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!
6. Agnes Obel – Familiar (Den)
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!