Is there anything more magical than an expansive tract of land carpeted with thick pile, powdery snow, imbued with a sense of hush and serenity? As one soaks up its daz-white emptiness offset by a stunning azure blue sky and high noon sun of the type more associated with the Mediterranean, the purest air seeps into ones lungs, invigorating, healing, giving one an unexpected head-rush of dizzying proportions. This is mid-Norway in early February and despite its minus three temperatures, it has a clement, almost springlike feel to its late winter weather.
As if by way of silent solidarity, the weather replicates the colourful iridescence and paradoxical cold charm, that like a pair of oversized, ice-tipped wings, so much of the music from this region drapes itself in.
Norwegian music has for many years held me in its thrall, with its effortless scaling of Himalayan vocal heights, pristine tonal clarity and sheer unadulterated enthusiasm. Time and again, it has drawn me to its Narnia-esque snowscapes, lured by its easy charm and communal spirit, each visit proving a little more enticing, each foray drawing me a little deeper into its ‘norsk kultur’.
Enough of the Danubian hyperbolic flow! A recent trip to Norway brought about the opportunity for several interesting interviews, some of which were, it was agreed, to be published by a rather large online publication. However and most regrettably, despite having received written agreement prior to the event, said publication has since reneged on its commitment and those long hunched over transcripts have gone unseen.
So, by way of small reparation to those artists who were promised a space in the much broader columns of that blog which shall remain nameless, I have decided to do a three-part Norwegian special to kick off my new Discover series featuring the best of Nordic music. The two posts will be made up of a sprinkling of those artists who are doubtless feeling very much aggrieved (you’re not on your own!) and a smattering of others to whom my ears are oft’ inclined. Enjoy, Derv x
WHO? KATRIN FRODER
Bergen born Katrin Frøder who goes by her surname, is one of many artists signed to the Toothfairy label, who are fast becoming ‘a thing’ in their native patch. Best known for her unmistakable signature vocal that resides up there somewhere alongside the seraphims, Frøder crafts hypnotic electronic-based music saturated in more technological quirks than would challenge the best spark.
Having taken some time out to recalibrate, the Norwegian who is currently beavering away at penning new songs, says a revitalised return to form has inspired new music even stronger and more alive than that of her self-titled debut.
With several lives dates down and appearances at top festivals under her belt, the singer opted out of the chance to play at SXSW, choosing instead to stay closer to home to continue with her songwriting. She has most recently been releasing collaborations with fellow label mate and renowned electronic producer Carl Louis, best known this side of the North Sea for his work with ARY.
Quirky, with an idiosyncratic style and a penchant for a bit of blue hue, Frøder is an artist who stands out from the crowd while her unorthodox creative style lends itself to weaving both spiralling sonic fascinators and beat-driven crowd pleasers. Most recent releases see her featuring on Carl Louis’ Easy and this wistful wonder, Come With Me. Expect new solo music later this year.
WHO? LUDVIG MOON
Each time I go to write a review of LM’s music, I have to return to their FB page to count up just how many of them there are in this sprawling indie horde (there are 7). Ludvig Moon, signed to Norwegian indie label Riot Factory, are a band who I would classify as ‘still maturing’, a group within touching distance of nailing their sound.
Their debut album Kin had all the ingredients for a runaway success but alas, as seems to be the norm with much indigenous Norwegian ‘pop’ music, it didn’t really figure in their music charts scheme of things. Highly acclaimed and critically well received, it was, is, give or take the odd hiccup, an extremely well produced compendium of thrillers and seducers.
Ludvig Moon aren’t just another indie band – they are the sum of extremely talented instrumental parts, complete with a duet of vocals that are a synchronised match made in harmony heaven. While they may look a little top heavy on the instrumental side, and are usually found spilling over the side of any industry standard stage, when you strip back to component level the wealth of the individual threads doesn’t just validate it compounds the splendour of the overall weave.
Ludvig Moon say they’re in a happier place and it shows. What’s also evident is an abundance of freshly charged high voltage energy.
Blankets their latest from the forthcoming All Our Friends EP, due out on 26th April, (there doesn’t appear to be a pre-order so keep your eyes peeled) is a collaboration with The Little Hands of Asphalt and Team Me, possibly the only band to be able to lay claim to having c.99% of Norway’s musician population pass through its line-up since its inception.
There’s a touch of the poppier side of alt-rockers MSP to this track which drifts nicely back to a mid-90s landscape of Britpop when boys could be girls and girls could be whoever the damn hell they wanted to be. A video montage of ‘home “let’s get shit-faced” movies’ and archive film footage shows humour, personality and too much tongue. New music due date, 26/4/2017.
Ooh, one sip of this seductive sweetness and you’ll be intoxicated for hours. An anaesthetic for a bad day, heartbreak or general pain in the ass-iness, Novocaine is our new musical drug of choice as produced by the colourpop hit factory that is Lovespeake.
Every picture tells a story, and this track’s artwork alone, should give music fans a good indication as to the optimistic mindset and rainbow of creativity behind this Norwegian ensemble. Headed up by Alexander ‘Pav’ Pavelich, who I had the pleasure of running into recently at an Einar Stray gig, Lovespeake and their album DNA were one of the runaway musical successes of 2016. Their precisely conjured cocktails of sun-kissed melodies, Caribbean beats and retro-disco are the product of the most fertile of musical imaginations combined with a rush of vital dynamism.
Lovespeake cosy up to singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Max Frost, who seems to have a lyrical thing for pills of a certain persuasion #Adderall, on their latest piece of colourful wizardry, with the Texan adding a deep south raspy drawl to counter Pav’s spotless polar falsetto. Two things strike you when you first hear this track – Frost’s deliberately spacious vocal and the song’s ’70s disco groove.
This audacious combination produces something to the effect of a mash-up of a slowed down Someday by The Strokes and A Night To Remember, the 1978 smash by the most classy of all funksters Shalamar.
Like the most delicious dessert laced with bourbon, this is toxic saccharin; a moment on the lips, a myriad soporific trips.
Following the lead of Adele, Aurora and er, A-Rihanna, newcomer Sigrid goes by forename alone.
Despite the fact that her first single Sun, which she released in 2013 at the tender age of 16, was a smash hit, it wasn’t until she signed to Island Records that the wheels began to seriously turn for this youngster. With the full force of the Island wind-machine behind her, Don’t Kill My Vibe didn’t just land, it torpedoed its way into our musical space.
Frighteningly perfect pop, it’s like an angry feline with an itch and the odd human to scratch. “You think you’re so important to me, don’t you” she swipes at some envious no-mark, her pitch-perfect vocal sung with that confidence only the young can muster, bouncing off echoey drum-claps and negotiating the melody’s high altitudes with the sort of conviction most of her peers will never achieve.
One of the latterday signs that you have ‘arrived’ is when you acquire your own Wikipedia page … Sigrid, but in case we need to reaffirm just how good this girl is, here’s the acoustic version of her global (yes global!) hit, Kill My Vibe. Watch, listen, shiver.
WHO? JENNY HVAL
Writer, musical architect, experimenter, songsmith and latterday Norwegian icon, Jenny Hval is revered the same way in Norway as Bjork is in Iceland.
A protagonist at the fore of the current zeitgeist of female avant-gardists taking the oft maligned genre of art-pop to the masses, she is as lauded for her outspoken social commentary as she is for her creative brilliance. If music could be an ‘installation’ in the same way art is, Hval’s work would be first in the door of the Tate Modern swiftly followed by a stint in the Astrup Fearnley.
Her last record Blood Bitch was a highly acclaimed concept album influenced by all things hematic. It was rapturously received by critics who universally heaped it critical acclaim. Cited by every influential publication in their ‘best of’ lists for 2016, it was the overall winner of the annual Phonofile Nordic Music Prize for best Nordic album, the award being presented to Hval during the renowned By:Larm international music festival.
Most recently Hval has been in the news with her bonafide collaboration with Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens, who famously reworked her track Kingsize back in 2015. Recalling Owen’s “personal affinity for water” Anxi slips and slides its techno persona through the musica obscura that lies between ambient and pop. Pulsing through a myriad metamorphoses, it maintains a mood of dark foreboding as Hval intersperses the electronic narrative with bizarre spoken word vocals – a monologue which moves at a pace that is quirkily out of sync with the pull of Owen’s beat.
The song swoops up out of the darkness into a brighter soundscape at the heart of which is a steady techno pulse, until apropos of nothing, it swerves right back down again, into an otherworldly void. Art that manifests a host of unorthodox ideas, music which reaches far beyond its natural boundaries; that is probably how Hval’s work is best described.
Jenny Hval will perform in Dublin’s NCH on 6th October as part of their Perspectives series. Tickets http://www.nch.ie
Nordic music, Norwegian in particular, has evolved and grown so spectacularly over the past decade that it is now hard to remember a time when it wasn’t part of our natural musical make-up. If you haven’t previously come across any of the five featured artists hopefully this first chapter in a new Nordic themed series will have sufficiently opened your minds to excavate further down into this magical, musical mine. If not, please do come back, there’s plenty more coming down the tracks.
As usual, no music series worth its salt would come without a complementary playlist. Here’s our ‘starter for five’, which we will add to week on week with each new blog-post.