There is something about Cork man Eoin French‘s voice that reminds me a little of the wonderful late Christy Hennessy, albeit in a more latterday incarnation. French sings with the same animated falsetto and idiosyncratic preciseness that set his fellow Munster native apart from his peers.
But that’s not where the comparison ends. Dyed in the wool songwriters, both men have produced meticulously crafted songs of a deeply personal nature; songs so perfectly in tune, intertwined even, with their close society and immediate surroundings that they will forever remain timeless.
French is chief architect and project manager of a solo project that started life in 2013 after the creative well of his former band Hush War Cry ran dry. After a collaboration with Young Wonder‘s Ian Ring, he felt upskilled enough in the art of writing and production to go it alone and thus, Taloswas born. Far from operating in splendid isolation, Eoin French enlisted the help of several musicians including Sam Mc Nicholl (percussion) and Alex Sampson (guitar) to fresh out Talos’ instrumental sound.
Born of sparse electronica, Talos’ atmospheric sound is architected using an holistic approach, with layers of airy, ambient Hollis-esque nodes, samples, and spaces joisted by perfectly nuanced guitar, percussion and synths of diverse tonality and dimensions. Since signing to the Feel Good Lost label, Talos has released two singles and two EPs, all of which have been more than enthusiastically received. Latest release, ‘Odyssey‘, is their third single and timely precursor to his debut album due out on 21st April 2017.
An ‘indietronica’ amuse bouche to the main course of ‘Wild Alee‘, this song is a beautifully proportioned quenelle replete with honest emotion and intimate, self-reflective lyrical poetry.
Opening with a gently gusting breeze of synths, the song then falters into a simplistic ambience imbued with a sense of hesitation brought about by French’s rather tremulous vocal. It’s not long before the wind rises, and the submarinal fx are swept through rippling percussive tidal currents and a synth-rich maelstrom, up into a high-altitude instrumental airstream of disorder and uncertainty, edged with a flash of elation.
Talos has announced a ‘Wild Alee’ tour kicking off in Connolly’s of Leap (of which I could regale you with vintage tales of laughter, but won’t!) moving onto Dublin through Galway and Belfast, before winding up in Dundalk on 22nd June. Given the April to June timeframe, don’t be surprised if more dates are added. One week into the tour, on the same date Talos plays Dublin’s Button Factory, his debut album, ‘Wild Alee’ will have its release.
Talos can be found on Spotify, Twitter, and Instagramamongst other social sites. Watch the lyric video for ‘Odyssey’ here,
The dozen nominees for the 2016 PhonofileNordic Music Prize have been announced; they make for quite the eclectic list!
The nominees, whose music crosses the broadest of spectrums, hail from all five countries that make up the Nordic region, with each country getting equal weighting. Established in 2010, the prize is awarded annually for that album which the judging panel deems best of year. Previous winners include Mirel Wagner (FI), First Aid Kit (SE) and most recently Band of Gold (No).
The Nordic jury responsible for selecting the shortlist is made up of a cohort of industry heavyweights whilst the overall winner and commendations are chosen by an international panel including the BBC’s Stuart Maconie and Welsh journalist and Guardian music critic Jude Rodgers.
The artists nominated for the Phonofile Nordic Music Prize are:-
Denmark – CTM, Bisse, Værket
Iceland – Jóhann Jóhannsson, Skúli Sverrisson
Finland – Oranssi Pazuzu, The Hearing, Mikko Joensuu
Norway – Jenny Hval, Nosizwe
Sweden – Kornél Kovács, Cherrie
The shortlist is something of a spaghetti Bolognese the main ingredient of which appears to be diversity. Encompassing shots of midnight metal and blasts of underground garage beats, the nominated albums run the gamut of musical taste.
From Jóhannsson’s cinematic widescreen soundscapes which could so easily have been recorded at the bottom of the coldest, darkest oceans, to Pazuzu’s compelling drone through Nosizwe’s idiosyncratic soul-style on the raw and unorthodox, ‘In Fragments’, to any newcomer to Nordic music, this multi-cultural medley is quite the Pandora’s box. A box whose treasures once released, should be slowly savoured and enjoyed.
For this reviewer, my money is on either Iceland or Denmark to take this year’s prize – one isn’t prepared to take that any further; some impartiality is required.
And while one might have individual grievances about those Nordic albums not included, it must be said that all of the albums nominated are more than worthy of their place on this list.
An award ceremony to announce the winner of the Phonofile Nordic Music Prize, run in association with By:Larm, Music Norway and GramArtist Organisasjonen, will be held in Oslo on Thursday 2nd March, 2017, during the By:Larm festival. You’ll find a full Spotify playlist featuring chosen tracks from the nominated albums below.
Well here we are, on the cusp of yet another new year. Who’d have guessed that as we stumbled unsteadily in a post-Christmas toxic daze towards 2016 that it would prove to be one of the murkiest, most unsettling and quite frankly disturbing of years. One can only hope, and there is always hope, that this coming year will bring gladder tidings and a lot more joy than its predecessor.
Musically, 2016 had many, many highs. It also shared several heartbreaking lows not least amongst which were the untimely deaths of Prince, George Michael and David Bowie – three of the rather large cohort of celebrities and legends who passed away in this year of darkness. While those legends who died were predominantly male, much of this year’s sparkle mainly came from the female stars of the music world. Lady GaGa, Beyonce, Marissa Nadler, Taylor Swift, Julia Holter … just some of the big female names that featured in the 2016 musical calendar.
Not surprisingly, some of them feature in my Dozen Diamonds of 2016 – a playlist of songs by international artists, with a select contribution from our part-time contributor, Eddie Sweetman. Interestingly, the two artists selected for inclusion by Sweets are both male, while mine are predominantly female. Those choices themselves would probably make for an interesting case-study!
So which songs, by which artists made it into our top twelve, and why?
12. Margaret Glaspy – Pins and Needles (USA)
Strong, feisty country tinged indie with an edge. There’s a waft of punk attitude blowing through the gritty melody, and more than a hint of steely determination in the ballsy lyrics. The right side of rock for my tastes; tastes which I seem to share with most of BBC Introducing, BBC6 Music and BBC 1 … not a bad benchmark. Classy, savvy, strong, energised sounds from a lady who’s going places.
11. Birdy – Wild Horses (UK)
Twilit voiced, inspired poet and musical prodigy, Jasmine Lucilla Elizabeth Jennifer van den Bogaerde aka Birdy, has seen her star rise, and rise, and explode. World class productions are now the order of the day but Birdy still holds on to the spiritual and emotional qualities so inherent in her earlier more gauche works. With a vocal range that can scale mountainous heights and scrummage fireplace ashes, this super-talented musician could craft a song from the nothingness of a silken spiderweb and make it a masterclass in songwriting and performance.
Her 2016 album, ‘Beautiful Lies’ was a gift to the world – a finer, more emotive, and splendid talent you will struggle to find, and with even greater things sure to come, the future is “global” for this little songbird.
10. The Last Shadow Puppets – Les Cactus (UK)
Like them or loathe them TLSP are nothing if not entertaining. Seeing them live in Oslo was akin to watching a human firework display crossed with the energiser bunny thrice spliced with Poitin. A pair of musicians who have most certainly put the roll back into rock, Turner & Kane may take the music seriously, but the live performances are treated more like a fun ride on the amusements. Never ones to shy away from taking the piss out of themselves, the video for their cover of ‘Les Cactus’, is a classic example of TLSP ‘on form’. As a cover, it pales in comparison to the Jacques Dutronc original, but as a piece of entertainment, it doesn’t fall short.
9. Ed Harcourt – Occupational Hazard (UK)
Intense, moody, brooding, cavernous, blazing, ferocious – just some of the words I would use to describe Ed Harcout’s 2016 scorcher of an album, ‘Furnaces’, every pun intended. One of the standouts LP releases of the year, ‘Furnaces’ reached out to and drew into its fold, a broader, more diverse audience than any of the Englishman’s albums had hitherto succeeded in doing. I was drawn hook, line and sinker to this track because of the wolverine intensity of the guitar sequences and brutal rawness of the lyrics, the combination of which is addictive. Brutal ingenuity at its bloody finest.
8. Radiohead – Burn the Witch (UK)
The first of two entries from the worlds greatest band EVER, ‘Burn the Witch’ was one of a pair of picks by sometime contributor Eddie Sweetman. In his words, “incisive, relevant an astonishing comeback and the highlight in my opinion of the album.” Need we say more?
7. Amber Arcades – Fading Lines (NL)
What can I say. I fell in love with this song on first play. Like a 21st century incarnation of The Cardigans, Annelotte de Graaf has all the dreamy deliciousness of that Nina Persson vocal, along with plenty of her antecedents uber Nordic cool! Sexy, edgy, inviting indie-pop with a swirl of darkness running across its shiny exterior.
6. David Bowie – I Can’t Give Everything Away (UK)
The second of Mr Sweets’ picks, and a poignant one at that. ‘Blackstar’ was a huge favourite amongst the bloggerati and a fitting finale from a gifted man, musician, artist, performer & more, who was truly one of a kind. On his selection of this particular track Eddie explains: “This was the last track Bowie ever released. Poignant and delicate. Even more so now that we know he was aware he was dying.” A fitting tribute I think you’ll agree.
5. Marissa Nadler – The Best You Ever Had (USA)
Sadly sickness struck (again) when Marissa Nadler came to town … “out damn ‘germ’ out I say” said I, alas to no avail. Laid low, my chance to see this bewitching enchantress weave her goth clothed spells was gone in the blink of 24 hours (the length of time it takes me to go from apparently healthy to woefully ill). I had sped towards Nadler like a bee to honey on the recommendation of my ‘pen as sword’ icon, tQ scrivener John Doran, who had bade me not to miss her more than magical live performance. Instead, I’ve had to make do with looping replays of her album, ‘Bury Your Name’ from which this is my stand out track. Delish!
4. Julia Jacklin – Coming of Age (Aus)
The new age Little Miss Firecracker of country-grunge hits Dublin at the end of February 2017 and nothing, I mean NOTHING will stop, hinder or hamper my path to Whelans! Elbows at the ready, that space up the front is mine. Part of that new wave of punky twang that includes fellow upcoming songstrel Margaret Glaspy, Julia Jacklin takes smartly honed real-life lyrics and sandwiches them between slices of heaving melodies chock full of punchy guitars layered over a tightly woven R/S. The result is impossible to resist infectious country stained down and dirty pop. Only a fool would miss the chance to see this raw and rousing talent shine live!
3. Radiohead – Identikit (UK)
2016 saw the arrival of what was possibly the most awaited album for years. ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ didn’t disappoint. This piece of classic Radiohead was sheer musical perfection packed with all the innovative ingredients that have made this quintet the consummate musical giants that they are. And while most blogs will have opted for either of the two singles, this off-kilter piece of jazz infused experimental alt transports me back to the halcyon days of ‘Kid A’. With its lyrical nods to Murakami’s 1Q84 (there was a similar intertwine between ‘Kid A’ and Kafka on the Shore), haunting interludes from vocal ghosts, and natty, spacious percussion Identikit is the understated star in this a stellar compilation.
2. Julia Holter – Lucette Stranded on the Island (USA)
Yeah, yeah I know. The album was released in 2015. But for me 2016 was all about Julia Holter. Having failed to make her Dublin concert earlier in the year, one of the main catalysts for my travelling to Oya in Oslo, was the chance to make up for that lost experience. While thirty minutes was far too short to soak up the musical enchantment magicked by an artist of Holter’s calibre, as luck would have it, Julia returned to Dublin in November and gave, what was for me and the several hundred other spellbound concert-goers in Vicar Street, the live performance of the year. Compelling, captivating, magical, powerful, innovative – Julia Holter ranks as one of the most outstanding of contemporary female artists. This ingenious track just goes to prove it.
1. Weyes Blood – Generation Why (USA)
Not since hearing Dusty Springfield sing ‘The Look of Love’ have I come across another female vocal that radiates such warmth and richness, with a darkness edged with light. A voice with a true and unfaltering power cloaked in a sheath of softness like an iron fist in a velvet glove. Not until that is, I heard the voice of Natalie Mering, the enigmatic talent behind music project, Weyes Blood. ‘Generation Why’, from the album ‘Front Row Seat To Earth’, is lyrically inspired and musically fresh, and while it contains many of the default elements of a classic pop song, it is the shades of daring alien electronica and the edgy undertones to words sung with angelic clarity that take this song to altogether another level.
The inclusion of so many American artists reflects the shifting sands of my musical tastes during 2016. For me personally, this has been quite a remarkable year in terms of the quality and diversity of the music that’s been released. And while the likes of Bieber, Rihanna and A-Z of Hip Hop may dominate the charts, the greater wealth lies in those treasures which remain beloved of those worthier barometers of musical greatness – The Guardian Culture, DiS and my personal fave, The Quietus.
I’ll leave you with a Spotify list of the 12 tracks featured in this sparkling retrospective … and hope you enjoy them as much as both Eddie and I have done. May 2017 bring more shimmering gems to brighten up our sometimes more than mundane lives!
With a sound that veers in the general direction of their fellow Irishmen and musical forerunners The Script and Kodaline, recently appointed chart-sensations, Picture This, have arrived more quickly than most at that point on the musical map that many of their peers will only ever view from a distance.
Formed a little more than a year ago, theirs has been an easy and rapid ascent up a most vertical trajectory. Watching ‘themselves’ from the virtual side-lines, as they shot from ‘Home Studio, Jimmy’s House, Athy’ to the top slot in the Irish charts must surely have been as surreal an occurrence as an out of body experience.
Even more bizarre must have been the spine-tingling, stomach turning flurry of butterflies moment they surely experienced walking onto the stage to a capacity crowd in a packed-to-the-rafters Olympia theatre a couple of nights ago. How many bands can put that on their CV just a little more than 12months from recording their first hook on their iPhoneX?
‘Picture This’ has drip fed slow, steady single releases to their ever-increasing fan-base. Starting with the beautiful ‘Take My Hand’ which they first sampled only in October 2015, the duo continued, throughout the long, dark Winter months, to unfurl their uplifting musical charms onto an unsuspecting Irish audience, who singularly and eagerly fell captive to their unassuming yet compelling and honest sound.
So much so that the band’s debut gig was in the Academy (cap. 850) – like who the hell debut’s to an 850 strong crowd? A rolling tour across Ireland and the UK that included full house lives in both Manchester and London, has culminated in three sell-out dates at the music-lovers venue of choice, Dublin’s Olympia theatre. All on back of one Aslan cover and a 5-track EP, ‘Picture’. Phew!!
On 12th August, Picture This released their debut EP – the tracks of which run in single release sequence – and six days later it had reached the number one spot in the Irish charts.
Needless to say, the critics ranted, in a good way natch, while the fans raved, and now after one helluva rollercoaster ride and rock-n-roller tour, Picture This are set to finish 2016 on a high when they hit the stage at Dublin’s 3Arena on 3rd December, for the 2FM Xmas Ball in aid of the ISPCC.
When the fall of ticker-tape subsides and the shutters come down on the year that was 2016, this pair of ‘unlikely lads’ (and I say that in the nicest possible sense) will probably clink a pair in Some Pub, Main Street, Athy, and raise them in salute to friendship, Aslan, YouTube, iPhones, Kildare and oh, I suspect Lady Luck and good musical genes may just also get a nod.
With an album on the way next year, 2017 should see more of the same if not bigger and better from the Athy pair whose star looks surely set to rise, and rise, and …
I’ve written about some diverse Norwegian music artists in the 18 months I’m running this blog, but never before have I happened upon a music project based on Nordic spiritualism. “Who?” you might well ask, and if you did, you’d find about 44,000 FB fans shouting Wardruna back at you!
The brainchild of musician Einar Selvik, the project segued into a full-on musical going concern in 2003, and has since then, released three albums, the latest entitled ‘Runaljod – Ragnarok’, on the Indie Recordings/By Norse Music label. The third Lp in the Wardruna Runaljod series was released in October and is the final chapter in the Elder Fuþark inspired trilogy.
The album’s lyrical content centres around the Norse myth of Ragnarök, “a series of future events, including a great battle, foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number” of central figures from mythological deities, while “Runaljod is a song version of the Norse rune poem.”
The album’s lead single ‘Odal’, which hit the Norwegian airwaves in August, was followed by the current single release, ‘Raido‘, the video for which you can view below. The word ‘Raido’, which means ride or journey, derives from the Old Norwegian word Ræið.
Sung in Norwegian, it is a powerful and commanding track, but for all its thunderous topsoil of braggadocio, the layers underneath are rife with emotion, humanity and a sense of belonging to and oneness with nature. Opening with a percussive line not far removed from the hypnotic beat that was the spinal chord of Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’, the track augments into a breathtaking fusion of medieval Celtic spirituality and spine tingling Nordic chant.
This reviewer knows little about Norse mythology and understands even less about runes and fantastical deities, but if ever a song captured the essence of the pagan attunement with nature and the intense energy possessed of latter day spiritualists, then ‘Raido’ is it. Emotionally charged, lyrically potent (the English translation is printed underneath the video), poetic, dramatic and creatively distinctive, it is not the music of everyday, but of days lost, of times gone by, yet in its midst it channels the eternal trinity of man-animal-nature and the unique and special relationship that exists between all three.
Wardruna is Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik and Lindy Fay Hella. For more information on the band see their official website, http://www.wardruna.com/ . ‘Raido’ is on release now and the darkly dramatic accompanying video which contains some stunning nature photography, was directed by Finn, Tuukka Kos. Watch it here.
If their social media presence is anything to go by, Swedish band ‘Many Voices Speak’ are a very, very recent formation. Online for less than a month, the band have obviously been living in close quarters and deliberately keeping themselves under the radar, given they have already signed to not one but two labels, and also debuted their first single, ‘Video Child‘.
Opening with a shiver of guitar strings with a nuance of Twin Peaks mystery, ‘Video Child’ slowly and cautiously evolves into an intricate, yet loosely woven retro menagerie of guitar lines lightly dusted with reverb, delicate melodic keys, and barely there horns, all underpinned by the most discreet of RS arrangements. Full of Hollis-esque spaces that give it a relaxing tranquility, the song has a dreamy nostalgia into which we are irresistibly drawn, not least by the softly restrained vocals of Matilda Mård, whose careful enunciation evokes feelings of both nostalgia and regret.
With scant information on both their socials and website, there’s little to go on here, but what we do have is a quote from Mård about how the song was shaped: “‘Video Child’ was shaped from a kind of rebellion against the musical introspective sound that I devoted myself to for several years. To me it’s a song that looks back to the late nineties. Both lyrically, but also I’ve given into another kind of arrangements that provide space for a larger expression, which looks back to the artists who made me want to sing in the first place, like Dido and Destiny’s Child.”
‘Video Child’ is lifted from the band’s debut EP, ‘Away For All Time’, which Mård wrote during a long term stay in the Swedish town of Borlänge. Be prepared for more gentle, halcyon pop melodies laced together by pure, unadulterated vocals that invite and assuage with the lightest of impressions, as they sing of a darker past whilst looking to a brighter future.
You can stream or buy ‘Video Child’ via Spotify or iTunes, while Away All the Time will release via Hit City U.S.A. on October 28th. In the meantime, you can listen to the debut single here.
If you teleported Aurora back to the soulful days of the late 60s, threw a gauze of colour-pop psych over some Broen type wonk, and then fused the two, you might arrive at something vaguely in the realm of ‘How it Works’, the debut single from Oslo based Samū.
With only one other song up on their socials, the ludicrously good ‘In My Head‘, a song that could easily have been crafted by that erstwhile queen of ’50s jazz and ’60s trippy folk cum blue-eyed soul, Amie ‘Warwick Avenue‘ Duffy, Samū’s sound is still pretty much uncharted territory.
A five-piece comprising Trine Samuelsen Hansen, Sander Eriksen Nordahl, Ruben Gilje, Martin Morland and Knærten Simonsen they recently signed to Trondheim based ‘NO FOREVERS‘ a label whose star is very much in the musical ascendancy.
That they draw the bulk, if not all, of their influences from the 20th century is pretty clear, with samples spanning a 40 year spectrum from the ’60s folk of Simon & Garfunkel through sugar coated synth-pop to ’90s slacker pop, all washed down with that easy-evening, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, laid-back chill of The Kinks.
And it is that low-key, serene feeling, that lies at the very heart and neo-soul of their single ‘How it Works’, a song set in a timeless world, in which everything moves in a slow-mo waltz, against a backdrop of hazy days harmonies and easy, peaceful sounds.
Echoey ’60s piano riffs and retro keyboard sounds take centre stage, while nice n’easy guitar and percussion take a more subtle, gentler approach.
Trine Hansen’s vocal, more golden delicious than the Nordic cool of so many of her peers, skips and dances playfully through the songs instrumental spaces, giving them a delicious sweet filling. The song itself is underpinned by a lumbering bass, which in an almost bluegrass outro, tracks its elephantine plod through a garden bed of spiralised wonk.
Having cut their live teeth playing several gigs in Norway, Samū laid down their first single in Øra studios with Karl Klaseie (Kari Harneshaug, Antler, Østfrost). The band are now working on their first album, details of which will be announced later in the year. ‘How it Works’ goes on release today, and you can hear it right here, right now.
When you press play on a Susanne Sundfortrack, one half of you anticipates the full ‘Wuthering Heights‘ of unfettered electronica to unfurl its thrashing tentacles amidst a frantic storm of flashing strobes. Your other half calmly waits to be served up a morsel of one of the Norwegian’s more graceful vintages; a subdued acoustic delicacy with a zephyr light caress.
What you don’t auto-expect from the Queen of Norway is a full blown cajun-cowboy number replete with more slide than Mississippi mud. A folksy kind of track that would be more at home nestling in the ancestral black mountain home of Anne Lise Frøkedal.
But that’s just what the multi-award winning singer/songwriter has just gifted her fans, in the shape of 4-D country ballad ‘Reincarnation’. An evocative poem shrouded in the ethereal, at first it’s grounded in dancing shadows, warmed by flickering embers of instrumentation. Then after an intense build, it’s swept gloriously upwards by desert winds to heights where it soars astride the wings of an eagle.
“I might be crazy, baby lately, I don’t believe the news, They say it’s ending, to stop pretending, to start looking for clues.
A glass cylinder, where we can linger, let me take us to the stars, I won’t be missing, your tender kissing, ‘cos the light will wipe up all the sky”
A turn of guitar phrase comparable with Lee Hazlewood in his prime: a vocal of such purity and genuine loveliness; one which is as perfectly nuanced as that of Julia Holter on the ridiculously glorious, ‘Gold Dust Woman‘. These two things alone ensure ‘Reincarnation’ surpasses all its acoustic predecessors.
A cloud of harmonies painted with a light wash of synth add a touch of poignancy to what is an already moving atmosphere. Percussion in the form of waves of crashing cymbals, underlines the sonic build, adding a dash of drama to the intensifying score.
Susanne Sundfor is renowned for the crystalline quality of her far-reaching vocal, but for me, her voice goes beyond purity and clarity. Hers is a terrifically expressive and animated voice, a voice with which she breathes life into intricate lyricism that itself runs the gamut from deeply painful to ecstatically euphoric.
“Do you believe in reincarnation, ‘cos I thought I saw your soul. flashing and dancing on the horizon”
Impressive vocals aside, it is the slide guitar that triumphs on this enchanting journey from mother earth to another realm. Whoever is playing this amber tongued instrument is one seriously skilled and talented musician.
He/she doesn’t just play, they stroke and caress those strings with such a gentle force as to provokes the most heart warming and soul-stirring of sounds. This is amber nectar on a par with Scotland’s finest single malt – rich, golden, potent, delicious and most important of all, satisfying.
‘Reincarnation’ is a song one could visualise Susanne singing at a nocturnal gig in a open field. A scene dotted with small woodpile fires set against a backdrop of inky night, where a sky filled with opaline stars reflects the heavenly loveliness of the angelic choral finale of this Norwegian lullaby. One wonders if this will make the Spektrum setlist when she plays Oslo next week?
‘Reincarnation’ is available as a free download here – Susanne will play Oslo’s finest venue, Spektrum, on 17th September – some tickets still available, details here. For further information regarding the download, Susanne’s upcoming gigs and future releases, follow her on her socials – Facebook– Twitter.
Where the roving reporter chronicles their Øya pub club-crawl and all that it entailed!
O is for Øya, Oslo and Oh My God! How Much? (no wonder the Norwegians continuously offer up profuse “tusen, tusen takks” when they’re reeling in your hard grafted tusen, tusen krone!).
This Øya trip raised the ‘bar’ to an all time Gin og Tonic high, as we hit new heights both physically and financially in the Radisson Sky Bar. Beautiful view! ‘Twud want to be at 135 NOK or 15 euro a hit and not even a complementary bar snack in sight!
Anyway, I deviate.
Oslo is home to a musicfest called Øyafestivalen, an annual shindig held early to mid August when the winds are warm, the sun is high, the skies are blue … needle-vinyl-scratch! Øya is held every August when you’d think the weather would be pretty clement with a day-glo summery vibe, yes? #Computersaysno!
I arrived in Oslo on the afternoon of the fest-opener, Klubbdagen, to be greeted by the inclement glumness of grey skies and drip drop showers. Oh well, says I, the rain can’t get you indoors and indeed it couldn’t as I kicked off my evening’s musical ramble at the Verkstedet venue, having worked out my bearings sans compass but with a lot of inky arrows dotted along my brand-Øya map!
Due to the compression of so many bands into a super short space in time, I opted to see just four acts, with a possible fifth depending on how both evening and bod went. First up out of the traps was Ludvig Moon, a band with more members than The Specials, or so it seemed as they struggled to find ‘personal space’ on the tiniest of stages in an equally ’boutique’ venue resulting in a band-member overflow spilling out onto the venue floor.
Comprised of Anders (vox/guitar), Ole T (keys), Herman (guitar), Kristofer (drums), Andreas (bass), and Lydia (vox/guitar), Ludvig Moon are still a very young band despite their five years mileage on the clock. Signed to Riot Factory, their releases have been limited to an eponymous EP (of uncertain release geography) and this year’s smash single, ‘Cult Baby‘ whose epicness was drooled over by the likes of Best Fit.
Straight up … Ludvig Moon are a very good band live. The timbre of the vocals and the instrumentation is pretty much studio to stage without too much of a shift.
On the night though, there was something of a disconnect, as faint as a skipped heartbeat, between both vocalists which, unfortunately, ran the first five minutes of the set ragged. However, this is nothing that more live gigging and a bit more practice shouldn’t iron out. Hey even Chris Martin had a total “slam the brakes, what key am I supposed to be in?” moment at Glastonbury for goodness sake!
Live syncing is never easy and I just felt that their nerves got the better of them, but once they settled, it all flowed, and flowed well, so much so in fact that a 30minute cut off did them an huge injustice, as they were just beginning to blossom when their moment in the sun came to a hard stop.
Instrumentally Ludvig Moon are solid, their only downfall is the inexperience of youth. Musically, they are already there…performance-wise, they are within touching distance of reaching their stride.
One of the songs on their setlist was ‘Swim Dream’. Obviously a huge fan favourite it went down a storm, and if you peruse this live ‘garden edition’ you’ll understand why!
**If you’re really observant you’ll spot a rogue escapee from Dråpe … one whom I keep running into ’round and around’ Norway’s hotspots!
To be honest, Chain Wallet were a band I knew very little about before seeing them in Oslo. Made up of Stian Iversen, Christian Line and Frode Boris (with Marius Erster Bergesen, Adrian Søgnen & Lars Finborud joining live) they hail from that western hub of Norwegian music, Bergen, birthplace of many of Norway’s musical elite including Susanne Sundfor and Anne Lise Frøkedal to name but a few.
Having to glide at high speed down Torgatta from Verkstedet to Internasjonalen caused me to miss their kick off. Arriving at the venue, it was apparent that they were already full steam ahead and, so was the beyond capacity throng. The hyped up audience was packed so tightly there was literally no room to move.
There was a particularly good reason that such an huge crowd pitched up; Chain Wallet are incredibly good, I mean amazingly superb, live. Tearing the varnish off the wood and the paint off the ceilings kinda good.
Chain Wallet’s music is a modern mirror of the type of 80’s chart-busting sophisticated pop sounds that the likes of Prefab Sprout and Deacon Blue used to produce so well. Enigmatic, tuneful, animated, their music gently draws you into its feelgood soundscape and notwithstanding a faint hint of melancholy drifting around the edges of its melodies, Chain Wallet’s portfolio is pure pop perfection.
Of the three bands I saw perform on the club-night, Chain Wallet’s set was the most cohesive, had the strongest sound and was the most perfectly synchronised.
With a pretty strong line in guitars, confident yet warmly inviting vocals and an ‘in total harmony’ RS, Chain Wallet’s self-assured translation of their superior pop compositions from record to live is pretty faultless.
You need to be ALL OVER IT!! (I’m soooo looking forward to reviewing it!!!).
Chain Wallet wrapped their set with this coolness…get down with it.
If watching Chain Wallet gave me palpitations, standing in front of the magical Hanne Kolstøas she performed a tranche of her greatest hits live brought me to another plane. I think I reached that nirvana musical folks say they strive for – transcendence.
I had waited so long to see this artist play live, that it was with a lot of nerves and a much bated breath I anxiously waited for her to take to the stage. Disappoint, she did not. Far from it!
If anything, Kolstø’s performance was the best of the night, and certainly one of the highlights of the festival in toto. (so much so that it’s going to get its own individual review)
Hanne’s music is existential indie-pop: honest songs brought to life by intuitive, adept musicianship and produced with class and finesse. Exceptional is probably the word that springs to mind!
Sublime, fiery, feisty, evocative, intense, passionate, Hanne Kolstø gave this performance her all, and then some, and still had fuel in the tank for more at the close. The audience roared and so did I… Kolstø the consummate performer, with a pitch perfect faultless delivery, a choir of instruments singing in unison, she alone made the effort of travelling to Oslo worthwhile.
‘One Plus +’ was one of my favourite songs before seeing Hanne Kolstø play KlubbØya. It lived up to the live performance and my heightened expectations.
Riding high on the crest of a musical wave I wasn’t long being flushed back down to earth by the deluge of rain in which we had to walk to our next destination- Subscene – to check out Trondheim troupe, Panda Panda.
Oh what an unfortunate choice of venue…(if it was their choice, I’m unsure). Too stark, too big, Subscene is seriously lacking furnishings, adornment and most importantly, atmosphere. It was dead, and nothing Panda Panda could do, play or sing was ever going to change that fact.
I first saw Panda*2 perform live up in Blaest in Trondheim, during the annual TC music festival. They played the opening night to a huge and enthusiastic crowd and their performance was beyond adrenalin on steroids good. They were stellar; animated, enthusiastic, and in the zone. They were lit & fired up like they’d been plugged into the Norwegian grid.
While they tried to convey the same verve and, gain the same audience rapport in Oslo that they’d had in Trondheim, sadly it just didn’t happen. Whether through rain-soaked tiredness, or feeling the flatness of the venue, the crowd just ‘weren’t there’.
Which was a shame, because on balance, Panda Panda’s performance was pretty good, and at times, quite amazing.
They mixed it up, crossing some untried newbies with more tried and tested knockouts such as ‘New Friends’. When they got everything right, it was phenomenal, but there were moments when quite frankly the guitars and drums hit a level beyond ‘noise’ that completely drowned out the lead vocal.
Ragnhild Jamtveit has such a light pitch to her very pure vocal that taking the ‘fuzz’ beyond a certain decibel level is the equivalent of hitting the mute button on her mic.
I genuinely like, admire and am a fan of Panda Panda, and, sincerely want them to do well. But until they tighten up their on-stage sound they are at serious risk of doing a huge disservice, not just to themselves, but to their supersonic songs!
That said they, especially Jamtveit and drummer Oddbjørn Sponås, totally killed their cover of Abba’s, ‘The Winner Takes It All’. While the former has sufficient vocal reach and nuance to both carry and emotionally nail this song, the latter is pretty much given free rein to let loose and show his wares, which he did on the night with dynamic aplomb.
With my ears fuzzed, and my pockets a lot lighter than when I set out, I trudged back to my hotel through the dark, dank streets of a not-so-summery Oslo night. Slightly disappointed, I wasn’t deflated, confident in the knowledge that Panda Panda, who are blessed with talent in copious bucket-loads, are capable of so much more.
This is a band who write blisteringly good songs, which they play with exceptional musical ability, and whose lyrics are teased and translated with intuitive nuance and superb vocal sync and control. To prove that point, I’ll leave you with an insight into how good Panda Panda can be live.
In which rather than mourning my Øya losses, I celebrate the anticipation of seeing them play live at another point and place in time …
When you start attending music festivals you learn pretty quickly that no matter how many times or ways you twist and turn the programmes, it is physically impossible to make it to every live set or gig on your bucket list. Crossover schedules call for tough decisions, or failing that, some coin tossing whilst valiantly trying not to cheat when the chosen side lands facing down!
It was no different with this yearsØyafestivalen club-night which played host to a rainbow of artists from across a vast and varied Nordic spectrum. Rather then focussing on the fact that I missed out on several wanna-sees, I like to think of these as the ones that got away; bands who I can continue to pursue in the happy hope that I will one day get to see them play live.
The Øya club-night was possibly my most testing off-site festival challenge to-date, and if you have a look at the night’s programmeyou’ll understand the predicament in which I found myself.
First off not only were the lovely Therese Aune and the super groovy newbies Lumikide, whose lustrous single ‘Golden’, is as radiant as its name denotes, pitched against each other, worse still they were pitted against the Øya delegate registration cum meet n’ greet. WHATTTT!
I longed to be transported into the fascinating landscapes of Aune’s imagination. To be whisked up and away on a treadmill of ebony and ivory, blown along by the warm wind gently borne of harmonium bellows. Sighs.
Signed to Riot Factory and with a smorgasbord of creative soundscapes forming an impressive back catalogue, Therese Aune is one of the most understated and widely respected talents on the Norwegian scene. It would have been neat to have found out if there were offerings a-new from Therese, especially as there was a rather quirky Soundcloud upload as recently as four months ago, entitled – ‘Sound Horn OK Please – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ (of Dylan Thomas fame) which you can listen to here.
Alas, it was not meant to be but, Therese, if you’re reading this, do please send word if you are due to release any new material!! My portal is always open and receptive to new tunes!
I also wanted to see what more those purveyors of aureate indie-jazz, Lumikide, had to offer in addition to the multi-dimensional wonder that is their latest single.
With a disarming vocal so warmly inviting it could have insta-thawed the ice age, ‘Golden‘ is a wonderwall of all that is good about that canny Norwegian trick of melding pop-jazz with indie.
Layers of evocative vocal with that intriguing plaintive edge so idiosyncratic of the Norwegian style, intense hazes of guitar chords, blurry and blingy synths and that wonderful, wonderful drumming of Axel Skjelstad, trained in the jazz style, but whose intuitive feel for exploratory percussion is quite exceptional. ‘Golden’ is a meld of all of these succulent ingredients, poured together to create this most exquisite of elixirs.
I wanted to hear more of what this band were capable of and how they might sound outside the safety zone of the studio, but alas Oslo, it was not to be!
I set my gig alarm for 7pm. Surely that would give me enough time to register, pick up my bits n bobs and whisk myself off to venue number one, map flapping in hand (actually it was more map sagging in hand as the weather on the night was just abysmal!).
Ok so where to start … well there was Sløtface in the immense Parkteatret at 7pm.
One of my favourite young bands of the Nowegian now, Sløtface produce slickly finished, sassy punk inspo’d sounds, with razor sharp lyrics laced with kick ass attitude. Their latest number ‘Take Me Dancing’, is their most mature offering to-date. A cheeky little flirt, it’s a catchy soundscape of twist n turn bass chords, rolling percussion and a segue of clean and fuzzy guitar opposites that sync with uncluttered ease. Together they form an animated springboard for Haley Shea’s expressive vocals which in this instance are topped off with a deliciousness of angelic harmonies.
Sadly I have to be due north at the same time as their set finishes, so I make the strategic decision that as I have already seen these guys rock out live up at Trondheim Calling, I can live a bit longer on the memory, making a promise to keep them on the “must see again” list. Bearing in mind that they will undoubtedly tour their forthcoming album in 2017, it’s a promise I am quite likely to keep! For now, let Sløtface take you dancing around the virtual streets of Oslo.
Having settled on a hot date with Ludvig Moon meant that I also had to take a rain-check on Kildaphew – which didn’t impress me one bit! However, there was some silver lining zipping around the edges of those dark and rainy Oslo overhangs in the form of a Kildaphewian appearance on stage with ARY, when one half of this fantastic pairing, Danielle Christine Brogden, sang backing vocals to Ms. Loinsworth’s live set.
Purveyors of experimental electro-rap dipped in funk and wrapped up in a Windies vibe, theirs is one of the most lush sounds you’ll hear this side of 21stC soul. Danielle’s voice is pitch perfect chocca mocha velvet – sweet, rich, enticing, and moreish. Their instrumental sound is a collection of cross-border flotsam and jetsam woven with such a delicate and masterly touch as to create a perfectly seamless blend. Did I want to see them? Hell yeah. Shame on you programme timing!
On the 100% must see list (a desire reinforced having witnessed Danielle’s brilliant vocal shadowing of ARY the following day), for now I’ll have to satiate my calypso-hip hop needs by hanging out on their Soundcloud page – check this beauty of a track out!
Mixing classical and techno backgrounds to produce musical purity of a quality that outclasses many of their peers, Sgrow is a band whose vocal and sonic expressiveness has the clarity of its Nordic roots, the experimental drive of personal inspirations and, the melodic warmth and curious compulsion of the futuristic driven techno age in which it exists. Missing their set was possibly my biggest mistake of the night!
Luckily, I had the pleasure of meeting the Sgrow folks for a coffee a few days later, which made up in part, for my not seeing them live. Although, given the fact that they have wrapped up their live set for the present time, it looks like it’ll be quite some wait before I eventually get to see them kill it on stage. In the words of all the best musical stalkers … “I’m waiting”!
The Hallway were a band I desperately wanted to see live, especially having heard their now internationally released EP, Vestad a few weeks prior to heading to Oslo. However, as I had been waiting to see La Kolstø since March, sadly, it was a non-runner on the night. Theirs is my kinda sound, my kinda vibe. Melodic indie rock with just the right amount of bite, classical snatches of string samples, a little flash of American grunge and a pleasing but ever so slightly terse vocal.
They’re a bit Green Day muddled with Smashing Pumpkins in an ice-capped Nordic kinda way. Addictive, infectious, vibrant and on the poppy side of rock enough to appeal to the mainstream. The Hallway deserve only good things, and with sparkling creations like ‘I Used to Know’ they’ll probably get them!
So, you can see the challenges that faced me on the night. To make things worse, all things Toothfairywere happening over at The Villa. Having been told that the venue would be packed to capacity from early doors pretty much sealed their fate; I didn’t have the time to flit to a venue only to find I couldn’t get in and have to perform an instantaneous volte face to plan B. Gone, in one fell swoop, Coucheron, Nils Noa(weeps!), Carl Louisand Baya.
My evening drew to a close as I walked in what could only be described as a deluge of rain towards Subscene and the Panda Panda live set, conscious as I was doing so, that I was walking away from opportunity of seeing Frances Wave. “OH cruel Fate, when wilt thou weary be?”
My club-night came to a close and as I walked the short distance back to my hotel through the late night misty murky Oslo streets, I despatched pointless regrets on the North Sea breeze, welcomed the light at the end of the tunnel of possibilities and gently hugged the anticipation of what was still to come. Hope springs eternal.
Øyafestivalen supported by Music Norway, runs annually in Oslo, usually around the second week of August. For full details check out the official website http://oyafestivalen.com/