t necessarily the sincerest form of flattery, Jacklin and her band take this legendary band’s #No1 song and take it to a different level.
Slow, drawling, warm, infectious, understated and as mellow as hell, this performance just lingers on the soul long after the final bars have faded into the lights.
Julia Jacklin came to prominence in 2016 when her debut album, ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ was released to unanimous critical acclaim. Receiving cross-station airplay in the UK, her single, ‘Coming of Age’ was a country-fused indie-rock blinder that won her an army of fans across the British Isles.
Having already toured successfully on the back of her 2016 releases, Jacklin returns to the road in 2017 with an extensive list of live dates including slots at some of the top music festivals from Primavera to Oslo’s Øyafestivalen. She is also set to play a live at the city’s renowned annual music showcase By:Larmwhich runs from 2nd to 4th March.
For those interested in seeing this unique, vivacious and fascinating artist play her especial style of music live alongside her extremely cool band, here’s a list of UK&I dates inc her headline at Whelans, Dublin in late Feb.
Feb 22 – Green Store Door, Brighton, UK (SOLD OUT) Feb 23 – Soup Kitchen, Manchester, UK (SOLD OUT)
Feb 24 – Bodega, Nottingham, UK Feb 25 – Whelan’s, Dublin, Ireland *****
Feb 27 – King Tuts, Glasgow, UK
Feb 28 – Headrow Houes, Leeds, UK March 1 – Louisiana, Bristol, UK (SOLD OUT)
March 2 – Scala, London, UK
March 3-4 – By:Larm Festival, Oslo, Norway
June 3 – Field Day Festival, UK
A full list of tour dates and up to date information can be found on Julia’s Facebookpage. If you haven’t already dipped your toe in to the Jacklin pool, you can find ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ on iTunes and other online stores. What you won’t find though, is this gem! Enjoy!
Best Nordic Songs of 2016 P1 posted yesterday and which you can catch up on here, featured randomly ranked songs from 25-11.
Here in Part 2, I’m delighted to give you a Best of 2016 Top Ten from the Nordic wonder-region.
Making up this list one fact has become strikingly apparent – there is a growing wealth of female talent leading the way in the Nordic region! A welcome sight to see a “best of” dominated by female artists. And no, this wasn’t deliberate, or a subconscious act of auto-feminism. This list emerged quite spontaneously, based on tracks that I felt best reflected the immense bed of talent spread across the countries that make up this region.
Which leads me into the second standout fact; the distinct lack of entries from Sweden. In this respect one can’t been too sure if this ‘omission’ reflects a chink in one’s own blogging armour, or a distinct lack of quality music coming from what was once the jewel in the Nordic crown.
My own opinion is that 2016 was an exceptionally strong year for Nordic music and I’d like to think that this top 10 selection reflects accurately the prodigious creativity and wide diversity of artists and their idiosyncratic sounds from across this region.
10. ARY – The End (Nor)
Intelligent, bright, funny, unpretentious and wildly talented, Trondheim native ARY is a shining star whose iridescence lights up the often chilly world of cold electronica. A contradiction in vocal terms – as invitingly warm as it is chilled by the high altitudes to which stretches with ease, hers is a voice that is as beguiling as it is charmingly innocent. Capable of crafting the most delicious, efficacious mood-stirrers, ARY is no Sabrina.
Driven by the need to be self-sufficient and with the smarts to back it up, ARY has started self-producing, ipso factor future releases should see her name extend beyond songwriting to production credits. The quirky, intoxicating insouciance and dreamy textures of ‘The End’, perfectly exemplify this upcoming Norwegian’s creative talents and ingenuity. Picked up by the producers of ‘Supervention 2’ it marked ARY’s third 2016 contribution to TV/Film scores. Where next? SXSW for one!
9. Pascal Pinon – Skammdegi (Ice)
Sisters Jófríður and Ásthildur Ákadóttir are Pascal Pinon. Hailing from Reykjavík, Iceland, they’ve been making music together and with friends since their mid teens. Indeed you might recognise the name of Jófríður from that other Icelandic star, Samaris, whose album ‘Black Lights’ was one of the Icelandic highlights of 2016.
As Pascal Pinon the sisters released ‘Sundur‘, an album of exquisite temperament, flawless interpetation and ingenious orchestration. It was what one could describe as having a “rarefied beauty” set in an almost intangible soundscape.
‘Skammdegi’ meaning ‘midwinter’ accounts for one of two native language tracks on the album – the other being the hauntingly beautiful Ást.
A vocal menagerie, untouchable in its fragility, Skammdegi is a sublime confluence of two vocal streams book-ended by sparse, clear instrumental lines. Unaware of its lyrical content/translation, I have no knowledge of its words but I can feel its spirit and see its colours. And isn’t part of its wonder in its otherworldly mystery?
Like practically every other Nordic artist we’ve featured, Pascal Pinon ventured as far as London but alas, failed to cross the Irish Sea. They start back gigging February with stints in Berlin and Copenhagen – see their FB page for details. Hopefully, 2017 will see Pascal Pinon, along with other Nordic acts, visit these shores – if only to honour the Viking invasion?
8. Blondage – Dive (Den)
One of the most moreish Nordic dance tracks of 2016, ‘Dive’ saw Blondage ramp it up more notches than Valentino had on his bedpost. Sexy, strong, lush, addictive beats – ‘Dive’ is what Danish duo Esben Andersen and Pernille Smith-Sivertsen do best. Blondage fuse creative curiosity and imaginative ingenuity with a basic dance roux to create fluid, electrifying, experimental tracks as unorthodox as they are diverse.
2016 saw the Rangleklods chrysalis turn into the glittering Blondage butterfly whose off-kilter electronica bleeds through the fabric of music fundamentals to expose an originality and daring so often found lacking in the electro-pop scene. Currently touring Europe, this year should see the Danes back in studio crafting more idiosyncratic sounds and adrenaline pumping beats.
7. Amish 82 feat. Kirsti Huke – My Name (Nor)
It’s been a very long time since I heard any act do ‘contemporary vintage’ (make sense of that if you will!) with such consummate finesse as Amish 82. Their sound revolves around ’80s analogue but with its latter-day arrangement style and precision production, it is past meets present in perfect harmony.
The resultant output from their collaboration with jazz singer Kirsti Huke, is suave retro meets modern elegant to which Huke, with her smooth, opaline vocal adds a subtle touch of bygone glamour. It’s not the norm to put the word sophisticated in the same sentence as ’80s retro, but that’s just what this song it. A sumptuous, grown up, remoulding of everything that was great about ’80s music with a dash of debonair and sweep of sophistication.
Amish 82 play the upcoming Tronheim Calling festival to which YT is travelling. Seeing this band of vintage vibing troubadours play live should be an experience to remember!
2016 was the year the name Agnes Obel became much more ‘familiar’ to music fans outside of her native Denmark! Unafraid to play the game her way, Obel like her contemporaries Anna von Hausswolff and Joanna Newsom, has always shaken a stick at the mainstream by following her gut and staying true to her classically inspired roots. A deep dive into the conceptual, her 2016 album, ‘Citizen of Glass’ takes a step beyond its predecessors in terms of lyrical and instrumental ingenuity. While it stays true to cinematic form and otherworldly, breathtaking vocal, it is a masterclass in innovative string and piano composition.
Highlight of the album was the single, ‘Familiar’, the sheer beauty of which took radio/blogs/internet by storm. Vocal distortions gave a modern twist to vintage cut-glass vocals. Set against a backdrop of the starkest piano and magnificent of string sequences, the mood of ‘Familiar’ rises and falls like the dance of Obel’s voice. Pure magic. Another missed live on my part (I made quite the habit of this in 2016), Agnel Obel is about to set her cap at the US which will be followed in late Spring by a return to Europe.
Okay so when I said this list was in no particular order, we-ell I might have told a teency white one. While 25-6 are 100% completely random, listings 5-1 are firm top fives and ranked accordingly.
5. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfur – Never Ever (Nor)
Since discovering the Röyksund cover of DM’s ‘Ice Machine’ I’ve been a fan of their colourful, pure pop chemistry. Röyksopp, masters of rainbow hued, adrenaline pumping, serotonin generating beats, put colour and warmth into the cheeks and timbre of Norway’s Ice Queen. In return, Sundfur gives a classy gloss of Nordic ‘je ne sais quoi‘ to their urban beats. Win/win. This symmetry of this collaborative project remains unparalleled within the industry. They are the Nordic royal family of musical invention.
‘Never Ever’, the surprise single released just days if not hours after Sundfur’s unexpected gift of the download of ‘Reincarnation’, is a hotbed of jackhammer percussive beats, frenergetic synths and electronic whirling dervishes galore. After a 2016 ‘gap year’ so to speak, big things are expected from Susanne Sundfur for 2017 (we know she’s been in studio so a release is imminent). Röyksopp, masters of their own destiny, will no doubt continue to collaborate and reinvent the poptastic disco wheel. Both are on the “live performance” to do list 2017.
4. Frøkedal – The Sign (Nor)
February 2016 saw the culmination of a year’s worth of singles, EPs and touring with the release of Norwegian Anne Lise Frøkedal’s debut album, ‘Hold on Dreamer’. Glorious, challenging, honest, raw, gentle, observant, euphoric, poetic, mindful – it is life through a lens as seen by someone with a most insightful vision. Perhaps the prettiest track on the album is ‘Cherry Trees’, a song inspired the annual cherry blossom season. A pink-hued natural Gloria, a love of which I share having two Cherry trees outside my own home.
That said, the title of standout has to go to ‘The Sign’, which, simply put, is positivity in a song. If you could bottle positive euphoria and set it to music, ‘The Sign’ would be it. Uplifting, energised melodies skip through rambunctious drumming, their feelgood mood enhanced by Frøkedal’s animated, perfectly delightful voice. Superficially simple, subliminally faultless. Having pretty much toured the world Frøkedal is currently enjoying some mid-Winter downtime whilst enjoying the glow of having ‘Hold on Dreamer’ nominated for a Spelleman award! #Applause.
3. EERA – White Water (Nor)
One of the huge successes of the Norwegian Indie scene last year was London based EERA. Her stark and deeply personal lyrics, shrouded in nature and reality, are pure poetry set against scores ranging from sparse alt-rock balladry to sensuous grunge. Speaking of which, her single ‘White Water’ was quite possibly the most seductive indie-grunge heard this side of Nirvana.
‘White Water’ has more charge than the electrical currents coursing through the veins of its guitar lines. Fraught, intense, gritty, dark, sensual – it’s all of that and more. Yet, it contains the most unaffected, untouched vocal moments – distant, pure and wistful – that take the sexual edge off somewhat. Proving that this song is “all that and then some” it was snapped up by top 2FM DJ, Dan Hegarty, noted for supporting emerging artists, who played it on both his day and nighttime shows! Big things are in store for this lady in 2017 … the bar has been set, expectations are high! No pressure then.
2. Hanne Kolstø – Stein / Saks (Nor)
If proof were ever needed that you don’t need to understand the lingo to love the song and get the sentiment ‘Stein / Saks’ is it! The most beautifully proportioned song to come out of Norway in 2016, it combines happiness with positivity with sentiment with sunny melodies and instrumental minimalism. Net result – the perfect upbeat pop song. It’s a simple formula that works perfectly.
Hanne Kolstø is one of Norway’s most renowned female solo artists. A musician who has run the gamut of live acoustic, punk, kick-ass rock-pop and tear-stained balladry. Whatever she does, Kolstø does it with breathtaking honesty and a passion unequalled by many of her peers (with the possible exception of the afore-mentioned ALF).
Her acoustic album ‘Live at Toyenkirken’ was a spiritual masterpiece and her second, (yes second), album of 2016, ‘Fest Blikket’ is a perfectly balanced blend of Summery melodies, electronic escapades, delicious piano sequences, feisty guitars and that honest and true vocal that is HK’s signature. The fact that it’s in Norwegian makes the journey all the more mysterious!
Abundantly talented and infinitely far-seeing, Hanne Kolstø is a musical nomad and natural poet who defies definition. It is for that very reason, along with her indefatigable spirit and crazily good songs that I rate her as the best Nordic female artist today.
1. IRAH – Fast Travelling (Den)
Finally we’ve arrived at the top Nordic song of 2016.
Tbh IRAH were a slow burn with me. While I appreciated the purity of their music and the conviction of its lyrical direction, it just didn’t click. Not until I re-listened to ‘Fast Travelling’ just before its release.
Like a fog lifting, the picture became clear and the jigsaw fell into place. The interconnecting themes, the lyrical objective, the continuum of mindful meditation and peaceful intent suddenly became apparent. It finally all made sense.
‘Fast Travelling’ is without doubt one of the most thoughtful, emotionally intelligent, spiritually uplifting, and transcendental compositions I’ve ever heard. And at its core beats a most beautiful heart. If I tried to put into words how this song affects me I’d fail; instead I’ll link you to my review. An hypnosis of rolling percussion soothes, while iridescent colour-blush synths add a warming glow. But it is the enchanting, utter loveliness of Stine Grøn’s vocal that elevates this song to musical nirvana.
2016 saw IRAH go from nowhere to everywhere so much so that 2017 should see them go even further! If I had one last wish, it would be to see this musical meditation, this spiritual transcendence live in 2017.
If you have actually managed to get to the end of this Top 25 well done, go get a drink and for your divertissement, here’s a full Spotify playlist of the featured tracks. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did and still do. Happy New Year and if 2017 brings half the wealth of treasures that 2016 did, we’ll be immersed in a soundscape of musical gold!
As I sit staring at a blank screen a thought occurs … “where the hell do I start?”
There have been so many searingly good ‘sonicisms’ out of the Nordic belt in 2016 that choosing a “best of” list comprising a dozen songs is nothing more than an “understatement” of the regions achievements. One has neither the time, patience, nor the resources of Nordic Playlist to conjure up a ‘decameron’, yet a mere dozen songs seems like, we-ll, an insult to the many, many artists whose perfectly crafted gems shall go unheralded in this brief retrospective.
So back to ground zero and the conundrum of where and with whom to start proceedings.
So many great tunes, so many personal faves. Surely the best tack is to include those ass-kicking, thought provoking songs that resonated, the sparklers that lit up the midnight darkness, and the emotional tendrils that reached out and touched one’s soul with their tenderness, rawness and honesty. And let’s not forget those that, well to put it simply, just made us smile.
So without further ado, and in no particular order of merit, here’s Part 1 of a medley of some of the best Nordic tracks of 2016. Songs which for a myriad reasons, professionally and personally, impacted, ignited, resonated, uplifted, calmed, transported and generally made what was quite the difficult year, a lot more pleasant and easier to bear.
Part 1 : 25 – 11
25. Sweet Tempest – The Truth (Den)
It’s songs like ‘The Truth’ for which the word “delightful” were coined. Delightful, wistful vocals float through the most warming of melodies making this track a thoroughly joyous affair. Hailing from Copenhagen, Sweet Tempest have all that Scandi quirkiness and unique sense of style we’ve witnessed in other well known Danes like Stine Grøn and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen. Radiating happy contentment and positively emitting ‘hygge’ (if it can be emitted) Sweet Tempest are to Bohemian charm what Hans Christian Andersen was to fairytales. Having laid a solid foundation in 2016, expect great things from this duo in the new year.
24. Chain Wallet – Muted Colours (Nor)
This Bergen trio provided Øyafestivalen with one of its best Klubbdagen performances and courtesy of providence, I found myself, right place, right time in front of one of the best live acts of 2016. Judging by the hyped up crowd, they thought the same! A muddle of Prefab Sprout and 80s nostalgia interwoven through a mesh of guitars, and the result is 21C pop perfection. Chain Wallet play with an enthusiastic energy and animation that belie the wistful melancholia drifting through their songs. A self-titled album received waves of positive vibes. As the song goes, “things can only get better”.
23. Panda Panda – New Friends (Nor)
The first of two entries from the boutique Riot Factory label, indie band Panda Panda are open, warm, funny, quirky, random and as dynamic as their home-video for New Friends would suggest. Young, brimful of colourful creativity and as energetic as they are ambitious, this is a band who, right break/right time, could set fire to the Norwegian indie scene. ‘New Friends’ was already popular with their loyal cohort of fans before its online release. Innovative and catchy, unyielding to norms, it blurs lines between strident indie and dreamy pop. Will a debut full length be on the cards for 2017? One hopes so.
22. Vök – Waiting (Ice)
‘Waiting’ is a track positively dripping with elegance and class. Slick, immaculately tailored and slightly stand-offish like a well heeled Sloane, this track reeks of confidence. If Carlsberg did Iceland electronica it would be Vök! Cool, competent, understated, Vök make intelligent, mature music that’s far from the black and white affair it first seems. This is more than just electronic music – it pushed experimental boundaries in the most controlled and stylish of ways. Margrét Rán’s somewhat detached vocal blows an Arctic chill across a spectrum of undulating and spiralling synth patterns. This is a band on the cusp of reaching their zenith.
21. Masasolo – Really Thought She Loved Me (Den)
Masasolo – what’s not to love, eh? Cool, laid-back, slacker vibes meets Summer tinged psych. There’s nothing remotely ‘rush hour’ about their mellowed out sound, which simply floats. To be honest, it was a toss up between this and ‘How it Feels’ but the chilled out, dreamy vibe of ‘Really Thought’ won me over. Gentle, thoughtful, soothing, inviting – the type of touching vocal and relaxed sounds combo of which the world needs more!
The first of two appearances by blond strummer, Jacob ‘Jake’ Haubjerg, more of whom anon.
20. Lumikide – Golden (Nor)
One of the many happy accidents of 2016, I came across Lumikide when researching another band Antler, with whom they share drummer Axel Skalstad. One month later I found myself sharing air at Oya with band member Martin Tonne. Norway is like that! One big friendly loop. ‘Golden’ is as golden does – lustrous, iridescent indie-pop overflowing with gilt edged melodies and jazz infused percussion courtesy of the afore-mentioned Axel. Rich, bewitching vocals take already soaring sequences to dizzying heights, but not to the extent that it all becomes otherworldly and flimsy. This is gauze swathed punchy pop, arranged with precision and underpinned by ‘crack’ instrumentation. Lumikide are currently working on new material – can’t wait.
19. Electric Eye – Bless, Al Lover Remix (Nor)
Can anyone else hear the ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ Edge vibe to the guitar hook around which this track revolves? One of THE top lives acts at Øya ’16, the varnish was all but bubbling on the woodwork such was the scorch coming from those guitars. EE are seasoned pros who know their audience and give them what they want. Purveyors of retro psych updated to blend perfectly into a modern haze, this outfit from Bergen are one of the best acts in Norway right now. Hot from success at Roskilde and SXSW, 2017 should see them light up even bigger and better festivals. Unfort I couldn’t find a YT link to the Al Lover remix so behold, ‘Bless’ in all its original splendour!
18. Fufanu – Ballerina in the Rain, Nick Zinner Remix (Ice)
Einarssonx2 make up Icelandic post-rock outfit Fufanu. Kaktus E owns vocal duties while Guðlaugur E (pronounce that I dare you) does guitars. With remixes dropping from the renowned fingertips of Damon Albarn and Nick Zinner, stints at Iceland Airwaves and a second album, ‘Sports’ in the can (due out in Feb) you could say they had a pretty good 2016. Frontman Kaktus is part Iggy Pop, part Liam Gallagher: hidden in an undergrowth of sullen, indifferent swagger fizzes sassy attitude and possibly a stick of gelignite. ‘Ballerina’ is one of those tracks whose toxicity knows no bounds. Its darkly hypnotic guitars, languid vocals and brooding, volcanic atmosphere pack a powerful punch! Fufanu are about to hit the UK with a bang details & would you believe my luck, are playing Oslo’s By:larm the year I can’t go!
17. Palace Winter – Soft Machine (Den)
Antipodean Carl Coleman caught the eye of Danish synth maestro Caspar Hesselager two years ago and the rest as they say is history. Palace Winter’s debut album, ‘Waiting for the World to Turn’ which dropped in June and was greeted with a myriad of multi-star reviews, has fired these musical innovators into an out of orbit trajectory ie. the cosmic highway travelled by darlings of Lauren Laverne, Liz Kershaw and Tom Robinson! Standout single ‘Soft Machine’ is their best track to-date. Subtle and paired back, it is a masterclass in tender elegance and restraint, in which the symmetry between Coleman’s country influences and Hesslager’s synth-led ingenuity is sheer perfection. With By:larm, Roskilde and Green Man in the 2016 bag, 2017 should bring their sounds to an even wider audience.
PS – the afore-mentioned Masasolo muso, Jake, spellbinds (the word playing would be an insult) some electric guitar & then some with PW for their lives!
16. Highasakite – Golden Ticket (Nor)
What’s to say that hasn’t been said of a year that saw this five-piece shoot from ground zero to stratosphere without so much as breaking a sweat. Practically unheard of outside of Norway before touring with OMAM, Highasakite smelt the first blood of success and came back with album ‘Camp Echo’ plus a list of tour dates that saw them burn through the capitals of Europe, speed through a whistlestop of the US, and take a quick dive Down Under. All of which will be neatly rounded off by a sold out arena show in their native Oslo this coming March. Put simply, Highasakite are to Norway what Zara Larsson is to Sweden. In their own words, they’ve “got a golden ticket” ..Watch this space in 2017. This band is going global!
15. Ponette – Hunt Them Down (Nor)
‘Hunt Them Down’ is pure Nordic Noir. An intensely dark, melodrama filled nightscape illuminated by starbursts of synth fireworks and Helene Svaland’s angelic, ice-tipped vocal, this is the onyx jewel in the Ponette EP crown. So compellingly good is this song that percussion wizard Trond Bersu of afore-mentioned Highasakite fame, made time in his jam-packed itinerary to craft a rather lush remix of it. If that ain’t a seal of approval. Recently signed to NO FOREVERS, Ponette are as yet still under the industry radar. A band to watch out for in 2017.
14. Cats of Transnistria – Thunder Comes (Fin)
Finns Cats of Transnistria served up one of the most stunningly beautiful albums of 2016. Fact. A visceral sonic evocation, ‘Divine’ is woven through imaginative interplay of minimalist soundscapes and Gothic fantasies, expertly arranged and delivered with considerable emotional intensity. Lifted from the album, ‘Thunder Comes’, is a quirky, off-kilter confection of melancholic acoustic, scratchy amps and haunting vocals that is as disturbing as it is mesmerising. The sepia-stained, grainy visual is a perfect fit. Made up of Helsinki based Tuomas Alatalo and Henna Emilia Hietamäki, this duo has had a busy year playing promotional lives in the most out of the way (and we hope exotic) of Arctic locations. Where will they take their sound or their sound take them in 2017?
13. Bendik – Kriger (Nor)
Possibly one of the most uniquely talented and enigmatic of Norwegian music artists to remain a Nordic secret treasure. Why? Because Silje Halstensen aka Bendik sings in her native tongue. One can’t help feeling that if, like Icelandic trio Samaris, she ever decides to record any of her thrillingly good songs in English and I’m not for one minute suggesting she should, Bendik would, like all good cream, rise to the top of the music Eurozone. With a voice that is both at once as powerful as a Boeing engine and soft as a velvet dream, Bendik soars through compelling and passionate synth-fused soft-rock backdrops to create the perfect alt-pop landscape. I for one, am very much looking forward to hearing what 2017 brings from this genuinely raw and undiluted talent.
12. Snøskred – Blurred Out Lights (Nor)
What do you get when you group four talented, witty, savvy and insightful musicians? A classy, slick quartet called Snøskred is what. Erudite, verbose, adept, thinkers outside the lyrical box, this Norwegian four-piece produced one of the best albums of 2016 – ‘Empty House’. The sound is American, the style is suave, the lyrics thought provoking and the instrumentation consummate. ‘Blurred Out Lights’ which sadly wasn’t released as a single, is a song for driving in the dark on an unlit, empty road to nowhere. It dawdles along nicely following a REM-esque line in country until apropos of nothing it brews up a right instrumental storm. One can’t help wondering what would have happened had this album dropped in the US: it has all the sterling hallmarks and polished production to which the Americans are drawn like bees to manuka. A new album is in the offing for 2017.
11. Trance Frendz – 23:17 (Ice/Ger)
There aren’t any words in the dictionary to describe the emotional waves that roll over me when I hear the music of Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm, the most celebrated keyboardists/pianists/composers of contemporary alt-classical – again one word will not suffice to define the limitless talents of both men. 23:17 is one cog in the wonder wheel that is the Trance Frendz live album, off the hoof improv recorded in Frahm’s Berlin studio over the course of an evening and on into the early hours. The sheer gentleness of Arnalds’s touch, the delicacy of those loops as they fade in and out through Frahm’s altogether darker, more intense sequences is enough to give me goosebumps. Having tried and failed (miserably) to see them play live, both individually and together, I have made this one of my top “must do” missions of 2017. Expect more brilliance form Arnalds/Frahm this year; nothing that they produce, together or in their own right, ever ceases to amaze. 23:17 starts at 15:22 (and no, that’s not a joke!).
Tune in next time for Part 2 when I reveal tracks 10-1.