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.

Many Voices Speak’s Debut Single Is A Sweet Retro Daydream

Photo: Julia Mård
Photo: Julia Mård

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.

Alma’s Latest Single Is Wickedly Good

Alma

There isn’t anything that the pomp of brass and wistful elegance of strings can’t take to the next level, and then some.

By layering russet hued horns and yearning string sequences over menacing basslines, sweetly seductive synth and touches of plinking piano, Swedish trip-hopper, Alma, has scored a classy soundtrack that could easily pass for a younger, sassier sibling of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box – Give Me A Reason‘.  Cloaked in the same hypnotic allure threaded with subtle strands of intrigue, her latest single, ‘Wicked’ oozes that same sumptuous, off-limits sexiness as its mid ’90s predecessor.

Vocals with an attitude face off against dreamy pillows of feathery delightfulness, giving the sultry, chastising lyrics a warm, animated colour with just the right touch of cool, refined disdain around the edges.

‘Wicked’ is Alma’s latest release following the feisty electro-dance track, ‘I Do It For You’.  Less poppy, more intense, this is an extremely sophisticated production that significantly ups the song-crafting ante.  In fact, ‘Wicked’ is of such richly textured and cinematic proportions as to be practically of the same calibre as the many hits penned by Guy Chambers or Adele (think Millenium meets Skyfall).

While the song itself was released a few months back, the Nim Sundström directed, sensual and dramatic Bondesque video (check out the Bond referencing shots of that spiral staircase) was only premiered a week ago.

Relatively new to the music scene in the UK&I, this young Stockholm based singer appears to know her strengths and is playing to them like a well seasoned pro.  If Alma keeps firing shots like ‘Wicked’ from her musical armoury you can expect to see her star in the ascendancy quicker than Bond could say ‘007’.

‘Wicked’ is released via Wicked Records and is available for streaming.  You can follow Alma on Soundcloud, Facebook and Twitter.

One Dozen Dudettes: Twelve Women In Music Whose Names You Need to Know (1/2)

Foto: Kim Song Sternkopf
Foto: Kim Song Sternkopf

In an industry traditionally dominated by men, it has always seemed that women, who have always been in the minority, were destined to remain somewhat on the back-foot.

In 2016 however, all the indications are that the this may not be the case for much longer.  The tide is beginning to turn, certainly across the Northern European scene, where a new generation of intelligent, driven, articulate and uber-talented young women are beginning to take their place at the helm.  In a very assured and controlled manner, they are leading a new and courageously outspoken charge through an industry that for all intents and purposes has hitherto been yet another male-only private members club.

Glass-ceiling?  Twenty, thirty years ago, the perception was that only a pneumatic drill would break through; never something that a quick flick of a finely turned stiletto could crack, recently it has somehow managed to become more fragile in its consistency, as hairline cracks begin to show on its testosterone coated surface.

And yes, back in the 80’s Smith, Harry, Hynde, Bush, all strong, outspoken women not only carved out hugely successful careers for themselves in the music business, they achieved iconic status for having done so.  But, more importantly, they did the groundwork, laid the foundations for empowerment from which a new group of emerging female artists can now build upon and flourish.

Furthermore, in those intervening years, a slow but sure shift in mindset has also occurred, so that today, one of the advantages that many female artists have, certainly those in Scandinavian countries, is that their male peers no longer just talk the talk. Significantly, 2015/16 has seen the rise of the male feminist and that in itself has been a key game-changer.   That is not to say, that the rise of so many women to forefront of the industry has been down to some form of male acquiescence, far from it, but this shift in mentality has certainly played an integral part in this change in dynamics.

So just who are these young women standing front and centre of today’s pack of emerging musical talent?  Who are these silk voiced lasses with steely backbones and radars more perceptive than a sonar submarine?  It’s not quite jackboots all round, some of these gals being of a very ‘ethereal’ ilk.  But, what all of these young women have in common, is a determination ranging from the quietly understated to vigorously riotous, not only to succeed, but to have their voice however, soft or loud, clearly heard!

In this two-part special feature, we introduce you to twelve young women who are currently making an indelible mark on the emerging music scene across Northern Europe of 2016.

PART ONE

Kate Akhurst

KateAkhurst

Who: Australian avant-garde provocateur, who honed her lyrical craft in LA, then put the Kate into Swedish outré synthpop outfit Kateboy.  

Vocalist Akhurst also carries out joint writing, instrumental and production duties alongside Markus Dextegen, formerly of Swedish music collective Rocket Boy from whence the ‘Boy’ element of their moniker came. The consummate “performance artist”, Kate incorporates several non-musical elements to recordings, visuals and live performances, including dance, art and high tech graphics & special effects.

Creator of magnetic hooks enhanced by her stunning vocal theatricality, Kate Akhurst is the lyrical engine behind such gloriously gleaming pop anthems as ‘Midnight Sun’ and ‘Northern Lights’.  Kateboy released their debut album, ‘One’ last November and are currently on tour having just played Barcelona, with an upcoming gig in Prague next week.  Expect bolder, bigger, better from the next round of Akhurst fuelled creations. This livewire has well & truly marked the music world’s card with brand Kateboy.

“It’s really important to me that someone doesn’t come in and make me a star.” – ARY

ARY

Photo @aeilertsen
Photo @aeilertsen

Who: Baby faced, doe-eyed, twenty-one year old Norwegian Ariadne Loinsworh, aka ARY.

Of Jamaican extraction, this raven haired beauty is as perceptive as she is delightful, and wittier than she is both.  With her quirky style, tireless enthusiasm and uncanny knack for delivering the most perfectly nuanced vocal, ARY is surely one of THE upcoming forces to be reckoned with in the Norwegian music industry.  Creating intoxicating cold electronica gently warmed by her mellow voice and sunny disposition, ARY has, in the past 6 months, become the darling of the pop scene, with music media tripping over themselves to view, review and interview this shining star.  Collaborating with Olefonken on the ‘Quaaludes’ project has given ARY’s “cool cred” an enormous boost, surprising more than a few in the process.  Don’t be fooled by the cotton wool softness of that voice, there’s a lot more to ARY than at first meets the eye, or indeed the ear!  Watch this space!

*Read the unedited version of my interview with ARY which was first published by The 405 in February, here.

Bryde

Bryde Photo Music Glue
Bryde Photo Music Glue

Who: New kid on the solo block, Brixton based electric guitar cognoscente Sarah Howells.

Operating under the nom de plume Bryde, this fresh-faced English singer musician totally kills it in the atmospheric stakes and, kicks HUGE ass with her gutsy performances, so to read that she takes inspiration from the likes of PJ Harvey comes as no surprise.

Featured by BBC6 Music’s Fresh on the Net, not once but twice, Bryde crafts songs with the punch of Debbie Harry and the electricity of Pat Benatar, with whom she also shares the same pure-diamond vocal. Lyrically terse, emotionally tense and vocally theatrical, this talented Brit has concocted the perfect recipe for her ferociously honest compositions.  Self-deprecating, sometimes self-condemning but with more than a touch of f**k you, Bryde’s songs, which tend to throttle rather than hold tightly onto past mistakes, come out of that new wave of female lyricism that sees them continuously shed skin and evolve by looking forwards,

Gigging with gusto since the start of the year, this Summer sees Bryde tour the length and breadth of the UK, which will culminate in a festival slot in June, details on her website, here.  As I’ve said before, “Bryde is to singing what Caitlin Moran is to wording: ballsy.”  Bryrde’s debut EP is out on 13th May, and you’d be a fool not to invest.

“I realised I had a bigger dream, and wanted to do this for myself, to prove myself.” – GRIS-DE-LIN

Jo Carson

JO

Who: One half of upcoming Winchester duo, Temples of Youth, formerly known to many of you as Shallows.

Self-taught percussionist and creator of songs which she describes as “Subtle electric honesty”, this smoky-voiced lyrical emancipator has pro-actively media managed Temples of Youth since its inception just over a year ago.  In the space of a year, ToY has evolved quite significantly both creatively and sonically, honing their live performance to such a sharp extent that they are already lined up for not one but two slots at Blissfields.  ‘Faved’ by BBC 6 Music’s Fresh on the Net whose Tom Robinson was suitably wowed by “the epic chillwave” of this enigmatic Cancerian’s Sade-esque delivery on their track ‘AM’, Temples have also been featured in live sesh by BBC Introducing,

An articulate advocate of feminism and active promoter of positive mental health, we asked Jo to explain what it was that was most important for her to achieve both as an artist and a woman.  “As an artist I do what I do because it helps my mental and physical wellbeing. Writing gives me something to pour myself into and it makes me feel like being different is okay because something good is coming out of it. It makes me feel accepted. In terms of being a woman, I want younger women to see that gender isn’t defining and that music is open to everyone. There are so many horror stories in the media, Kesha and Grimes are just two examples.  I think that intimidates young girls. It’s just awful that, that kind of thing happens so it’s important to raise awareness. But what about all the women out there who are having the best time and growing through music.  Let’s not forget to tell the kids about those people too.”

Carson is the creative brains behind Temples of Youth’s new website, where you’ll find details of their latest music news and upcoming gigs, including the aforementioned Blissfields.  Fast gaining traction beyond the pale of their neatly trimmed Hampshire borders, this is a band and a feminist, of whom you’ll be hearing a lot more in the future.

EERA

EERA Live

Who: Anna Lena Bruland,  guitar playing solo artist who hails from a fishing port on the outskirts of Oslo.

Her grungey guitar sound and emotionally stripped down lyrics have brought her to the attention of top level hacks and DJs alike, including the illustrious 2FM jock and Irish John Peel, Dan Hegarty, he of the biggest alternative radio show in Ireland, no less.

Originally the face of Anna Lena and the Orchids, the Norwegian singer/songwriter now performs under the moniker EERA, something which automatically gives her both an air of distance and aura of intrigue.  Some five years back, EERA upped sticks and moved to London, and it was in the magnified miscellany of that metropolis that she finally felt able to mine deep enough to unearth her true lyrical expression.  Having tested the waters with some well received low key dates, EERA stepped out into the headlights of the world stage earlier this year when, with a flurry of promo and a whirlwind of live dates, she launched her debut single, ‘Drive with Fear’, which was quickly followed by her eponymous EP.

While her songs cut deep emotionally, the gritty, earthy power behind their visceral landscape roughs them up around the edges, turning them into dirty diamonds sparkling in a sonic twilight.  EERA’s voice is as capable of gravel strewn husky as it is of mountain stream clarity, and the singer fully utilises the far reaching range of her incredible instrument, in a subtle and nuanced fashion.  Emotionally potent themes held in check by no-nonsense grunge set EERA apart from many of her female solo peers.   Having just received wow reviews for her performance at Danish SPOT festival, EERA hits The Great Escape in two weeks time where she’ll play to her largest audience to-date, something which undoubtedly, this understated young artist will coolly take in her confident Nordic stride.

Gris-de-Lin

joe gideon, gris de lin

Who: Other-worldly, tractor hugging, sparkly boots wearing free spirit from Bridport, whose debut EP, ‘The Kick’ hit the musicverse just two weeks ago.

Gris-de-Lin is a one woman philharmonic orchestra without the phil, whose instrumental spectrum includes drums, guitar, keys and saxophone, amongst others.

Walking away one year ago, from the comfort of playing within a group, Gris rented out a nearby nursery school, and with the help of some close friends including regular jammer and collaborator, Matt Clyma Gooderson, the music of Gris-de-Lin was born.  Speaking of the move to solo-dom Gris explained, “It got to the point where I just wanted control, wanted it to be personal, wanted to prove myself.   I wanted to experiment, and for the music to reflect that experimentation.  I wanted it to feel organic, to flow freely.  I realised I had a bigger dream, and wanted to do this for myself, to prove myself.

In terms of originality, Gris is probably at the top of the otherworldly pile and while the most wondrous melodies flow through the soul of her songs, there hangs over them, the most unique and spiritual aura, not akin to anything we’ve previously come across.  An adept musician and pan-cultural aesthete, Gris has a flair for devising ingenious lyrical and musical creative approaches, which seeps into her outputs.

Since those Summer jams in a Bridport nursery, Gris single handedly (no PR/Manager/Label) released a double A sided single (YourGhost/Birthday) complete with hand-painted artwork for the groovy yellow vinyls and two visual accompaniments, organised a launch party at London’s Servant Jazz Quarters (complete with Gris-tailored cocktails), toured with Joe Gideon and gigged with Jim Sclavunos, as well as playing a series of gigs in Dorset/London.

A BBC favourite she has played live sessions on both Marc Riley‘s BBC6 Music Radio Show and BBC Intro South, as well as being featured by both Tom Robinson on his 6-Music Show and BBC6 Fresh on the Net, where her tracks ‘Birthday’ and ‘The Kick’ were huge fan favourites.  Gris has since signed to German indie label, BB Island, through whom she has just released her debut EP, The Kick, details here.

This Summer will see Gris release her debut album which was produced by Chris ‘Cee’ Hamilton, whose much revered services she enlisted after inveigling him with some fine single malt when they met at the gig of a mutual friend.

I think you’ll agree that Gris has achieved her objective, having most certainly proved herself, something which no doubt, she’ll continue to do. Keep up to speed with gig news and posts on the upcoming album release here on her website.

“I won’t be at the mercy of your ghost, cold hand knocking at my window pane, I wanna be dancing with my friends, so if you go, just be gone, no strands left hanging or dreams undone, my closet is already full, skeletons hanging, no space for you.” ‘Your Ghost’ – Gris-de-Lin

Part 2 of this special two-part series, will feature six more cutting edge ‘fab femmes’ whose names we think you should become familiar with.

It’s more than probable that at some point down the line, these female forces to be reckoned with will have very much established themselves both in their profession as artists, the music industry in general, and possibly beyond. Truth be told, some are already very much on their way … can’t you hear them?

Follow DervSwerve’s musical musings amongst other things on Facebook and on Twitter.

Why the USA will ‘Never Forget’ Zara Larsson

Zara-Larsson-Tonight-Show-640x427

Swedish hip-popstrel, Zara Larsson, is riding high on the crest of a musical wave, having taken American television chat show hosts and their audiences by storm.  Fresh from kicking it on The Ellen Show, where along with UK producer/singer-songwriter MNEK, the gold-lame adorned 18 year old gave a wow-tastically confident live performance of her smash hit ‘Never Forget You’, the dazzling singer can be found blazing a trail through the US Billboard charts.

Currently clocking in at 200million+ streams, ‘Never Forget You’ has already hit number 1 in the US Billboard Digital Dance Chart and is also striding its way up the Billboard Hot 100, where it’s sitting at No.15.
Photo TT
Photo TT 

Within minutes of Larsson appearing on the Jimmy Fallon hosted, ‘The Tonight Show‘, social media again lit up with praiseful comments about yet another dynamic live TV performance.

‘Never Forget You’, a dance-pop duet which Larsson recorded with MNEK, was originally released last year.  The Swede has recently released an acoustic version of Grammis nominated ‘Lush Life‘.

It would seem that Larsson is now clearly beyond One to Watch status … This butterfly has most certainly emerged from the chrysalis.

Album Review : Lust for Youth ‘Compassion’

LfY

 

‘Compassion’, the latest long player offering from Swede/Dane outfit, Lust for Youth, is an impressive production that fuses sounds of shimmering light and morose dark to create a glossy ball of monochrome synthpop. Think black glitterball – spangles from the dark side.

Originally the solo project of Swede Hannes Norrvide, Lust for Youth developed into a triumvirate after a move to Copenhagen saw Norrvide hook up with Danes, Loke Rahbek and Malthe Fischer.  Now following on from their 2014 post-punk, cold wave grit-comp, ‘International’, they have released this much anticipated album, in many ways the culmination of a continuous evolution of sound.

The antithesis of its predecessor, ‘Compassion’ is a more mature, sophisticated creation, although some might say that with that same refinement comes a loss of the very rawness that gave ‘International’ a grimy and therefore, more interesting edge. Ultimately, what way you swing will come down to personal taste: if you are a dirty sounding, industrial leaning synth pop fan, then ‘Compassion’ may not be for you.  If you are a lover of slick synth-pop noir, then this is a gem you need to add to your musical treasure trove.

This eight track Lp opens with ‘Stardom’ a fusion of sketches from SGR and Black Celebration, with overtures of Wilder’s more finessed electronic flourishes a la SOFAD.  Compounding the Mode comparison is the wistful vocal redolent of a Nordic Dave Gahan, although the parsimonious modulation gives it a slight Kraftwerkian mono-automaton quality. ‘Stardom’ is a two tiered dichotomy: overhead lines of warm melodica flow in parallel with underground undulating bass electronica & dancing percussion.  Interestingly, despite being a love song, it is tinged with an air of despondency.

“I’m complete, I’m content

In your bed but I’m floating

In the air in the clear”

Second track in, ‘Limerance’, which means infatuated love, has a dreamy wistful melody that perfectly complements the songs lyrical theme of obsessive, unrequited love.  Pure 80s dance-pop, it is made up of a series of interlinking loops underpinned by an insistent drum beat and repetitive sequences of warm synth that give a honeyed glaze to a washed-out, detached vocal.

Smatterings of “found sounds” and spoken word, are dotted through the compelling meld of poignant cold electronics and warm acoustic chords that make up ‘Easy Window’, a curious yet enchanting instrumental choc full of quirks and delightfully arranged synth sequences that brings to mind a sonic Star Wars between outer space and planet earth.  From interstellar handbags at dawn, to nocturnal handbags on the dancefloor, pure 80s pop-monster, ‘Sudden Ambitions’, is an infectious muddle of NO, ‘Regret’ and TfF ‘The Working Hour’, while its mille feuille of up tempo synth layered over a foundation of gyrating percussive beats, is joyful dance pop in the mould of Pet Shop Boys.  Here Norrvide’s vocal, at its most Gahan-esque, is also at its warmest and most inviting.

Rolling with the PSB and NO sound is surging disco track, ‘Better Looking Brother’, which will sweep you away on the tide of its driving momentum, while duet ‘Display’, does a sonic volte-face changing down gears to first and brings a welcome albeit temporary reprieve from the continuous thrum of up-tempo pop. Despite comprising a bolognaise of several strands of warm electronica and melodic guitar lines, ‘Display’ is full of wide open spaces, making this ballad one of the most interesting, and for my money definitely one of the best, tracks on the album.

The album closes with the rather bizarre ‘In Return’.  Ambiguous Swedish spoken word is married with an almost ambient instrumental accompaniment, its pervasive sense of stasis given only brief moments of animation via electronic flourishes.  It’s an easy listening close but probably the most dated sound on the album.

All in all, ‘Compassion’ is more retro than its more futuristic predecessor.  It references some of the best 80s brand names, which in turn adds to the sense of wistful nostalgia so integral to the album’s thematic core.

‘Compassion’ is a dark reflective stroll through 80s pop highlighted with some wonderful flashes of melodic silver lining. While it may be less edgy than ‘International’, it is significantly more mature, and as far as pieces of polished synth-pop noir go, this is one classy affair.

Lust for Youth’s album, ‘Compassion’ is out now on Sacred Bones records.

The band are currently on tour, you can check out the tour dates below (they play London’s Moth Club 22/4)

You can follow Lust for Youth on social here, Facebook, Twitter

Lust for Youth Tour Dates:

22.03.16 – Los Angeles, US – Teregram Ballroom
24.03.16 – Brooklyn, NY – Market Hotel
02.04.16 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Sigurdsgade
06.04.16 – Berlin, Germany – Lido
07.04.16 – Leipzig, Germany – Ilses Erika
08.04.16 – Zürich, Switzerland – Südpol
09.04.16 – Milan, Italy – Serraglio
11.04.16 – Paris, France – Le Petit Bain
12.04.16 – Lyon, France – Le Sonic
13.04.16 – Madrid, Spain – El Sol
14.04.16 – Barcelona, Spain – Sidecar
16.04.16 – Lisbon, Portugal – Musicbox
21.04.16 – Warsaw, Poland – Klub Hydrozagadka
22.04.16 – London, UK – Moth Club
20/05/16 – Rome, Italy – Spring Attitude Festival
11.06.16 – Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa

 

Best of 2015…Nordic

Palace Winter

Nordic                   Breakthrough                    Palace Winter

The stars were aligned the day Carl Coleman met Caspar Hesselager during a brief music tour of Denmark in 2013.  Both playing with different bands at the time, it was Danish native Hesselager’s astute foresight in identifying Coleman’s ability to fill  the lyrical and vocal voids in his creative armory, that led him to approach the Australian to see if he might be interested in collaborating.

The pair decamped to Caspar’s Copenhagen studio, rocked out some tunes, and Palace Winter was born. Nine months later, the duo finished recording and mixing their debut EP, ‘Medication‘ but before they even got past first gear, were promptly snapped up by the uber eclectic record label, Tambourhinoceros. (which to this day I still have difficulty in saying).

Since the Summer, Palace Winter have released their stunner of a 5-track EP, wowing audiences across the Euro-zone with their live performances.  They have hit the highs of Hype Machine, been played extensively on the musical mecca that is BBC6 Music, and are now on the cusp of releasing their debut album.

Hold on tight 2016, it’s gonna be a country-rockin’ roller-coaster of a Palace Winter ride.  Yeehaw!

 

Nordic                   Best Solo Artist                 Nils Frahms

Words fail me when it comes to Nils Frahm.  There is too much to say, and not enough words to say it with.  Probably one of the 21st century’s musical geniuses, certainly one of a kind, Frahms has continued to stun worldwide audiences with his ingenious, unique and evocative compositions.

From his various collaborations with Ólafur Arnalds, to his standout, hair-raising performance for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall;  from his sell out European tour to his ‘Solo’ project, Frahms has been at the forefront of the ambient classical music scene for most of 2015.

An exceptionally talented composer, musician, performer and producer, everything that Frahms has turned his hand to this year has turned to musical gold.

There are very few music artists who have so consistently inspired such awe, who have so frequently reduced their captive audiences to tears – Frahms is one of them.  And if you have any doubts, watch his spine tingling Proms performance, which was championed by the lovely MaryAnne Hobbs, here.

Nils Frahm sir, I salute your genius.

 

Nordic                   Best Group                         Blaue Blume

Copenhagen based Blaue Blume have pretty much dominated the Danish music scene this year.  Having released their debut album, Syzygy, a Danish term for lunar or solar synchronicity or concurrences, to rapturous acclaim, Blaue Blume have pretty much beceome the darlings of Nordic music media.

Having achieved huge success in 2014 both internationally and domestically where ‘In Disco Lights’ was P6 Radio’s most played track, 2015 saw this uber cool quartet take it to another level.  Syzygy took Blaue Blume’s hugely evocative sound, adorned it with operatic vocals, and laced it with strands of tempestuous instrumental and haunting harmonies.  Trimmed  with swatches of rock around the edges, it is an hugely diverse musical meld.  Meticulously produced, with more polish than HRH’s Sterling Silverware, Syzygy is easily one of the best Nordic albums of 2015, giving Blaue Blume a clear edge over their Nordic peers.

Standout track, ‘Sky’, sends shivers up the spine.  Listen to it here.

 

Nordic                   Best Video                          The Chopin Project ‘Eyes shut’

Classical maestros,  Ólafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott, make up Chopin Project, whose exquisite crocheting of Chopin sequences into original scores, took the world of electro-classical by storm in 2015.  The highlight for this reviewer was the tear-inducing ‘Eyes Shut’, the beautifully filmed visual for which, adeptly conveys the raw emotion of the music in the most understated way.

Directed by Mani Sigfusson, a long term collaborator of Arnalds’, who created a complete set of immaculate visuals for the project, this is a film whose only aim is to invoke a unique reaction from each individual viewer. Shot entirely in Iceland during the summer, in a stunning if bleak landscape, it is a beautifully simple visual. Strikingly edited, it has allowed the imagery to flow seamlessly with the movements of the musical tide. With the visual for ‘Eyes Shut’, Sigfusson has created a perfect symmetry between film and music.

 

Nordic                   Remix/Cover/Edit            Moonbabies ‘Undone’ The Glass Children

Swedish electro-duo, Moonbabies, got a bit of a thing going on in 2015 with their English counterparts, The Glass Children.  They did a bit of “I’ll do yours, if you do mine” kind of remix thing, and lo and behold, produced two very worthy listens indeed.

The Glass Children took the Swedes’ track ’24’, blew the froth off it and covered it in a dark shroud of pulsing electronica.  Ditto, the Moonbabies who whipped TGC’s sombre ‘Undone’ into a vigorous percussive storm.

Picking which one was the best, was really 6 of 1, but I opted for the Moonbabies remix as it was more appropriate to the Nordic nature of the best of list.  Both are wonderful songs, in their original formats and in their remixed states.

Hopefully, 2016 will see more such collaborations between Sweden and the UK!  Come a little ‘Undone’ with the Moonbabies remix here.

 

Nordic                   Album of the Year

Chopin Project is the ground-breaking partnership of improv and ingenuity between German Japanese pianist, Alice Sara Ott, and Icelandic electro-classical wizard, Ólafur Arnalds. Together they have formed a perfect symmetry that has created their eponymous album, an overwhelmingly emotive opus, filled with humanity, sincerity and a great deal of love.

Born from Arnalds fond memories of a childhood filled with Chopin by his grandparents, the project lovingly and tenderly used pieces of the composer’s works, to form an arc through their critically acclaimed compilation of perfectly imperfect, fragile tracks.

Chopin Project is a the coming together of two exceptional talents, to produce an elegant, serene and heartfelt collection of beautifully arranged and outstandingly performed pieces of music.  Standing Ovation.

Bjork ‘Vulnicura’

Blaue Blume ‘Syzygy’

Olafur Arnalds/Alice Sara Ott ‘The Chopin Project’

 

Nordic                   Song of the Year

There was only ever going to be one winner of this and it’s been top of the 2015 pile since the first day I heard it on the Fresh on the Net Dropbox!

Hooked from the very first beat, this fast paced, country-rock-dance track, with its  whacking great beats a la Christian Rindorf and driving Carl Coleman guitars, bit down hard and infected my bloodstream with its addictive potency.

While Coleman also contributes a dreamily enticing vocal, multi-talented Great Dane, Caspar Hesselager, plays out several starring roles on synths/keys/bass/production and mixing.  This tidy little unit has produced such a huge, widescreen, cinematic soundscape with full bells and whistle surround sound, and with such little fuss, that it really quite beggars belief.

 If you don’t already realise how good Palace Winter are, then you really need to get online, download their ‘Medication’ EP and wrap your ears around what is probably going to be one of the biggest Nordic sounds of 2016.
 .

Rangleklods ‘Lost U’

Blaue Blume ‘Sky’

Palace Winter ‘Menton’

2015 Inaugural DervSwerve Music Awards :-)

Nordic

The year is coming to a close, and what a year it has been, with music zinging out of the Nordics like rocket launched fireworks into the sonic sky.  To honour all of those wonderful artists who have provided our musicverse with so much love, sounds, happiness, melodrama and”sparkling synths”,  DervSwerve is holding the first annual #DervSwerve Awards (indulge me), which will be split into three categories – Norwegian, Nordic and UK&I.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that my heart is in snowy Norway, but cheeky little flirt that she is, she has been known to go cross border wandering into other Nordic and UK&I territories.  So in order to level the playing field, and also cos it’s a bit of craic, we’ll have one set of awards exclusive to Norwegian acts, alongside one cross-Nordic and then a third for us neighbouring islands here in the Irish Sea.

Norwegian Flag

I’ll update you re the various awards shortly, but needless to say, as well as the usual bill of awards fare, there’ll be a few amuses bouche to whet your appetite and whip up a smile on your faces – eg.  the most looney tunes lyrics of the year awards (and I already know who has won that on behalf of the Norwegian community!!).  If you have any suggestions you’d care to make – you know where I am.

Also, if you’d like to make your voice felt and let me know who you think should be among the nominees, post your views in the comments box below.

Let’s make the inaugural awards a bit of fun 🙂

Stay tuned………xx Swerve

Album Review : Anna von Hausswolff, ‘The Miraculous’, Wagner & Bach.

AVH

Anna von Hausswolff has just released her third album, ‘The Miraculous’, and the title could not be more apt. A musical ‘florilegium’ of gothic tales, ghost stories and Disney’s ‘Fantasia’, it is indeed miraculous that anyone should have conceived of the fantastical landscapes and soundscapes that together make up this ferocious, baroque opus.

Von Hausswolff is like a modern day Wagner – all sweeping theatricals, foreboding drama and gargantuan epic tales. More importantly, she, like the much revered German composer, has a complex and unorthodox creative talent so rare that it is bordering on genius.

Inspired by childhood tales about a long ago land of kings, bloodstained landscapes, folk music and magic, von Hausswolff when questioned as to its exact Swedish location, remains tight lipped, instead referring to this “place of mystery, magic and terror” as “The Miraculous”.

Anna was drawn back to this legendary land of her childhood after reading the 1961 book, ‘Källan’ meaning ‘Source’, by Swedish author, Walter Ljungquist. Based on the journey of a young group of friends who set off to search for a magical spring in a forest, it’s central theme is ambiguity and the never ending human endeavour to find the spiritual or holy grail, something which von Hausswolff has employed as the thematic basis for her album: “If I were to search for a miracle, just like the kids in the book, then this is the place I would start looking.”

While her second album, ‘Ceremony’, was recorded in a church, for work on ‘The Miraculous’, which was recorded live (although the organ element had to be recorded and added in separately), von Hausswolff and her band set up their stall in the Acusticum concert hall in Piteå, Northern Sweden.

Situated just shy of the Arctic Circle, the Piteå concert hall is home to one of the largest pipe organs in Europe, the magnificent Acusticum, which is made up of some 9000 pipes, 208 stops and has a host of unusual features including a built-in glockenspiel, a celeste and its very own water feature, which von Hausswolff describes as, “pipes half covered in water’ which create the “screaming bird sound(s)” heard on ‘The Hope Only Of Empty Men’.

Made up of nine tracks varying in shade and tone, listening to ‘The Miraculous’ is like taking a musical journey through a kaleidoscope of cinematic and classical soundscapes. There are chapters from Brokeback Mountain, Dracula and The Ipcress File juxtaposed with images from operatic fairytales like Humperdink’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’. ‘The Miraculous’ also has the magnificent resonance of the astounding opus that is Bach’s ‘Organ Toccata’.

Anna von Hausswolff has an amazing and varied range and timbre to her voice, and intriguingly her vocal varies hugely from track to track. On album opener, ‘Discovery’ the vocal arrives very late in the game and the initial reaction is – Siouxsie! ‘Discovery’ opens with several spacious blasts of a ship’s horn – the blaring sounds of doom? Bass pipes, whirling treble and agitations of military drumming are all portentous of a drama set to unfold.

The piece evolves rapidly, and with increasing instrumental layers of electric guitar and synth, the sound gets louder until it is almost diabolically “thunderous”. Half way through, we are treated to an electronic “sound affects show” pervaded by some slow guitar playing and crashing cymbals as the vocal makes it’s long awaited arrival on stage. Vocal theatrics and powerfully evocative enunciations are very Siouxsie Sioux and rising to a crescendo bring ‘Discovery’ to a dramatic close.

While ‘The Hope Only Of Empty Men’ is fantastical and bizarre, with a “gagged” vocal, ‘Pomperipossa’ is pure Dracula/Film Noir, the stuff of dark dreams from the cemetery.   It’s pure “scary around the edges” black drone, and when AvH eerily asks “Am I Scaring You?” – the auto-answer is a most definite, “YES!!”

Respite comes in the form of ‘Come Wander With Me Deliverance’, a beautifully surreal composition and for me, the highlight of the album. Here Anna’s vocal delivery is breathtakingly beautiful and ethereal. When it hits its higher reaches, it puts one in mind of a ghostly Kate Bush, but when Anna plays around with a more forceful, gymnastic style, the vocal is redolent of Susanne Sundfor. The track ramps up with some seriously good percussion, bolstering up pretty wicked guitar riffs that rip and tear across a vocal that wouldn’t be out of place in an operatic version of ‘Wuthering Heights’.

AVH2

The opening bars of ‘Evocation’ wouldn’t go astray at the beginning of a heavy metal ballad. Von Hausswolff’s vocal is pure American rock goddess amidst an electrifying instrumental backdrop and the overall effect is quite stunning.

‘The Miraculous’ ends with ‘Stranger’, a meld of warm electronic and natty percussive sounds, easy acoustic and slide guitar riffs, and an heartfelt vocal. With its distinct country feel, it is a rather serene and uplifting counter to the darkness that has prevailed throughout most of the album.

Imaginative beyond the norm, creative beyond what should be possible, with exceptional musicianship and a vocal range and ability that would challenge many of today’s “success stories”, ‘The Miraculous’ is a mesmerising colossus. I relish the thought of seeing Anna von Hausswolff play this musical magnificence live.

The Miraculous is out now via City Slang.

We all have our Moments, especially Tove Lo

Still from the Tim Erem Video for 'Moments'
Still from the Tim Erem Video for ‘Moments’

If you were to put ‘Tove Lo’ into a dictionary, what would the definition be? Undefinable I’d wager, or very, very long!

Brutally honest, genuinely talented and hugely enigmatic, the ever subversive Tove Lo can’t be easily boxed off. She has too many edges; there are too many angles. Neither her persona nor her work are simply straightforward enough to be comfortably classified. In that regard, I find her highly reminiscent of Pink: another feisty lady who has continued steadfastly to circumvent convention and play it her own way.

Lo has been on a non-stop ‘merry-go-tour’ since the release of her album Queen of the Clouds in September 2014. A slow stream of releases has ensured that the musical ferris wheel keeps turning, and this month sees her drop yet another single, in the form of ‘Moments’, a thumpingly good electro-rock-pop meld.

‘Moments’ is a harsh, disparaging critique. Its lyrics are frank, explicit, and unsympathetically blunt. The video is similarly rough around the edges – produced by Ian Blair and directed by fellow Swede, the LA based uber cool Tim Erem, it is a disturbing montage consisting of clips of Lo in various awkward and anomalous scenarios. The opening scene which sees Lo being dragged down a flight of stairs by cops, cuts quickly to a “dia-monologue” in a therapy session (Lo plays both characters) in which the “patient” is told…

“You’re just broken inside. You never did anything right. You’re fucked up.”

Cue scene change, and we find ourselves at the site of car crash, with a dazed looking Lo meandering aimlessly until she suddenly breaks into some ‘crazy lady’ choreography, proceeds to dance her way around a supermarket and the inside of a church, wherein dressed as a lap-dancing, veil swirling anti-bride, she pulls out a Glock and bumps off the groom. Boom!

Speaking about making the video, Lo says: Dirty feet, 20 pills, broken glass, gun shots, smashed car, dragged by police and 48 hours of crying, laughing, drowning and dancing. This video takes the meaning of this song to its most extreme. Thank you Tim Erem and the whole incredible team for making it into everything I dreamt it would be.” 

Erem has perfectly interpreted both his brief and the song. Using the image of the car crash to convey the notion of the ‘antagonist’ as a car crash themselves, is particularly effective. The video is a graphically potent realisation of a song that is painful in its self-criticism, humourous in its self-deprecation and disturbing in its visceral and trenchant storyline. We all have our ‘Moments’, Tove Lo just has more than most!

Queen of the Clouds has recently been re-released and Tove Lo continues to tour, with dates in both the UK and US through November and December, details here. ‘Moments’, the fourth single from Queen Of The Clouds is available here!

Note* This review was first published in Ja Ja Ja Magazine on 27th October, 2015.