“We live in a time abounding with opportunity, self-realisation and pressure to perform. It can be hard to navigate, to find a landing site in this insecure and unsettling world. Cherry Blossoms is about the joy you experience when you believe that you’ve found a landing site – even if it is different to what you expected.” – Ane Bjerkan
I’ve become accustomed to hearing Norwegian singer/songwriter Ane Bjerkan’s voice float across the soundscapes of Østfrost, the Trondheim based band which she has fronted for some years. So, it comes as both an interesting and refreshing change to hear how she has reshaped that rich and textured vocal, adapting it to the new, uncharted landscape of her sole creation. Unsurprisingly, that dreamily melodic and quietly confident voice has acclimatised perfectly to Ane’s pensively evocative music.
Ane Bjerkan decided several months ago to follow her instincts, taking that ever daunting leap of faith which saw her decamp for several weeks to Ocean Sound Recordings on the island of Giske. There she worked with producers Kenneth Ishak (Beezewax) and Marcus ‘Bror’ Forsgren (Jaga Jazzist, Gold Celeste), on material for her upcoming debut solo album due early Autumn, from which her single Cherry Blossoms is the lead track.
Where the black shadows of the Aksla mountains meet the magical iridescence of the North Sea, Ane’s music is imbued with a sense of propinquity and peaceful serenity seldom heard
Working with a small but diverse group of artisan musicians, Bjerkan was able to dip into an eclectic treasure trove of instruments including cello, saxophone and synths. Although Ane’s trademark Indian Harmonium takes centre stage, it never dominates the score. Neither does it consume a vocal which cleverly pushed to the fore, hovers effortlessly above the songs slow-tempoed melodic strains.
Ane Bjerkan’s sounds feature folk and pop flavoured with jazz, delivered with lovely, soulful vocals and evocative melodies. A pastoral underpinned by bass-harmonium muddled with cello, Cherry Blossoms is beautifully ornamented with jewel-like prisms of synth that emulate the ticking of a clock. While the song has incredible depth and a multiplicity of textures it seems at times to be somewhat concealed in half-shadows. The introduction midway through of a gorgeous sax solo adds a golden, illuminating warmth that lifts the track into a more optimistic realm – the joyous arrival at the ‘landing site’.
Cherry Blossoms is a heartfelt, beautiful mix of joyful, introspective and melancholy. Wrap your ears around it soon.
Cherry Blossoms is out now via Pisco Records. Ane will be hosting a release party from 6pm in Mono, Oslo on 22nd April. For further details on both the single and event see Ane’s Facebook page. DervSwerve
Is there anything more magical than an expansive tract of land carpeted with thick pile, powdery snow, imbued with a sense of hush and serenity? As one soaks up its daz-white emptiness offset by a stunning azure blue sky and high noon sun of the type more associated with the Mediterranean, the purest air seeps into ones lungs, invigorating, healing, giving one an unexpected head-rush of dizzying proportions. This is mid-Norway in early February and despite its minus three temperatures, it has a clement, almost springlike feel to its late winter weather.
As if by way of silent solidarity, the weather replicates the colourful iridescence and paradoxical cold charm, that like a pair of oversized, ice-tipped wings, so much of the music from this region drapes itself in.
Norwegian music has for many years held me in its thrall, with its effortless scaling of Himalayan vocal heights, pristine tonal clarity and sheer unadulterated enthusiasm. Time and again, it has drawn me to its Narnia-esque snowscapes, lured by its easy charm and communal spirit, each visit proving a little more enticing, each foray drawing me a little deeper into its ‘norsk kultur’.
Enough of the Danubian hyperbolic flow! A recent trip to Norway brought about the opportunity for several interesting interviews, some of which were, it was agreed, to be published by a rather large online publication. However and most regrettably, despite having received written agreement prior to the event, said publication has since reneged on its commitment and those long hunched over transcripts have gone unseen.
So, by way of small reparation to those artists who were promised a space in the much broader columns of that blog which shall remain nameless, I have decided to do a three-part Norwegian special to kick off my new Discover series featuring the best of Nordic music. The two posts will be made up of a sprinkling of those artists who are doubtless feeling very much aggrieved (you’re not on your own!) and a smattering of others to whom my ears are oft’ inclined. Enjoy, Derv x
WHO? KATRIN FRODER
Bergen born Katrin Frøderwho goes by her surname, is one of many artists signed to the Toothfairy label, who are fast becoming ‘a thing’ in their native patch. Best known for her unmistakable signature vocal that resides up there somewhere alongside the seraphims, Frøder crafts hypnotic electronic-based music saturated in more technological quirks than would challenge the best spark.
Having taken some time out to recalibrate, the Norwegian who is currently beavering away at penning new songs, says a revitalised return to form has inspired new music even stronger and more alive than that of her self-titled debut.
With several lives dates down and appearances at top festivals under her belt, the singer opted out of the chance to play at SXSW, choosing instead to stay closer to home to continue with her songwriting. She has most recently been releasing collaborations with fellow label mate and renowned electronic producer Carl Louis, best known this side of the North Sea for his work with ARY.
Quirky, with an idiosyncratic style and a penchant for a bit of blue hue, Frøder is an artist who stands out from the crowd while her unorthodox creative style lends itself to weaving both spiralling sonic fascinators and beat-driven crowd pleasers. Most recent releases see her featuring on Carl Louis’ Easy and this wistful wonder, Come With Me. Expect new solo music later this year.
WHO? LUDVIG MOON
Each time I go to write a review of LM’s music, I have to return to their FB page to count up just how many of them there are in this sprawling indie horde (there are 7). Ludvig Moon, signed to Norwegian indie label Riot Factory, are a band who I would classify as ‘still maturing’, a group within touching distance of nailing their sound.
Their debut album Kin had all the ingredients for a runaway success but alas, as seems to be the norm with much indigenous Norwegian ‘pop’ music, it didn’t really figure in their music charts scheme of things. Highly acclaimed and critically well received, it was, is, give or take the odd hiccup, an extremely well produced compendium of thrillers and seducers.
Ludvig Moon aren’t just another indie band – they are the sum of extremely talented instrumental parts, complete with a duet of vocals that are a synchronised match made in harmony heaven. While they may look a little top heavy on the instrumental side, and are usually found spilling over the side of any industry standard stage, when you strip back to component level the wealth of the individual threads doesn’t just validate it compounds the splendour of the overall weave.
Ludvig Moon say they’re in a happier place and it shows. What’s also evident is an abundance of freshly charged high voltage energy.
Blankets their latest from the forthcomingAll Our FriendsEP, due out on 26th April, (there doesn’t appear to be a pre-order so keep your eyes peeled) is a collaboration with The Little Hands of Asphalt and Team Me, possibly the only band to be able to lay claim to having c.99% of Norway’s musician population pass through its line-up since its inception.
There’s a touch of the poppier side of alt-rockers MSPto this track which drifts nicely back to a mid-90s landscape of Britpop when boys could be girls and girls could be whoever the damn hell they wanted to be. A video montage of ‘home “let’s get shit-faced” movies’ and archive film footage shows humour, personality and too much tongue. New music due date, 26/4/2017.
Ooh, one sip of this seductive sweetness and you’ll be intoxicated for hours. An anaesthetic for a bad day, heartbreak or general pain in the ass-iness, Novocaine is our new musical drug of choice as produced by the colourpop hit factory that is Lovespeake.
Every picture tells a story, and this track’s artwork alone, should give music fans a good indication as to the optimistic mindset and rainbow of creativity behind this Norwegian ensemble. Headed up by Alexander ‘Pav’ Pavelich, who I had the pleasure of running into recently at an Einar Stray gig, Lovespeake and their album DNA were one of the runaway musical successes of 2016. Their precisely conjured cocktails of sun-kissed melodies, Caribbean beats and retro-disco are the product of the most fertile of musical imaginations combined with a rush of vital dynamism.
Lovespeake cosy up to singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Max Frost, who seems to have a lyrical thing for pills of a certain persuasion #Adderall, on their latest piece of colourful wizardry, with the Texan adding a deep south raspy drawl to counter Pav’s spotless polar falsetto. Two things strike you when you first hear this track – Frost’s deliberately spacious vocal and the song’s ’70s disco groove.
This audacious combination produces something to the effect of a mash-up of a slowed down Someday by The Strokes and A Night To Remember, the 1978 smash by the most classy of all funksters Shalamar.
Like the most delicious dessert laced with bourbon, this is toxic saccharin; a moment on the lips, a myriad soporific trips.
Following the lead of Adele, Aurora and er, A-Rihanna, newcomer Sigrid goes by forename alone.
The baby sister of singer/songwriter Tellef Raabe, she was singing backing vocals to his headliner at the Norwegian Trondheim Calling festival in February 2016. What a difference a year makes!
Despite the fact that her first single Sun, which she released in 2013 at the tender age of 16, was a smash hit, it wasn’t until she signed to Island Records that the wheels began to seriously turn for this youngster. With the full force of the Island wind-machine behind her, Don’t Kill My Vibedidn’t just land, it torpedoed its way into our musical space.
Frighteningly perfect pop, it’s like an angry feline with an itch and the odd human to scratch. “You think you’re so important to me, don’t you” she swipes at some envious no-mark, her pitch-perfect vocal sung with that confidence only the young can muster, bouncing off echoey drum-claps and negotiating the melody’s high altitudes with the sort of conviction most of her peers will never achieve.
One of the latterday signs that you have ‘arrived’ is when you acquire your own Wikipedia page … Sigrid, but in case we need to reaffirm just how good this girl is, here’s the acoustic version of her global (yes global!) hit, Kill My Vibe. Watch, listen, shiver.
WHO? JENNY HVAL
Writer, musical architect, experimenter, songsmith and latterday Norwegian icon, Jenny Hvalis revered the same way in Norway as Bjork is in Iceland.
A protagonist at the fore of the current zeitgeist of female avant-gardists taking the oft maligned genre of art-pop to the masses, she is as lauded for her outspoken social commentary as she is for her creative brilliance. If music could be an ‘installation’ in the same way art is, Hval’s work would be first in the door of the Tate Modern swiftly followed by a stint in the Astrup Fearnley.
Her last record Blood Bitch was a highly acclaimed concept album influenced by all things hematic. It was rapturously received by critics who universally heaped it critical acclaim. Cited by every influential publication in their ‘best of’ lists for 2016, it was the overall winner of the annual Phonofile Nordic Music Prize for best Nordic album, the award being presented to Hval during the renowned By:Larm international music festival.
Most recently Hval has been in the news with her bonafide collaboration with Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens, who famously reworked her track Kingsize back in 2015. Recalling Owen’s “personal affinity for water” Anxi slips and slides its techno persona through the musica obscura that lies between ambient and pop. Pulsing through a myriad metamorphoses, it maintains a mood of dark foreboding as Hval intersperses the electronic narrative with bizarre spoken word vocals – a monologue which moves at a pace that is quirkily out of sync with the pull of Owen’s beat.
The song swoops up out of the darkness into a brighter soundscape at the heart of which is a steady techno pulse, until apropos of nothing, it swerves right back down again, into an otherworldly void. Art that manifests a host of unorthodox ideas, music which reaches far beyond its natural boundaries; that is probably how Hval’s work is best described.
Jenny Hval will perform in Dublin’s NCH on 6th October as part of their Perspectives series. Tickets http://www.nch.ie
Nordic music, Norwegian in particular, has evolved and grown so spectacularly over the past decade that it is now hard to remember a time when it wasn’t part of our natural musical make-up. If you haven’t previously come across any of the five featured artists hopefully this first chapter in a new Nordic themed series will have sufficiently opened your minds to excavate further down into this magical, musical mine. If not, please do come back, there’s plenty more coming down the tracks.
As usual, no music series worth its salt would come without a complementary playlist. Here’s our ‘starter for five’, which we will add to week on week with each new blog-post.
Most artists embark on lengthy promotional tour-cycles not just because the desire for live performance forms the backbone of their DNA. They endure them because the seemingly endless sprawl of digital vampirism continues to suck their financial lifeblood dry, thereby making extensive tours a monetary necessity.
It is a universally acknowledged fact that repetition leads to boredom, so that even the most innovative and forward thinking of venue tourists must at times struggle to reinvent the setlist wheel and rejig songs without falling too foul of ‘populism’.
In fact, most artists will tell you that from the moment they finish playing the first sketch of a song, it has already lost its inherent spark, a part of its soul has already died. So, finding an inspired way of cutting out the pattern whilst reinterpreting the layout, must provide for more than its fair share of artistic challenges and in-team brainstorming.
As an acknowledgement of those who constantly strive to push through creative barriers without fear of audience repercussion, Domino Records has instigated a series of ‘warts and all’ live studio recordings entitled Documents. The aim is to showcase raw live performances more or less as they are captured, with as few touch ups from the console as possible.
American artist Julia Holter was first to step up to the plate, and the output from her ‘organic session’ is In The Same Room, a whistlestop live-take through a tracklist of songs largely from her albums: Loud City Song (2013) and Have You In My Wilderness (2015). Holter’s in-session band comprises her touring outfit of Corey Fogel (drums), Dina Maccabee (viola) and Devin Hoff (bass), musicians with whom she has formed an intuitive bond and idiosyncratic musical groove.
Theirs is a relationship in its prime, which anyone who has seen this quartet play live will attest to. So, it is not surprising to find their interaction with their material a contradiction in terms as they marry orthodox with unorthodox, in an attempt to stay true to the original outline whilst subverting the body with more colourful and radical reinterpretations.
In the same way that the album allows the band to excavate old arrangements, In The Same Room also gives Holter the opportunity to deep dive her material for new meaning and ultimately, to give it new expression. Although subtle and very spacious, this album has been infused with a gorgeous energy and inviting dynamism that is distinct from Holter’s studio albums, thereby making In the Same Room as vital an addition to Holter’s discography as any of her other recordings.
The live interpretations of the ‘old’ songs featured on In The Same Room are in their own right as engaging and captivating as the original studio recordings. In fact, it is not inconceivable that even some of the most hardcore of Holter fans may just prefer these slightly blemished, organic renditions with their unedited sounds and almost tangible soul. If anything, these slightly imperfect performances showcase her unerring ability to inhabit a song.
Horns Surrounding Me, a riot of viola and cymbals, crafts a heart of darkness at the centre of which is calm rather than the nail-biting anxiety evoked by its predecessor. Lucette Stranded On The Island, a glory to behold live, is a song about abandonment and being left to die. Rife with helplessness, it blindly meanders into a bedlamatic mid-section but is masterfully pulled back from the brink before completely spiralling out of control.
A perfect showcase of the fertility of Holter’s boundless imagination, this is perhaps one of the most perfectly choreographed tracks on the album. Pushed to the fore, Holter’s vocal clear and exposed. With nothing behind which to hide, it personifies the final disenchantment of the hopeless romantic.
The rendition of Silhouette is a study in understatement and of all the tracks on the album the one which comes closest to the quartet’s actual live on-stage performance. It’s certainly her most compelling vocal, particularly when the track moves into its frenzied outro, replete with damning piano sequences and Holter throwing caution to the wind, filling the billowing instrumental with a chaos of melismas.
In fact, as a result of its unadulterated exposition Julia Holter’s voice shows another side to its personality. She is so close to the mic, one can her voice tremoring, every breath and move, recalling the perfectly imperfect delivery of Mark Hollis on Laughing Stock. Her performance, bordering on freeform, is uninhibited and at times wild, her tone intimate and conversational. It is pure theatre which in many ways is a contradiction of the intensely private and reserved personality we know Holter to be.
Her voice sweeps up and down octaves, her timbre switching from gravelly to airy as exhibited in How Long. On Betsy On The Roof, a track that juxtaposes a plaintive instrumental and wistful harmonies, her stark and sometimes hoarse vocal evokes a gripping, tragic intensity. The result is truly mesmerising.
The resultant whole of its component parts – the dramatic vocal characterisations, the poignant lyrics and the dynamic instrumental interplay – is a richly theatrical and completely compelling album. In essence, this feels less like an album of reworked songs, and more like a revisualisation of an ever shifting storyscape. Yes, one or two of the tracks appear to be wearing the same clothes so to be speak, but in the main this is Holter & co covering upturned ground with innovative spark and renewed vigour.
While In The Same Room stays true to Holter’s idiosyncracies – all the key fundamentals are there – it showcases her astonishing ability to re-imagine, her insatiable desire for innovation and her incredible talent as a live performer.
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.
Fancy some NRG with attitude? Some riot that’s less grrrl and more ‘oUS‘. Well get ye some of this … Norwegian rebels with many causes, Sløtface (formerly known as Slutface, in case you’ve been in splendid isolation somewhere in a world without wi-fi), have just unleashed their 4-track debut EP, ‘Sponge State‘, on the world, and like the ubiquitous frenzied fallen cable a-whip-crackin’ during a midnight storm, this release is one helluva crackling, spark-spitting firebrand.
1. Get My Own
Possibly the song most set in the earthy subterranean punk roots of their orthodox defying predecessors. Combative, formidable and assertive, the song pushes lead woman Shea to the forefront, unapologetic in her demands to be seen, heard and respected in equal measure. ‘Get My Own’ is a direct challenge to obsolescent values and outdated gender-driven ways of thinking, and sees Shea take an unabashed stand again a backward, repressive discrimination that has for too long, kept women “in the dark”.
2. Kill ‘Em With Kindness
Every time I hear this song I can’t help but think of Flo’s ‘A Kiss With A Fist’. Melodic, feisty pop meets “up yours” lyrics as the band go for the media jugular, tearing a lump out of a misogynistic ‘boys club’ press-corps who’ve spent years earning their living on the back of highly questionable, disparaging attacks on emerging female artists. Although dripping with sarcasm and shot through with a lot of instrumental shrapnel, this punchy numbers redoubtable melodia opened up the perfect opportunity for Sløtface to broaden their much loved pop horizons.
“WOMEN DESERVE MORE SPACE THAN WE ARE GIVEN, AND WE ARE GOING TO STEP UP AND TAKE IT” HALEY SHEA
3. Sponge State
The title track and most recent single from these neo-punk poppers, this propulsive RS driven number is a full on ass-kickin anthem. It’s a call to action to their peers to ditch the ipads and the apathy, look up from their screens and SEE what’s going on around them, to them and to the world they live in. Riddled with apoplectic guitar bombs ignited by Shea’s explosive lyrics and on-fire vocals, this is the incendiary track on the EP.
With banner waving lyrics like, “Got these stitches in my lip and they’re keeping me shut tight, l put my headphones on, you see me putting off a fight, And all my encounters shoved in my face, Oh you can really tell it’s fall … A change of pace from a sponge state, a new approach, shaken out, we’re making it”, it’s pretty easy to decipher the message behind the song.
But in case you need a little more by way of enlightenment, check out the accompanying vid, which to my mind, clearly defines the boldly courageous, refreshingly defiant and forward thinking partisans of human, gender and environmental rights that are Sløtface.
4. Shave My Head
When Haley Shea wrote the lyrics to ‘Shave My Head’ she was to her mind, penning a song about women liberating themselves from the demoralising, dismissive and subjugating views of a certain breed of men.
“I was thinking a lot about why women are portrayed negatively as hysterical and emotional, whereas crazy men are portrayed as tortured geniuses. ‘Bitches be crazy’ and such. It’s also a lot about the way we view femininity and relationships and what we expect women to be and how they should behave.”
To my mind, ‘Shave My Head’ makes the perfect anthem for the stand Sløtface took against the social media jackboot bureaucracy that so unjustly imposed upon their right to promote their music on certain Stateside media outlets. Instead of kowtowing to the time-warped jobsworths, the band, who probably have a combined IQ of about 600 and are far removed from the gen z stereotype of spoilt brattish upstarts with nothing better to do, came up with a very clever ruse to get around the advertising embargo.
Defying all odds, they managed to change yet keep their name, by employing a very simple yet highly effective technique. They simply swapped the “u” for its Norwegian equivalent, “ø”, and used ‘not-changing their name’ to their best advantage by running an hugely successful media campaign to advertise the fact. In other words, Sløtface weren’t shaving their head or their identity for anyone!
Smart, funny, open minded, brave, defiant, sassy, humane, entertaining and hugely talented.
If ever there was a band in which you could trust the future of music and indeed, so many other things political, social and cultural, then Sløtface is it. This isn’t just a band who bang out songs for the sake of it. This is a band who care about the quality of their songs as much as they care about the quality of the air they breath and the quality of life experienced by those who breath it. There are many who thought their name was just a gimmick for yet another gimmicky band…they couldn’t have been further from the truth. No gimmicks here … these guys are the real deal.
With their debut album due early 2017, Sløtface have a busy Summer ahead of them between writing, recording and ripping up the festival circuit – they start tomorrow at Spydeberg Rock Festival! However, you can expect to continue to be mentally challenged and sonically invigorated as a few more intermittent Sløtface releases are due before the end 2016.
Sløtface is : Haley Shea (Vocals), Lasse Lokøy (Bass), Halvard Skeie Wiencke (Drums) and Tor-Arne Vikingstad (Guitar).
“This song comes from a dark place, and is about the feeling of falling, and the feeling of falling into the dark. Not entirely a negative experience though, as the repeated visits to this mental state can give a certain safety.”
Norwegian artist Susanna, has a voice that sits somewhere in the realm of Joni Mitchell and Agnetha Fältskog, having both the duskiness of the former and melodic Nordic lightness of the latter.
Her current single, ‘Hole’, for which the accompanying visual has just been released, cuts across this vocal divide, covering both ends of her range. Here Susanna’s delightful vocal is in stark contrast to the song’s thematic darkness. An honest introspective, it is a reflective monologue on slipping into mental darkness, that shadowy nowhere-land that can either be a sanctuary or can subsume and consume.
A song built on spacious electronic beats and spirals of synth, ‘Hole’ matures slowly into an inviting and delightfully melodic passage filled with uplifting instrumental flourishes and Susanna’s enchanting vocal.
The video, directed by Norwegian photographer/filmmaker Carsten Aniksdal, was shot below ground in Oslo. Using contrasting lighting effects and varying degrees of brightness and shade, the film features a series of dance sequences shot in a confined, almost prison-like underground space.
Discussing the basis for the films concept Susanna explained: “We wanted to illustrate the existential topic of the song with dance and movements”.
‘Hole’ is lifted from Susanna’s forthcoming album, ‘Triangle’, which will be released via SusannaSonata on 22nd April (which you’ll find featured on The Monitors) and is available to pre-order via iTunes& via SusannaSonata. Watch the video for it here,
You can see Susanna play the following Norwegian and UK live dates (if You move quickly):
16th March – Musikkavdelingen, Trondheim, NO 17th March – Fryd Scene, Ål, NO 19th April – Café Oto, London, UK 20th April – Café Mono, Oslo, NO
You’ll find her socialising on the following s/media spaces
Hey, Hey – it’s Trondheim Calling week – woo !! – and, in the run up to the “main event” we have been reviewing and interviewing bands on the TC line up.
Today, we are featuring another young band signed to the NO FOREVERS label – indie outfit, Østfrost.
Østfrost have found their perfect sweet spot within the indie sound – neither jangly nor dreamy, theirs is a sound that has just enough bite to appeal to guitar loving types, whilst wielding sufficient pop sensibilities to make it very daytime radio friendly. They scored huge media acclaim with their Autumn 2015 single, ‘Wooden Floors’, and if you’re one of the lucky ones due to see them play either of their two TC sets later this week, you’ll get to hear this powerfully catchy track live.
A huge fan of their music, I couldn’t wait to delve a bit deeper to uncover some more background to both the band and their sound. I asked Østfrost if they’d answer some questions, and they very kindly took time out to give me some really interesting and indeed, surprising answers (check out the really unique location where they held their debut concert!!) … Here is what they had to say …
Hey, for those that know zero about the band and its members, can you tell us something about your individual musical backgrounds?
Ken Erik:I started playing bass because I had a dream of playing in the local youth gospel choir’s band. I soon got interested in rock music in all its possible forms, and even though I spent years trying to play gospel, funk and jazz, rock music always stayed closest to my heart.
Håkon:My first musical encounter was playing the violin in a string orchestra, but I didn’t really dig music before I discovered Led Zepplin and started my first rock band. I later changed to the viola because I prefer the slightly darker timbre, and of course John Cale proved years ago that playing the viola is just about as cool as it gets.
Ane:For as long as I can remember I’ve loved writing songs and singing, but when I was twenty I decided to be a musician and moved to the Norwegian mountains where I studied traditional folk music. From the day I made that decision I’ve never looked back.
Ola Even: In my childhood I had some friends that were very interested in music and we started a rock band together. It was wonderful. I had finally found an activity that I enjoyed! I believe that meeting those friends is the reason I play the drums today.
Cool – pretty diverse backgrounds. So just who are your musical influences?
Ane: When we first started playing music together I was inspired by the Norwegian band 1982, a band with one of my favorite musicians, Nils Økland(a very famous Norwegian fiddle player). I guess you could say we got the idea of using the harmonium and viola from them, even though our music does not resemble theirs at all.
Håkon: Lately we have listened a lot to people that play minimalist music, like Angel Olsen(the American folk singer) and the American singer/songwriter Cat Power. When talking about minimalist pop music I would also have to mention the danish band Under Byen.
Ken Erik: We have been interested in the Norwegian scene for quite some time now. There are great bands in almost every city in the country. Trondheim especially has had some interesting bands emerge in the last years. These bands have all stayed within the pop format, but at the same time experimented with other sounds and musical diversity. This has inspired the whole music scene, ourselves included.
It’s cool that you take your inspo from the indigenous music scene, and such an interesting mix of eclectic influences. How did you guys come together?
Østfrost started when Håkon (viola and guitar) and Ane (vocal and harmonium) began to improvise and write songs together. In the beginning we played whatever instrument we had to hand which resulted in some interesting sounds with both viola and the Indian harmonium as essential elements. Ola Even, the drummer, joined the band before our first concert to give our music a more rhythmical feel. Our debut concert was actually in an empty swimming pool at night, with only a few light sources, giving the music an atmospheric setting and plenty of natural reverb. (like how seriously cool was that folks!!), Østfrost’s bass player, Ken Erik, is the newest member to join the band – he has helped give the songs a little more depth.
A swimming pool – that must be a first. I’ve heard of people recording in bathrooms (Depeche Mode for instance) but I’ve never heard of anyone playing live in a swimming pool. The acoustics must have been amazing – all those echoes!
When we started writing music together we didn’t think of it as a band, but when we were going to play a concert with the music, we chose to call the project Østfrost. This was actually an insider joke, one of those jokes between ourselves, that no-one else would understand. As we played more concerts and became a proper band we just kept it. 🙂
My favourite subject – how would you define your style – or do you feel that music should not be pigeon-holed by constantly being categorised?
We play and write music that we like. We don’t mind people categorising music, but others can do the job of categorising our music.
Good answer. What makes you stand out from other bands?
Ken Erik: There are very many bands playing cold synth-pop these days and it’s extremely popular in Norway. We steer clear of it in every way possible, it’s just not our cup of tea.
Ola Even: Østfrost use harmonium and viola, instruments with a warm soothing timber that aren’t traditional in the rock/pop world.
Ane:Even though we play music that might sound aloft and atmospheric, we are really quite down to earth. Østfrost consists of a plant science student, a health care assistant, a art history student and a bartender. (You’re going to have to guess which one is which – answers on a postcard!)
Håkon: The combination of different musical references within the band shapes the sound of Østfrost. We never agreed on sounding like a certain band or style, but rather try to incorporate all of our ideas and preferences into our own sound.
Great so your sound was allowed to develop organically. That figures, it all sounds really natural, unforced and not trying to be something or fit a genre. Your debut EP came out last Autumn. Are you guys working on any new music at the moment?
Right now we are preparing a killer set for Trondheim Calling. We also just received vinyl pressings of the EP that we are preparing for release the 5th February. As for the year 2016 it’s going to be a year for working hard, booking concerts and playing as many gigs as we can, writing new songs, recording and releasing some singles and getting started on our debut album.
Do you guys ever argue//fall out during recording?
The music we record in the studio have always been tried on stage quite a few times and through that process we usually agree on what we feel works the best. In the studio we are therefore effective and don’t get into any big arguments.
Perfect harmony ! Tell me, if you could cover one song, what would it be and why?
We would love to do a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”, just because it’s an awesome song and it makes everyone extremely happy. Ending a concert with “Black or White” would transform the venue to a frenzy of disco like dancing.
And, conversely, if you could get one artist to cover one of your own songs, who would it be and which song?
There are two versions of our songs we would love to hear. First of all it would be fantastic if Beyonce did a cover of Meeting the Sun. The absurdity of that cover would be, well, just absurd. On a slightly more serious note we think Angel Olsen, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Bill Callahan and Sparklehorse singing “I don’t want to stop”acapella would be lovely. It would be the perfect song to fall asleep to, gently guiding you into calm and beautiful dreams.
Awh, now I want to hear that too. We shall have to do up a petition!!
Finally, the Norwegian music scene is particularly exciting at the moment – it seems to have entered a really creative and interesting phase. Why do you think that is?
There are many factors that together have stimulated the Norwegian scene over the last twenty or so years leading to the interesting scene you see today. We’ll mention a few. One very important reason for the diversity in the music scene are all the small record labels, studios, concert venues and record stores that have bloomed lately. They create an environment where small bands are encouraged to create their own thing. There are also many funds in Norway helping musicians create music without having to sell everything they produce. The applications for these funds add more paperwork for musicians, but it’s a small price to pay for the artistic freedom the funds give. There are some really good jazz schools in Norway as well. Many of the students from these schools have started playing rock and pop music as well, influencing the whole scene. There is also a very good trend where women have become more involved in all parts of the music business, though we are still a long way from balance. It’s hard to pinpoint how this has changed the music scene, but we believe the difference will be more obvious in the future and that balance between men and women undoubtedly changes the scene to be more diverse and interesting.
I think you’ll find that a more than interesting chat!! Tune into Spotify and Soundcloudfor sounds from Østfrost. The vinyl ed of their Østfrost EP is out later this week on 5th Feb – see their FB page or the NO FOREVERSpage for details. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with their mus-mazing track, ‘Wooden Floors’ – and if you’re around Trondheim Thurs/Friday night, check these guys out.
Today we are introducing Snøskred, an upcoming four-piece from Norway. They hail from Trondheim, Norwegian music mecca and home of rock, and comprise Karl Klaseie (vocal/guitar), Lars Ove Fossheim (vocal/guitar), Martin Hvidsten Berger (bass) and Kyrre Laastad, (drums).
Snøskred are signed to indie label, Riot Factory, and it was through RF sub-label, Sad Songs for Happy People, that they released their domestic debut album, Whiteout, in late 2012. Recorded in Greener Studios, Trondheim, the album was self-produced with the help of Gold Celestefrontman, Simen Hallset. Two singles, Come Closer and We Are (7″) were warmly received with the album itself being hailed as one of the best indie releases of the year.
Much touring, gigging, projects, writing, and recording later, September 2015 saw Snøskred release ‘Puzzle’, the lead track from their long awaited international debut album, ‘Empty House’ which they started recording in June 2014, again in Greener, and which is due for release 19th February coming.
In advance of the album launch, the band have just dropped new single ‘Lexington Hotel’ about which lyricist, Karl Klaseie explains:
“‘Lexington Hotel’ came to me in a dream after a late night viewing of Scarface. I was in the middle of a mobster shakedown and woke up thoroughly confused and sweaty.”
Louche, I think is the word I’d use to describe this track; a slow, sexy, languidly louche sonic strut. Actually, it doesn’t so much strut, as undulate, to the provocative rhythm of its sensual pulse.
Fraught with tense, menacing, guitars, and blackened by moody, cavernous basslines, the lingering instrumental is an atmospheric slow-burn. Martin Hvidsten Berge’s bass peripatetics wholly underpin this track – a musical marvel to behold on this doom-laden composition – its dark, heavy, syrupy sound transudes through tremolo heavy walls of grinding guitars.
Kudos to Kyrre Laastad for some very cleverly arranged percussion including some lovely, lazy conga/batá beats. Actually, the sync between the RS is tighter than tight, thereby adding to the songs intensity by making it feel somewhat claustrophobic.
Conversely, the chorus is something of a release, coming like a breath of fresh air after the stifled atmosphere of the verse. Warm melodic Kraut-country lines lift the mood, with some gorgeous, shimmering guitar sequences from Lars Ove Fossheim, giving memorable if momentary relief. And so it plays out, long stretches of dark, brief flashes of light, which lead into a final electronic fuelled thrum that gives the track an interesting if unexpected close.
The vocal has Damon Albarn stamped all over it, with vocalist Karl Klaseie having that same Albarn-esque way of letting the vocal slip effortlessly from his lips – languorous, subtly playful, and nonchalantly cool.
Timing is everything and Snøskred’s is impeccable: the arrangement is timed to perfection, thereby ensuring maximum effect. Highly imaginative, exceptionally well mixed, arranged with pinpoint accuracy, and very perceptively produced, this is an extremely unique and very strong track that hopefully gives a pretty clear indication of what is to come on the album.
A rich, sticky ooze of dark toxicity, ‘Lexington Hotel’ lures, captivates and holds you in the thrall of its highly potent and dangerously addictive nature. You are left longing for more …
‘Lexington Hotel‘ is available to stream via Spotifyand to download via Amazon. It is also available via Bandcamp. The album, ‘Empty House’ is scheduled for release via Riot Factory, on 19th February. You can follow Snøskred on Facebookand Twitter.
Another wee fish to have slipped through the end of year sonic net was ‘Headphones’ by Oslo based trio Sauropod.
Sauropod are like a Nordic Nirvana infused with some DNA from Mudhoney and The Slits. Equal parts grunge and neo-punk, their musical pattern comprises peaks of energetic melodica and frenzied “noize”, and troughs of dense quietude.
‘Headphones’ is the second single from forthcoming album ‘Roaring at the Storm’ due for release via Norwegian indie label, Riot Factory, on 22nd January.
Short and explosively sweet with an acrid coating, this brief but to the point sonic grenade is a fast and furious punk belter that would have been perfectly at home on an X-Ray Spex setlist back in the day.
Perfectly synched strident bass and feverish guitar wield their thunder alongside a vibrant vocal whirlwind. Set amidst a storm of crashing percussion they come together to create the most glorious noisefest.
Kamilla Waal Larsen’s infectious vocal is in the realm of Poly Styrene with the swagger of Johnny Rotten. In fact truth be told, she’s like a modern day Annabella Lwin (go google) with that same raw, untameable range brimful of youthful defiance and witty mock-petulance.
Sauropod have honed their sound in such a way as to allow it to retain it’s”untamed spirit”. Theirs is a sound carefully crafted without constraint, something which works to the advantage of such a wild and free spirited track as ‘Headphones’ . This succinct, eruptive sonic bomb, makes for one short, sharp, shock of a radical, compelling and invigorating listen.
Roaring at the Storm’ is scheduled for release on 22nd January via Riot Factory.
Another “age”, another album, another 30 million sales?? Four years in the waiting and over one year in the making, ’25’ is, disappointingly, more of the same whipped up with some Max Martin topspin, and slicked off with well oiled production.
Since the announcement of the album’s impending release, there has been non-stop chatter about the singer’s private life – well, her ex to be exact. ’19’ was about him, ’21’ was about him and now it seems, ’25’ is about him. Except this time Adele is saying that she has learned to deal with the loneliness, gained acceptance of the past, moved on, grown up and everything is all good. Well thanks be to God, because frankly speaking, “the ex” is a bit of a topic milked dry at this stage, no?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Adele’s songs, in fact I very much like quite a few of them, but rolling out the same tried and tested formula ad infinitum produces unimaginative repetitious results that leave no room for excitement. Thus is the problem with ’25’ – it’s not that it’s a bad album, quite the opposite, it’s an excellent album. But it defaults, yet again, to fail safe ballads that are fast becoming borderline dullsville.
Hailed as the big Christmas gift to the music industry, it is all a little too neatly packaged, too casually rolled off the production line like your standard selection box.
What ’25’ does offer, by way of some comfort, is an excellent end to end vocal performance. There was never a doubt that Adele could sing, and over the course of the 11 tracks, she offers up emotive, confident vocals, which cover the full breadth of her range, from cigarette huskiness to full-pelt diva-belt.
So what of these songs? What is interesting, and a tad surprising, is the inclusion of the Max Martin production, ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ (a.k.a “kerching, kerching”.) It’s a perky little guitar driven, popping candy number a la Tayl-ney, which sees the singer in a real ‘hail fellow well met mood’ as she bounds through a super catchy pop chorus happily wishing “the ex” and his other half, a big thumbs up, hope it all goes well, have a happy life.
Sadly, there are no public links available that enable me to share, but here is a snip from the lyrics …
Send my love to your new lover Treat her better We’ve gotta let go of all of our ghosts We both know we ain’t kids no more Send my love to your new lover Treat her better We’ve gotta let go of all of our ghosts We both know we ain’t kids no more
The bulk of the album is less pop more theatrical melodrama. Although there are noises about maturity and acceptance, this is more of the reflective and retrospective lyricism that featured on ’21’. ‘Hello’ is actually an ironic counter to the “we’ve all moved on” spin. Phoning your ex to chew over what is by now well digested fat isn’t exactly an indication of “being at peace” with the past.
The Paul Epworth collab, ‘I Miss You’, is high drama poppy angst a la Florence Welch (with whom he has also worked) while ‘Water Under The Bridge’ is standard ‘Rolling in the Deep’ fare that sees Adele belting out more references to the ex. ‘When We Were Young’, co-written with songwriter, Tobias Jesso Jr., is about “everyone that you’ve ever fallen out with, everyone that you’ve ever loved, everyone that you’ve never loved, and stuff like that.” Er well, right then; it’s about the global population. Technically it’s a track that should work, but it’s lack of dynamism just makes me want to pass. Ballad lovers will happily graze on ‘Million Years Ago’, an intimate acoustic number that features the most impressive jazz-oriented vocal performance on the album.
Well performed, well arranged, well produced – check, check, check. ’25’ ticks all the boxes and yet leaves you feeling flatly disappointed. While you can’t knock Adele & co for not fixing something that wasn’t broken, this album is playing it safe in the extreme. It lacks ingenuity, urgency and diversity.
Hopefully by the time Adele gets around to ‘Xnumber’ she’ll have found another muse for her lyrical prowess and maybe once again, we’ll get to see this wonderfully talented artist return to her best.
Curiously, it has just been announced that the album will not be available on stream after it’s release – so it’s ‘Hello’ DL//CD//Vinyl, and goodbye Spotify and Apple music for Adele then!
’25’ goes on release 20th November and can be purchased via iTunes here.
2. Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
3. I Miss You
4. When We Were Young
6. Water Under The Bridge
7. River Lea
8. Love In The Dark
9. Million Years Ago
10. All I Ask
11. Sweetest Devotion