Susanne Sundfør – Introspective Contemplation of the Beautiful

Susanne Sundfør’s sixth album ‘Music for People in Trouble’ represents a not unremarkable volte-face in stylistic approach; one that sees the Norwegian arrive where she started.

Sundfør’s return to the pared-back songwriting of her early career, is in stark contrast to the lush, at times almost hedonistic synthpop of her 2015 opus, Ten Love songs. Gone the dissolute vortex of Accelerate, in its place a return to the maudlin majesty of masterpieces such as her 2012 contemporary dirge White Foxes.

Notwithstanding that seismic shift in direction, Sundfør’s music remains flush with the same eclectic array of influences – American folksters Carly Simon, John Denver and Joni Mitchell, along with piano-man Elton John – that have been a constant since her formative years and Music for People in Trouble above her other albums is awash with traces of their sounds.

Given Norway’s rich heritage of jazz, (there are prestigious jazz academies dotted throughout the country), it comes as no surprise that the legendary Leonard Cohen is also cited as having influenced Susanne’s songwriting techniques. Cohen’s influence is most apparent on Good Luck, Bad Luck, where patch samples of smokey jazz cut through sparse acoustic minimalism, to add darkly moody textures to an otherwise intimate, unadorned soundscape.

Mirroring the lyrics’ intimate nature, Sundfør’s score is grounded in acoustic strings and piano, woodwind and the occasional use of bass and drums, creating a paradoxical sense of beauty and unease. 

“I’m as empty as the earth, an insignificant birth, Stardust in a universe, that is all that I am worth”

The wafer-light mournfulness of album opener Mantra recalls Ten Love Songs’ Kamikaze. It sees Susanne offer up the tenderest of vocals offset by softly picked guitar, but bolstered by the addition of some fine steel pedal and a coda filled with the joyous peal of church bells. This understated prelude sets the thematic mood of ‘beautiful emptiness’ in an ever-changing, troubled world; a world paradoxically ‘filled with voids’ caused by failing love affairs and human destruction.

“Beauty is a key word. That feeling of emptiness that I think people get sometimes and how it can be seen as something beautiful. Because it’s quite contradictory. How can nothing be beautiful? But it can.”  – Susanne Sundfør speaking to The Telegraph

Lead track Reincarnation is as akin to a Lee Hazlewood composition as it gets, recalling the American’s idiosyncratic nuanced bluegrass sound. Once again the steel pedal guitar triumphs on what is an enchanting journey from mother earth to heavenly realm as angelic choral harmonies glide over slide.

“And we were loveless, oh it was pure bliss something I’ve never felt before”

Opening with sounds of birdsong and babbling water, The Sound of War is an eight minute epic where cacophonous ‘buzzing drones’ pillage pastoral perfection. A sharp reminder that notwithstanding its reverential eloquence, Music for People in Trouble is a quietly unsparing, sequenced composition. Recorded during breaks between Sundfør’s extended world travels which took in North Korean, the Amazon and Himalayas, the album is replete with both her visual and aural observations of a world destined for irreparable social, political and environmental change.

“No-one knocked on the door, you reap what you sow, no-one knocked on the door”

Steering clear of self-absorbed wallowing, Sundfør pushes for hope in a record that diaries deep sadness, albeit one lined with beauty, with a world that continues to disappoint. By addressing raw emotions such as anxiety and despair, Susanne Sundfør has turned negative ‘real-world’ experiences into a precise and bold piece of art with both a social and environmental conscience.

The despairing No One Believes In Love Anymore, with its sublime Oriental coda, and heart-achingly touching single Undercover, with its feather-light piano and angelic chorale, both attest to that.

Speaking of Undercover, Susanne explains: “I was inspired by Dolly Parton when I wrote Undercover. She’s a genius songwriter, and I’ve listened to her throughout my whole life. I go on all these musical adventures but somehow always come back to the country and folk music. It’s close to my heart, maybe because I listened to it in my childhood”

Music for People in Trouble sees the Norwegian’s music turn full circle, arriving back at these very childhood folk and country roots, albeit with a matured demeanour that’s more eyes wide shut than ingenue.

Most of the album’s accompaniments are limited to a single instrument, pushing Susanne Sundfør’s pristine vocal to the fore where it shines before fading away to leave many of the songs to take a lyric-less second form, allowing emotions to flow through richly textured instrumental outros.

The emphatic counterpoint to that is album closer Moutaineers, a gothic bombast of a duet recorded with music giant, John Grant. At once unnerving and uplifting, it is a potent chant shrouded in introspection. Preternatural in its power, electrifying in its textures, it is as compelling a finale to a deftly woven soundscape as you’ll find.

With this album, Susanne Sundfør offers solace to the world-weary and beleaguered, her lightness of voice, serenity of sound and deftness of touch providing much needed relief.

A masterpiece of beautiful disquietude, Music for People in Trouble is an album that takes the listener to very intimate and unsettling places.

***

Music for People in Trouble is out now via Bella Union. Susanne Sundfør will embark on a Europe-wide promotional tour for the album on 12th September, dates below, after which the tour will move to the North Americas. Full details on http://www.susannesundfor.com/

‘Music For People In Trouble’ Tour:

September 12 – Helsinki, Finland – Savoy Theatre

September 14 – Paris, France – Les Trois Baudets  (SOLD OUT)

September 15 – Brussels, Belgium – Orangerie-Botanique

September 16 – Köln, Germany – Artheater

September 18 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Vondelkerk  (SOLD OUT)

September 20 – Berlin, Germany – Silent Green

September 21 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Studio 3  (SOLD OUT)

October 2 – London, England – Union Chapel (SOLD OUT)

October 3 – Glasgow, England – CCA

October 4 – Manchester, England – Deaf Institute  (SOLD OUT)

October 7 – Dublin, Ireland – Sugar Club

October 12 – Stockholm, Sweden – Soda Teatern  (SOLD OUT)

Phonofile Nordic Music Prize Nominees Announced

Phonofile Nordic Music Prize
Phonofile Nordic Music Prize

The dozen nominees for the 2016 Phonofile Nordic 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

CTM Suite for a Young Girl
CTM Suite for a Young Girl

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.

Pom Poko – Unleash New Single Ahead of Trondheim Calling & Cruise Into Urort Final!

Pom Poko Urortfinalen 2017
Pom Poko Urortfinalen 2017

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 Calling should 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 Peder which you can see here!  The floral bedecked character is as yet to be identified!

Illustration Erlend Peder
Illustration Erlend Peder

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.

As Far As I’m Concerned, ESO Are Beyond Impressive

eso-nov-2016-by-christian-zervos
eso-nov-2016-by-christian-zervos

Sandvika natives, Einar Stray Orchestra are to indie music what the Divine Comedy are 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 Twitter page 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.

Therese Aune Records Enchanting Farao Cover For Kultmucke

therese-aune-photo sara-angelica-spilling
therese-aune-photo sara-angelica-spilling

“In the fear of being lonely I tried it all to get you back
There were things you never told me Like your heart was painted black”
So run the opening lines of Berlin based alt-pop cum indie artist Farao‘s 2013 single, ‘Tell A Lie‘, a cover version of which has just been released by her fellow Nord, Therese Aune as part of a series of exclusive covers featured by the German Kultmucke publication.

Farao’s original is an even-tempered electro-pop ballad – measured, simplex, bleak in aspect with funereal organ-like synths creating a dark underbelly penetrated by tight guitar loops, jagged handclaps and a refracting click track.  The Norwegian’s voice is as light as a feather and cool as a Winter’s dawn.  Yet, despite the regretful melancholic sentiment that lies at the heart of the song, Farao’s beguiling vocal interpretation remains clear, poised, at times almost detached from the track’s emotional resonance.

Step forward Therese Aune with a dazzling electronic arrangement that takes the tempo and spirit of the song to another level. So delightful is this interpretation that if one didn’t know the lyrics one’s reaction would be one of instant joy!  Aune’s expressive vocal dances around the words and pirouettes between light-hearted synth reps and electro-beats.  It’s as uplifting and energised as Farao’s version is coolly sophisticated.  Two sides of the one song, as diverse as they are impressive.

Covers are always difficult and emulating the original should be avoided at all costs.  With her version of ‘Tell A Lie’ Therese Aune has taken what was obviously a deeply personal song and made it very much her own.  By re-choreographing it she has put her own unique stamp on this gloriously uncomplicated complex song.  Bravo.

Introducing Swanlike : ‘Years’ EP

Swanlike
Swanlike

It’s been over a year since I first stumbled upon the impossibly talented Norwegian music artist Line Kasa.  After a long silence on her part, and much “patience” on mine, sorry couldn’t resist, Line is making a much welcome return in the company of her long-term collaborator and cousin Halvor Nordal Strand, with their Swanlike music project.  It’s quite the pleasure to bring you their new EP, ‘Years‘, a veritable sparkling treasure chest containing four diverse, thought-provoking and moving compositions.

Swanlike is the moniker for a project of moving parts, headed up by Halvor and Line.  Like shifting sands, the line up is made up of whoever is involved with the latest collaborative work; its current make up is Trym Gjermundbo, Øyvind Mathisen, and Sarah Nordal Strand.  Hailing from Notodden, in the southern Norwegian municipality of Telemark, this group of young, upcoming musicians have known each other for most of their lives.

years

While Halvor does most of the composing, lyrics and vocal arrangements are down to Line, with the remaining instrumental duties being picked up by the other three members.  The current line up has been playing and recording together for some time now and the ‘Years’ EP is a testament not just to their tightness as a unit, but to their relative ease with each other as a musical partnership.

While project founders Halvor and Line have long been admirers of each other’s music, their first love was for English supers, Radiohead.  Speaking about key musical influences Haldor explains: “Everyone in the band loves Radiohead. Line and I are both massive fans. Also, James Blake’s debut album was a turning point for me. I was, and am, so drawn to his approach to electronic music – with negative space, minimalistic instrumentation and gospel and r&b-influences in the London electronic sound. There are too many to mention but some of my other inspirations are, Frank Ocean, Burial, Jon Hopkins, Røyksopp, Arca, Bon Iver, and Cashmere Cat.

Drawn away from the strum of guitars to the pulsing world of electronica on first hearing Radiohead’s experimental opus Kid A, Halvor developed a fascination for “the sound shaping possibilities in working with synths and computers” and says moving to electronic music was a natural progression.

Inspiration for the the EP came out of a night of spinning Sia and Røyksopp tunes.  Their positive, party vibe triggered the opening note-sequence around which the song ‘June‘ was written. Swanlike craft their songs by using the well-worn ‘forwards-backwards’ system, as geographic location and availability aren’t always in sync and once the music to the single was laid down and Line had added the vocals, the song was finished off with Øyvind Mathisen on the mixing desk of his Oslo studio.

june

The opening track and possibly the strongest song on the EP ‘June‘, is a heart-melting, stirring track about holding onto a good but passionless relationship for all the wrong reasons.  With comfort and security comes guilt and frustration, feelings which Line Kasa’s exquisite vocal tenderly conveys with just the right amount of raw emotion.  While there may be few sparks in this impassive relationship, the instrumental is practically iridescent.  Windswept, radiant synths lines wrap around Line’s vocal in a landscape populated by the shadowy, dark spaces of disappointment and self-entrapment.

While most Norwegian electronica falls foul to the “icy”, “cold” and “frosted” labels, there is such a glow of warmth from Line Kasa’s clear vocal that when blended with such petillant synths, it melts whatever icy edges there are to be had on the instrumental accompaniment.

Delight follows delight as the EP moves onto the bewitching ‘Stones’, which has a slightly more rugged, edgy electronic vibe.  A slow electro-ballad it comes with the twist of a mad scientist instrumental.  A surprising side-order to its otherwise dreamy, hypnotic feel.  At 5.22 it comes in on the ‘extended side’ but it’s a well arranged, imaginative journey through a diverse electronic landscape that should be to the taste of most hard-core electro-fans. Unlike the more contemporary ‘June’, ‘Stones’ was recorded a while backin Trondheim, with the help of Erlend Elveseen.

Similarly, next up ‘New Years’, is an antecedent to the newer compositions on the EP being recorded some years back with Sjur Lyseid.  Speaking about ‘New Years’ Line explains:  “(It’s) a song about feeling empty and having a hard time coping with the stuff in life that is supposed to feel good.”  Spacious, stark, melancholic, there is an almost funereal quality to this track. An organ-like quality to the keys to which sombre bass-clarinet conjures a somewhat pious or reverent atmosphere while angelic harmonies counter the solemnity of the track’s musical foundation.

Book-ending the EP is a small slice of Norwegian delicacy, entitled ‘4’.  With existential themes at its heart and mourning in its soul, it ponders why, years after losing someone who was an integral part of our lives, certain inescapable questions still involuntarily float to the surface of the mind.  Of the song’s brevity Line comments: “I think one of the reasons why this song is so short is that the message is clear and there’s nothing more to say; these questions will never get an answer.”

Notwithstanding its doleful lyrical theme, the song’s pulsing instrumental and energetic percussive beat have a rather catchy rhythm that belie its inner melancholia.

The overriding sense of disappointment, despondency, and confusion that stems from the EPs lyrical content, is perfectly counter-balanced not just by the delightful tenderness and emotional honesty of Line Kasa’s poised vocal, but also by the imaginatively choreographed electronica that underpins it.  Kudos to Strand for pulling off a flawless blend of gloaming and dawn with his ingenious line in synth composition and arrangement.  The addition of drums and in particular the bass-clarinet, give texture and personality to what could so easily have been “ice-capped” electro-sounds, albeit sounds spun with some golden wizardry.

‘Years’ is a rather beautiful and stirring EP, skillfully orchestrated, and arranged with precision symmetry. A journey of dark and light, it is a confident, meticulous, intense and fascinating production that should provide Swanlike with a solid foundation from which to move forward and forge a full album.

You can follow Swanlike on Facebook.  They play Skien 20.11 and Notodden 22.11 and Oslo in early 2017 tbc.  A video for June is on the way, so keep your eyes peeled.  Stream ‘Years’ here – links for downloads below.

Sløtface Shine ‘Bright Lights’ On A Dark Subject

Lasse Lokøy
Lasse Lokøy

Earlier in the Autumn, when the evenings were still balmy enough for us to hit the streets without donning the plethora of woollens and multitude of layers with which we are currently swaddled, Norwegian four-piece Sløtface took to the nocturnal streets of Bergen to shoot the video accompaniment to their latest single ‘Bright Lights‘.

Lifted from the EP, Empire Records‘ itself just released on 18th November, the track is about escapism – escaping self and society. The song is written by frontwoman Haley Shea, who is to Norway what Grimes is to Canada and Ani DiFrancio is to the US. who gives an unusually restrained yet highly effective vocal performance with a much nuanced emphasis on the word “crushed” that hangs at the end of the chorus like a broken arm.  Musically, this is Sløtface at their most understated.  Intuitive guitars make a statement without being overpowering while the percussion takes on a more relaxed style.  This is less punky, rriot, more Blondie style pop with its native intelligence.

The self-made Lasse Lokøy directed visual however, focusses its lens on an altogether darker subject – female vulnerability & safety.  Just how safe the nocturnal streets of Bergen are is not known to me; what is known, and only too well, is how unsafe the streets of Dublin, city or urban, are for women at any time of the day or night.

Opening with scenes from a booze, music and fun filled gathering of friends, the mood of the film quickly shifts from relaxed gaiety to one of tense uncertainty, as the once crammed frame empties onto a deserted street, dark save for the street lights, desolate except for the lone female protagonist.  What follows in this perceptively scripted and directed storyline, is an experience with which most of us females will be all too familiar.

Lasse Lokøy
Lasse Lokøy

The nervousness that automatically creeps in when we find ourselves walking alone at night.  The sense of terror that screams inside when we suddenly find that we are not alone.  The panic that sets in when a dark, hooded figure walks into our immediate space.  The disgusted indignation and feeling of limp frustration at having to ignore midnight, booze-fuelled boors, spouting sexist claptrap dressed up as a neanderthal charm offensive, that rapidly turns into insults when their efforts go unheeded.

Walking with the phone on ‘dial-alert’.  Bracing oneself with keys jagged to the ready.  Taking to the middle of the street under some misguided impression that the midsection is safer than the side because “everyone can see me, right?”. Wrong.

We are not safe.  Not safe from louts. Not safe from thugs.  Not safe from bullies.  Not safe from misogynists.  Not safe from attackers, muggers, rapists, and murderers.  We are women .. vulnerable, open to every form of attack from mental through verbal to physical.  Welcome to our world.

Sløtface have been chugging out singles like JK Rowling spawns fantasies.  The ‘Empire Records’ mini-compendium is the latest in the ever accelerating run up to their debut album, due for release in early 2017.  In addition to their ever lengthening discography, the band have been speeding up and down the gig helter-skelter and not satisfied with having recently finished a whistle-stop tour of the UK, this hyper-energised bunch have just announced another week of UK dates running from 13th – 18th February.

feb-tour-dates

‘Bright Lights‘ is available to stream/download here https://slotface.lnk.to/BrightLights & you can watch the band’s ‘on point’ awareness film right here.

‘The End’ Is Far From Nigh for Norwegian Newcomer ARY

Photo AKAM1k3
Photo AKAM1k3

At times there is something utterly otherworldly about the songs crafted by Norwegian rising star ‘du jour’, ARY.  An otherwordliness quickly negated on meeting this young artist in the flesh.  One is immediately struck by her ‘matter of factness’ while simultaneously warming to her self-deprecating sense of humour.

The normality and ‘realness’ that underpin Ariadne Loinsworth, belie the Himalayan imagination and scalable creative engine that frantically whir beneath.  For this creative ingenue is forever composing, writing, scribbling, tinkering, producing and plain old playing music.

Her musical output over the past twelve months has gone into overdrive as her switch from passenger to the production driving seat has put her firmly in control of her own destiny, as it were.

Having kept her fans waiting an incredibly long 12months+ for the follow up to her debut single ‘Higher‘, the Nordic chanteuse sprang a September surprise when she announced single deuxièmeThe Sea’, a cherry-picked soundtrack to NRK’s latest multi-million dollar blockbuster drama series, ‘Nobel’, the rights to which have been syndicated worldwide.

Put that in your pipe …

supervention-2

Now, in a volte face of her modus operandum, Ary has dropped single number three, less than two months later! Another film soundtrack, it’s entitled ‘The End‘ and it comes, literally at the end of the new sports doc, ‘Supervention 2‘.  A wickedly shot, fast paced, sheer vertical drop of a film about sports skiers and snowboarders, it is not for the faint hearted or folks who like me suffer from vertigo!  Watch the trailer, here.

A collaboration with Jonathan Sigworth, ‘The End’ sees ARY at her classic otherwordly finest.  Her bewitching breathy vocal soars, elevating the snow-cold electronica that shimmers and sparkles beneath its pristine state.  With a lofty elegance redolent of the ‘on the wing’ harmonies of ABBA’s ‘The Eagle‘, this track ascends and floats aloft a vast instrumental spaciousness.

Set in a constant state of elevation it recalls the sky-high altitude champion skiers reach before facing the sheer plumb drops down the sides of some of the world’s most majestic mountains.  An intoxicating vocal fused with an hypnotic synth ballet, if I could use but one word to describe this song, it would simply be, ‘beautiful’.

‘The End’ is out now via Petroleum records and can be streamed on Spotify.

In other news, ARY has been nominated for Best Newcomer over at GAFFA.no.  Details of all noms, here.  You can keep up to speed with her ARYness via Facebook & Twitter, where you’ll also find YT – @DervSwerve.  And so, we’ve come to, ‘The End’!

Wardruna’s ‘Raido’ Is A Dramatic Journey Into A Mythical Past

wardruna

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.

Album Review: Ludvig Moon ‘Kin’

samfunnet-bislet-ludvig-moon
samfunnet-bislet-ludvig-moon

The danger with indie is that if there isn’t sufficient diversity of theme, tempo, and instrumental style, it can quickly segue into one continuous jangle cum drone, depending on which line the artist is peddling.

In this regard, Norwegian newcomers Ludvig Moon, appear to have done their utmost to unfurl their creative tendrils in several directions to try to ensure that debut album ‘Kin’, stretches across a broader than generic indie spectrum. For the best part, they have succeeded.

Ludvig Moon have been steadily honing their clearly identifiable sound since the 2014 release of their self-titled debut EP.  It is a testament to their synchronicity as a unit that this multi-member outfit has developed such a tightly woven sound – no mean feat in a group where seven musicians are competing to be heard.  Or maybe that is the secret, that together they recognise the Ludvig Moon whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

kin

This septet (see below for the roll call) is a talented cohort with a lot of genuine promise, who produce highly evocative and at times magical material.  As a group, they often seem to be reaching for a sound bigger than the confines of their immediate Oslo environs. One whose sound almost over-reaches; almost.  It certainly spills over beyond the brim of indie, flowing through the outer reaches of American rock,  alt-rock and pop punk – think Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins and Ash.

Whether by accident or design, the sound at which they have arrived, pulls from the vestiges of the glory days of ’80s pop-punk and the classic ’90s indie-rock sounds both defined and dominated by the big American ‘supers’. Eleven track ‘Kin’ spreads its wings across this cross-generational spectrum, dipping and diving into styles coloured by the past blended with that freshness and effervescent urgency that is the trademark of youth.

After a string addled mini-melodrama of an intro, a mere whisper bookended by some windswept cymbals crashing off the shore, the album cracks open with the propulsive ‘When the Storm Breaks’, a song full of vim and vigour, thrashing percussion, great striking guitars, stonking keys and a killer chorus. A track to leave you wanting more.

I dare you to listen to the track ‘Sparks’ and not hear The Cure, albeit the post-punk goths back-dropped by a glorious if frenzied instrumental ascent/descent of musical scales fashioned by what is quite possibly the closest guitars have ever come to sounding like change-ringing.

‘Are We Still’ takes it down a few notches, showing a more restrained and subtle but no less experimental musicianship with its ‘eerie’ touches (redolent of the saw), golden melodies and heartwarming chorus, which by itself is a fine example of the perfect chemistry between fronters Anders Magnor Killerud and Lydia Popkema.

Indeed it is the pairing of Killerud and Popkema, whose vocal contrasts are like fire and ice, that gives so much depth and texture to the band’s songs. The fluidity and balance of their duets heighten the evocative essence of the songs’ lyrical themes. Speaking of which, here’s what frontman and lyricist Killerud had to say about the albums thematic inspos …

The lyrics are based on stories from my life the past few years. People around lost control over their lives and I lost toucb with many of them during those times. For me this album mirrors the winter of 2015. It’s my soundtrack to life as a young, broke and confused twentysomething in Oslo – not knowing who I was, not knowing what I wanted to become. Filling the album with grandiose sounds felt like my cure against the grey fabric of life at the time. Making the album really helped my through the winter though, especially mentally.”

As expected, singles ‘Houses At Night’ and ‘Cult Baby’ take centre stage, but while the latter is the diamond at the heart of this long playing jewel, something in me remains unconvinced by the former.

For originality and instrumental flair, I find myself veering towards ‘Moth’, a song which more than piqued my interest with its perky finger picking guitar sequences, lively percussion and billowing, swirling synth background.

There’s a filmic vibe to this ever growing spiral, with it’s somewhat subtle shades of country come Americana, as it twists and ascends to a curious finale of alien noises and instrumental riddles.  For ingenuity and musicianship, I’d score this a 9/10.  For me, this is a song that walks a different path and the standout track on the album.

There are a few less noteworthy inclusions but overall the memorable outweighs the forgettable.  The album has some really standout moments, not least the afore-mentioned ‘Cult Baby’, a track which has proved to be a firm radio playlist favourite across the broader reaches of the EU, particularly in the land that shall now always be known as Brexit.  A track that could easily take Ludvig Moon into the US Billboard charts should they ever venture to stray that far, it is a benchmark against which future singles will be measured.

For a debut album, Ludvig Moon have played a strong hand with ‘Kin’, and while there is still room for improvement, they are young, ambitious talented enough to make the upward transition to a more mature and experimental level, with relative ease. They say the second album is always the most difficult.  For Ludvig Moon it should be plain sailing.  They’ve set the bar.  It’s now up to them how far they wish to raise it.

Ludvig Moon are currently on an extensive tour of Norway; having seem them live, I can heartily recommend you check them out, details here https://www.facebook.com/pg/ludvigmoon/events/

Ludvig Moon is : Anders Magnor Killerud ( lead vocals, guitar), Ole Torstein Hovig (synths), Herman K. Hulleberg (guitar), Kristofer Staxrud (Drums), Andreas Andre Myrvold  (bass, vocals), Lydia Popkema (vocals, guitar, tambourine), and Simen Sandbæk Skari (French Connection, vocals, tambourine)

You can follow Ludwig Moon on Facebook and keep up with all my reviews on Dervswerve Twitter and Facebook.  ‘Kin’ is out now via Riot Factory. You can buy or stream it via the following links:

Spotify: http://spoti.fi/2ea9463   iTunes/Apple Music: http://apple.co/2dYzxAC    Tidal: http://bit.ly/2dShQ9e
Vinyl: http://bit.ly/2dYzOUe