I’ve met Dagny … she’s the funny, self-deprecating, bubbly young woman, with whom I spent an hour chit-chattering before cajoling her into posing for a daft photo in the foyer of the Clarion hotel in Trondheim.
That was back in a snow-ridden February, just before she was due to play to her live set as part of the Trondheim Calling Festival. The Norwegian popstrel wasn’t feeling 100%. Her throat was a little scratchy. She made herself a hot drink and went up to have some quiet time in her bedroom.
Three hours later she blew the sox off a capacity crowd sardined into the massive glass menagerie that is the Rockefeller venue, with a kick ass performance that had them screaming their appreciation and baying for more.
She was going to the States she told me, to work with some top liners, producers, other musicians, play some lives, shoot the breeze, soak it all up, #livethedream. It was all hopefully gonna kick off for Dagny before the end of the year.
Now here we are in September, the sun is getting low in the sky and the evenings longer. What better way to transition from the azure days of Summer (what Summer?) to the hazy shades of Autumn with the sun-soaked, rainbow hued pop songs of Dagny’s debut EP, ‘Ultraviolet‘.
Five nuggets of pure pop gold, ‘Ultraviolet’ has had UK music media in its thrall since its release a few days ago. We’re thinking especially of PopJustice Ed in Chief, Peter Robinson, who’s been raving about it with a capital R!
This bouquet of punchy pop kicks off with a retro-vibing, beat-tastic bamarama. With its guitar licks carved out of the ’70s and a melody dug up out of the garden of Now That’s What I Call The ’80s, ‘Fight Sleep’ is what you might expect to hear if legendary singer/songwriter Cathy Dennis, she of Kylie mega-hit ‘Can’t Get You Outta My Head’ fame, was to do a disco remix of tub-thumper ‘War Baby’ (just don’t tell TRB!).
Dagny has a strong voice and carries this weighty track well, but, and this is just a personal observation, maybe the vocal would be served better with a little less of the accentuated end of line upticks!
Lead track ‘Ultraviolet’ is the perfect ‘getting ready with the girls before a night out‘ anthem. Rife with ‘all American’ rock riffs and rollin’ percussion, this is the kind of number the Pinks of this world do so well, and, which the US of A, home of all things rock-pop with a danceable pulse, buys by the Platinum-coated bucket load. This is slick, strobe-lit, high-school pop, and with its upbeat, ‘oh-so-memorable’ catchy hooks, ‘Ultraviolet’ should have gaggles of teens and tweens everywhere reaching for their hairbrushes.
Mid-stream finds us in Taylor Swift/Ariana Grande territory with the pure pop beats of ‘Too Young‘, a track that sees Dagny show a more youthful, lighter side to her oft smoky vocal. This hands in the air head-bobber, is pure iridescent spinning disco ball. An NRG driven sing-along that will demand you dance your ass off to its compelling gold-plated melody lines and pulsating beats.
Next up, it’s the big one. ‘Backbeat’, the track that propelled Dagny’s into the world of mainstream pop and etched her name in the minds of Euro-pop-media. Released in late 2015, it lingers long with its infectious OHs and speed of light handclaps, hyperactive drumming and driving guitars. An instrumental winner wrapped around shimmering synth loops, it’s enriched by an intense vocal delivery, and yeah ok, we have those Dagny upticks again, but in this instance, they kinda work.
To be fair, I guess when you’re starting out and trying to be remembered, you need to nail an evo-stick trademark. I get it guys!
The EP finale comes in the form of flamboyant, ‘Fool’s Gold. A sparkling stunner of a pop diamond, it’s fuelled by a propulsive mid-line of synth wrapped guitars and blood pumping percussion. If this doesn’t get your toes tapping, head nodding and hips swinging then see a doctor about getting your pulse checked, as it’s quite probable that you’re dead.
With 5million plus streams on Spotify, it’s a class A pop rocket. A turbo charged stomper that perfectly book-ends this blast of an EP.
If multi-coloured, heart stoppin’, summer lovin’, fluorescent, pure unadulterated pop is your thing, then Dagny‘s music is for you. Five star recommendation for teens, tweens, popstrels, party girls, girls who just wanna have fun, boys who like girls who like boys, and high heeled, sequin swept, glammed up disco queens. Do It!
Dagny’s ‘Ultravoilet’ EP is available to buy, stream, download via all the usual digital channels, links here.
There’s something about Ponette’s ice-coated, Nordic Noir sound, that conjures up images of front-woman Helene Svaland singing dreamily, eyes closed, whilst standing in the middle of a dark, lonely expanse, empty except for a myriad dark shadows slinking under the pale light of a low mid-winter moon.
In addition to Svaland, this Oslo based quartet, comprises Johannes Amble, Ivo Gutu, and Johan Fredrik Bolli, and on the evidence of their socials, they formed about two minutes ago! Competent, well cemented musicianship says otherwise, and based on the fact that their debut EP entitled, ‘I’m Alone’ was both self-recorded and produced, one imagines they’ve clocked a fair bit of mileage on the musical clock.
Wearing dark pop with more panache than a Lagerfeld muse, Ponette have all the silk lined presence of a band who’ve already arrived, before they’ve arrived. Classy, well produced, synchronised, subtle, their sound is tailored by master-craftsmen of electronica. Vocal nuance is beguilingly understated, vocals are exhalations trapped in a frosty after-mist.
The band have just released their debut EP, ‘I’m Alone’a fire and ice production featuring four intertwined yet disparate songs. Each track builds up from a foundation of darkly brooding, expressive electronica, reaching its acme at the top end of Svaland’s wistful, enchanting and youthful voice.
Opener, ‘Hunt Them Down’ makes for a lavish entrance into the shadowy world Ponette have carved out of forbidden electronica. It’s blown open by a fanfare of doom-laden synth/bass that is silenced mercilessly, by a cold wind laden with looping grizzles, which in turn, stands down to make way for a melodramatic arpeggio of jungle drums. It’s across this bleak landscape that Svaland casually drapes a disaffected vocal.
Next up is lead track, ‘Made of Blood’, the only single to be lifted from the EP. A gossamer confection anchored down to a dark sump by leaden beats, it has moments of sublime loveliness when gentle guitar riffs create a shimmering ripple effect while Svaland’s vocals gently fall like flakes of snow.
Speaking of Svaland’s voice, there are moments when it rises above the clouds, festooned with a quirkiness that is redolent of that other Nordic ice-queen, Bjork. On a superficial level Helene Svaland’s voice is softer, more delicate than her Icelandic counterpart; that softness overlays an immutable force, the proverbial iron fist in its velvet glove, albeit one that’s been left overnight in the freezer compartment.
“We fall from our high horse, we don’t know how to fly, the rules are slightly different now, ‘cos we grew out of the comfort of our innocence, we don’t know right from wrong anymore, ‘cos the red line is crossed”
Relief from the gloaming comes in the form of track three, possibly not coincidentally entitled, ‘Relief’. Just what the doctor ordered, sonically at least, it’s a melodic dance through lightly played, spacious guitar, barely there echoey drums, and flurries of hyperactive synth squiggles. The vocal lays low, restrained but intent on its purpose.
The lyrics, sharp and incisive, provide a counter to the fragile finesse of the instrumental. A propos of nothing, the shutters are lifted, everything is energised and the result is electric. Thrashing guitars and propulsive percussion wreak havoc through a two minute outro of meandering synth that flows into the EP’s finale.
“So don’t choose me, I’m not choosing you … Love me I’m alone”
Title track ‘I’m Alone’ is the only one with an uptempo rhythm, if you could call it that. Jittering electro percussion hyperventilates against handclap propulsion, while synth and guitar lines twist and writhe. The tracks contains some moments where it slips into some very well played funereal keys and damning drums, but overall this is a catchy pop song that balances light and shade to perfection.
A song about love, but not a love song, lyrically it’s a conflict of emotional need and destitution. It closes with an extended semi-classical-electro sequence, probably this EPs finest instrumental wine, which very cleverly, Ponette have saved til last.
On this EP, Ponette explore and mine a vast and dark terrain. They purge the fractious, stripping away any protective veneer, laying bare raw emotions across an expansive, skilfully painted Nordic soundscape. For a debut EP, this is a mightily impressive offering. An album, if and when it follows, will be a test of their ingenuity and staying power. Proof, if it were needed, that Ponette have what it takes to elevate their music to the next level.
Fresh from our foray into the glass menagerie of Dave Bayley & other ‘animals’, we venture forth into the thorny jungle of their chosen North American tour partners, Pumarosa.
September marks new territory for this blog, or to be all uber-metaphorical, this boat has set sail into previously uncharted waters. Mind you, there could be an irony in our gliding into the ‘dark side’ of the Irish sea at this juncture, all things #Brexit considered …#thatshiphassailed
Sounding a bit like Pat Benatar diffused through a thick and gritty haze of guitar, Pumarosafront-woman Isabel Munoz-Newsome jauntily drops the words, “…oh you stupid son of a bitch, yeah you stupid son of a bitch … you tell me stories I want to believe in” and I’m sold.
Bagging a premiere for latest single ‘Honey’ on Huw Stephens’ BBC radio show, Pumarosa are obviously not short of high level support. More importantly, they have also firmly established a loyal following amongst the more savvy, less shouty of the music media, like VPME and Pigeonsandplanes.
To top it all off, the band has been enlisted by experimenters du jour, Glass Animals, to join them on their late Autumn tour of North America and Canada. Tour dates below also include some NYC/LA Pumarosa headliners!
Lifted from their forthcoming self-titled EP, ‘Honey’ is the band’s third single, following ‘Cecile’ and debut ‘The Priestess’. It is testament to the bands strong sound and definitive style, that at only three single releases in, they have already generated a heap of interest from both music fans and media alike.
“Stuck inside this dance forever, walking in circles altogether”
Commanding attention from the off, the song is alive with raw energy and powerful personality. Clean, unwashed guitars, with more seesaw flang than a gaggle of emergency services sirens, stride across bolts of electronica and vital drumming to create a right clangourous ding on the ear. But it’s Isabel’s WTF vocal – clean, pressing, questioning, arresting – that soars above the sonorous clamour to draw rightful attention to the track’s fiery lyrics.
Passionate and alive, this song punches at just the right weight, by getting the depth and urgency of its sound just right. A melodic blast of unpretentious music, well produced but not to the point of losing its freshness, ‘Honey’ is a refreshingly honest track that should seal Pumarosa’s reputation, standing them in bloody good stead for their upcoming live dates.
‘Honey’ and the Pumarosa EP are both now on release via Fiction Records (see below) … give it a listen here.
Trondheim based indie record label Riot Factoryhave a happy habit of signing wickedly hip and seriously talented acts that churn out memorable music like Norwegian dairy farmers churn out Brunost; down pat!
Set up by three music mad amigos some mucho moons ago, the Riot label has become synonymous with both identifying and nurturing some of the most unique and spirited of indie / alternative talents to emerge from that Norwegian cradle of music, Trondheim. Farao, Highasakite and Bendik all cut their tyro teeth in this house of fun, which now boasts the creme de l’alt nouveau creme of indie music in the form of Gold Celeste, Snøskred and Tellef Raabe .
Of the myriad mouthwatering music-mongers these riotous ravers have on their roster, four will take to the stage for your delectation on the opening #Klubbdagen night of Øyafestivalen. Yep, you can sink your teeth into the meaty madness of music by Commonplace, walk in the thunderous wake of punk/noize dinosaurs, Sauropod, float in the inky night skies illuminated by the stars of Ludvig Moon and/or get up close and cuddly with those adorable Pandas*2. See below for full details.
Dinosaurs of the rockier side of the Riot stable, Sauropod are no strangers to whipping up a crowd with their noisesome fare and their headline set at Verkstedet bar should be pretty bloody thunderous and then some! The ironically named ‘Sunny Day‘ was released as a single in the depths of darkest January, read my review here, preceding their more aptly entitled album, ‘Roaring at the Storm’ which with much-a-play on words, was a roaring success. Sauropod produce music darker than night but seriously switch the light on with their canny and often witty lyrics … not for the faint-hearted but worth the morning after temp tinnitus.
Back in darkest March, and oh boy was it dark, and cold, myself and the guys over at The 405had the pleasure of premiering the raw, unnerving neo-punk track ‘Complex Mental State’ from five-piece postpunkers commonplace! Coincidentally, the very same band have a new single, ‘Her Sultry Eyes’ out on release this week on 3rd August (sorry, no advance sneak peeks), but here’s a deco at the artwork. Tune into the bands FB page here, to give it an early post-release hearing on Wednesday!
In the meantime, clear the cobwebs with this sonic scouring pad and prepare yourself to be hyped to the ceiling when they perform this number live next week!
Earlier this year, sextet Ludvig Moonreleased ‘Cult Baby’, the lead single from their forthcoming album, to rapturous media applause.
Hailed by Best Fit as a “soaring, small scale epic”, ‘Cult Baby’ catapulted LM into the realm of UK music media and fans alike, setting the band in seriously good stead for any future releases and/or live dates. To boot, the accompanying visual was pretty nifty and not one to go unnoticed! I did my own wee bit of waxing lyrical about both and you can read my review here. While you’re doing so, you can give ‘Cult Baby’ another listen (‘cos we know you’ve already heard it, right?).
Last but definitely not least are personal faves, Panda Panda. My fangirling of the Pandas was born out of a huge addiction to their first single, ‘New Friends’, the pull of which was so strong it lead me to bump the Riot club-night during Trondheim Calling in favour of the packed out PP gig at Blaest, which due to some very inconsiderate timing on the part of the festival organisers, was on the same night. Ironically, Panda Panda, a then unsigned band, were to sign with said jilted Rioters only a matter of weeks later! Where I lead and all that … !
Since being signed to the Riot label, Panda Panda have dropped more singles, as well as their debut EP, Millions. They’ve spent the Summer dipping between festivals and studio, and a full length album should be in the offing in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, you can pop in to see Panda Panda and their Riot stablemates in various venues across Oslo on Tuesday 9th August, details below. Until then, we’ll leave you with that magnetic first heard, never forgotten single, ‘New Friends’. See you in Oslo! For further information on Riot Factory, check out their website, http://www.riotfactory.no/
Tuesday 9th August, Oslo, all events are part of the official Øyafestivalen club night or Klubbdagen. Øya runs from 9th to 13th August, and all details of artists and the full festival programme can be found on the official website, http://oyafestivalen.com/
Made up of American, Anna Marcella (vox/piano/keys), and Brits, Curtis ElVidge (drums) and Joe Cross (bass/synth/vox), threepiece Sykoya, have just dropped a stunning visual for their spine-tingling single, ‘Closer‘.
Despite already having had UK airplay as well as having been featured by the likes of the BBC6 Music supported artist hub, Fresh on the Net, which is managed by the ubiquitous Tom Robinson, Sykoya, like the canniest of hibernators, decided to pull down the shutters and squirrel themselves away over the long, dark winter months, experimenting with, tweaking and refining songs that they knew had a special something, but with which they weren’t yet fully satisfied.
After endless hours and long nights of intense practising and recording, and having evolved a unique sound which they could identify with as the Sykoya USP or musical identifier, the trio were finally ready to debut their EP ‘Strange Night’, which I’m pleased to announce will be released this weekend. Sat 21st to be exact!
Haunting, slightly menacing ‘Closer, is a melody driven track as dark and lonely as its shadowy night-time landscape. Set in the twilit world of unrequited love and grasping desperation, this obsession fuelled nightmare is tinged with lonely regret and edged with a trace of eroticism. Marcella’s intensely nuanced vocal, perfectly captures the brooding neediness and bleak torment of the song’s protagonist. Evoking emotional turmoil with a blend of sensuous ferocity and disturbing plaintiveness, Marcella’s voice elicits the sense of needy urgency and veiled menace around which the instrumental accompaniment builds a perfect soundscape. ElVidge’s equable electronic drums and Cross’s doomsday bass fuse around otheworldly synth sequences to produce a portentous score to this soporific inky-hued reverie.
The accompanying video, which was shot in the beautiful snow draped mountains of Poland, is the handiwork of the exceptionally talented RO/SAvideo production company, run by Katarzyna Sawicka (direction/editing) and Adam Romanowski (photography/colour grading) who also came up with the storyline. Such is the magnificent photographic splendour of this visual, it recently received a nomination for the Berlin Music Video Awards (would you believe the award ceremony is tonight – fingers crossed you guys!).
‘Closer’ is pretty heady stuff and as debut singles go, this is a strong card with which to lead. If the rest of the EP measures up to the high standard set by this confidently delivered benchmark, Sykoya will be able to look back on those long, dark, wintry nights, and take comfort in the knowledge that all the hard work that went into revisiting, reworking and refining their music, was most definitely worth it.
‘Closer‘ is the lead track from Sykoya’s upcoming 5-track EP ‘Strange Night‘ due out 21st May! The band are holding a release party at 7.30pm Sat 21st The Finsbury Pub, Green Lanes, London – full details here https://www.facebook.com/events/1039339372798551/
Today, I am super delighted to welcome the charming, witty and immensely talented Alex Clemence, front man with English dream-gaze band DayFlower, as guest reviewer on the blog. Alex is reviewing, ‘Blind Spot‘, the first music release in 20 years by 90’s chart-toppers Lush, which they released via their own label, Edamame Records.
so without further ado … In his own words, ALEX!
“Alex is a human male from Norwich who moved to Leicester in 2003 with the sole aim of failing to complete a degree in Economics. He achieved this in some style by dropping out after his first year.
When he isn’t working on fusing the nursery rhymes in his head with his own average guitar playing, he enjoys scotch bonnet chilli peppers, Haribo, Seinfeld box sets, weapons grade Polish lager, Poptarts, hanging out with his 6 year old son, American 9 ball pool (he is above average at this), dreaming up sitcoms that never seem to happen and being in love.”
Here we go again. Here they come. It’s been twenty long years but finally Lush has returned and it thrills me to say that it’s like they have never been away. With Jim Abbiss and Daniel Hunt of Ladytron on production duties, the girls are back with the Blind Spot EP coming out on their own Edamame label, and I’ll start by saying that it’s a hugely welcome return. Lush, you’ve been missed!
The EP kicks off with lead track, the recently released ‘Out of Control’ and pulls off that magical stunt of melding the early Lush ‘shoegaze’ sound with the Britpop influences of their later years. Part lullaby and part sea shanty, I shouldn’t be surprised that with my eyes closed, this swirling beauty of a tune evokes images of the ocean.
Heavily reverberated guitars underpin the most hypnotic of rousing choruses, harmonies courtesty of a choir of angels. For sheer depth and atmosphere, this track brings the beauty of John and Michael Heads criminally underrated band Shackto mind, specifically Waterpistol era Shack. (View the video here)
The following track ‘Lost Boy’ lends a more ominous feel to proceedings. Building beautifully from just vocals and guitar, a lonely voice cries out ‘Now I’ve lost you’, as the pain and suffering is obvious for all to hear. The song only seems to become more urgent with the addition of light percussion, synth and delicately interweaving guitar lines that together create a vast soundscape. The whole affair sounds like a David Bowie themed party, backed by a 60’s beat combo taking place somewhere in space. Thats a good thing by the way!
On another day, the third track ‘Burnham Beeches‘ could have been the opening number. Easily my favourite song on the EP, it reminds me of New Order at their most dynamic. ‘Beeches’ manages to bring together 80’s dance rhythms and half whispered / half gasped breathy vocals, with euphoric West Coast tinged backing vocals not unlike the kind that Belinda Butcher would bring to My Bloody Valentine. (See the video below)
Speaking of which, there are strong similarities between this and ‘Off Your Face’ from MBV’s ‘Glider‘ 1990 EP. Comprising lilting, dipping chord changes and swelling guitars, pure pop lies within this truly joyous throwback to the early 4AD years. I am going to strongly recommend that not only do you jam this track on repeat throughout your day, but that you also give some of your time to listening to this gem through a decent set of headphones. There are just so many textures to behold that I’m finding something new with every listen. Gorgeous layers piled one upon the other in a way not too dissimilar to what Dave Fridmann has been doing with Mercury Revover the last 25 years.
Closing track ‘Rosebud‘ seems to pick up from where ‘Lost Boy‘ left off. With an almost folky style strummed electric guitar and fractured percussion throughout, ambient guitar noise and strings make this the most atmospheric on the release. Despite the dark lyrical content and minor chord melodies, this song seems to gather pace in such a way that it feels like it is ending on a positive note. Needless to say this is another track for those of you who like to pore over their music with the use of headphones. The crystal clear guitars accompanied by a playfully melodic bass line feels like it wouldn’t be out of place on one of my favourite ever albums, the lush dreamlike tour de force that is Air’s ‘Moon Safari’.
All in all, the ‘Blind Spot‘ EP is an hugely welcome return to form and without encouraging an additional sabbatical, well worth the 20 year wait. On occasion reminiscent of Lush at their dreamiest, ‘Blind Spot’ attests to the fact that the girls most definitely have not lost their knack for a killer pop melody. My greedier self would love there to be an album of later 80s / early 90s pop in the spirit of ‘Burnham Beeches’, but I simply couldn’t bear to miss out on some of the more nuanced melodies and atmospherics that are on display here.
I’m also thrilled to see, hear and write that Lush has retained that contemporary edge that reminds me of some of the better moments of Britpop; think classic Shack & New Order. Furthermore, kudos to Jim Abbiss and Daniel Hunt who have done a spectacular job on production duties. I must point out though that the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev fan in me would love to see Dave Fridmann get hold of 21st century Lush.
I’ll finish by saying this . Lush – I’ve been running this EP on repeat through my stereo for the past month now. I hope you have an album planned, AND, that I will not have to wait 20 years for it.
The ‘Blind Spot’ EP is available via the usual digital channels, plus the official Lush website, details here.
Lush are confirmed to play two shows at London’s prestigious Roundhouse venue on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th May 2016, if you’re lucky, there might just be some tickets left for the second date here (the 6th was a sell-out within hours). They will also play the Manchester Academy Friday 25th November 2016, tickets available here.
Honest, pure, raw, delicately powerful, visual, dark, introspective, textured, emotive, sensual, deep, touching, full of feeling, sonically simplistic, minimalist, not trying to emulate, unusual.
Just some of the words I’d use to describe my initial reaction to EERA’s eponymous debut EP.
This 4-track stunner opens with ‘White Water, the Norwegian’s latest single release. It is a delicious combination of moody, grungey guitar chords, intermittent elongated splurges of electronica, and darkly complex lyrics delivered with an almost other-worldly vocal.
In contrast, ‘Drive with Fear’, is a melting pot of several sketches: shimmering, whirling dervishes of synths, low almost monotone basslines, solemn funereal organ sounds, and snappy drum loops. Brief interludes of horn add warmth, colour and texture, while the two-toned vocal switches from husky to delightfully angelic, crossing through EERA’s full vocal range. Evocative and poignant, ‘Drive with Fear’ summons images of EERA reaching out with vocal arms, imploring the listener to “drag him out”. This track sparkles as clearly and brightly as the diamonds EERA sings of.
‘Marry Me’ is an hommage to the artists grandparents. Assuming the voice of her grandmother in conversation with her late husband on the cusp of what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary, this is a touchingly penned love poem set to a meld of jewellery box noise and a mini rock opera complete with ghostly choral harmonies and a dramatic build in the form of a guitar driven crescendo.
Starting with electronic pulses, a dull low slung thrum, short spacious drum rolls and EERA’s vocal at its most pristine, it shifts weight through a clever tempo change into a dark guitar lead sequence, whilst still maintaining that sense of space until it hits the chorus line. A beautiful sparkle of ballerina jewellery box music carries the song through to a blush of harmonies and serrated guitar chords underpinned by a continuum of bass. Again, there is another change of tack. At times distorted, at times pleading, EERA’s vocal gymnastics bounce off a many layered guitar instrumental interspersed with bursts of what sounds like contorted fairground organ.
“I spoke to him late last night, after I laid a cloth on his face, the love of my life,
My shoe fell on the floor, no need to reach down, I’ll stay here until I can feel him,
Oh Marry me …Thanks for showing me, journeys I couldn’t do on my own, please wait for me,
Oh Marry me, again … Hold on”
EERA’s vocal on this track is nothing short of remarkable, as she performs it in at least four different styles, continuously altering the tone, timbre and pitch to marry the moments in time of this grand-maternal monologue. The best track on the EP, it’s pretty spectacular stuff. Complex, beautifully vocalised and more than dramatically arranged, ‘Marry Me’ lovingly pieces together the emotional chapters of what must have been a truly wonderful romance.
“There are so many ways of dying, the worst one is to continue on living”
The EP closes with “Undressed,” a lush one woman and her guitar track. It is pretty much just EERA singing with her electric guitar until just past the mid-way point when a series of noises, horn, acoustic guitar and a mille-feuille of vocals bring this most delicious of EPs to a close.
It is quite uncanny that EERA has sprung from nowhere into the consciousness of so many so quickly. Undoubtedly she has cut her teeth over the course of some years, gigging, open micing, honing her lyrical craft and so on. But to pen, arrange and produce a debut EP as arrestingly beautiful and breathtakingly honest as this is simply quite remarkable for someone so young and inexperienced in the world of recording. If this is what EERA is capable of on her first outing, what is to come with her first album should be pretty amazing. 9/10.
After a pro-longed series of delays courtesy of SAS and the weather, I finally arrived in Oslo on a cold and snowy Thursday night, and, with little time to spare, flung bags and Duty Free onto the bed, grabbed my phone and hot footed it down to the hotel lobby, grabbed a map and got directions to The CrossRoad Club, where I was due within a matter of minutes for a night of ‘off:Larm’ musical mania.
Arriving at the end of a very brief but incredibly expensive taxi journey (even more expensive than the TC gin og tonic), I went through the hand stamping routine (really?), pulled up a high stool, ordered an exorbitantly priced drink, (with complimentary straw), and settled down for my evenings entertainment.
Starters on the musical bill of fare was Mats Wawa, a young 60s-70s pysch influenced band from Oslo. Having heard their debut EP, ‘Classics’, I was looking forward immensely to hearing them play live, and you know what folks, I wasn’t disappointed. The band was joined on stage by Gold Celeste‘s Petter Haugen Andersen in his newest capacity as flautist, and, when he wasn’t generally fluting around, he could be found vigorously shaking a pineapple (and probably developing very strong biceps in the process).
Mats Wawa played a 7-song set that kicked off with non-EP track, ‘Hola’, and, from the get-go the crowd were ‘on it’, cheering, whistling and being generally, good humouredly interactive. If the opener warmed up the crowd, second track in, ‘Worries’ got them nicely toasted. This country ‘fluenced tune-for-cruisin is heavy on Americana guitar juice and sing-along chorus lines, and, was the perfect track to get the partee started and the mood imbued with lurve.
Retro-psych with it’s many layers and textures is not the easiest of sounds to translate into a live performance, but Mats Wawa managed to pull the musical rabbit outta the hat with relative ease. For a band so young, their instrumental competence is not to be underestimated and the quality of their musicianship on the night, especially on the synth/keys, slide guitar and drums, was quite astonishing.
The best example of the tightness of this unit came on Lego inspired, ‘Lord Bisnis’ which saw all elements – vocal and instrumental – come together effortlessly, easily producing one of the highlights of the set. Full credit must be given to PHA who gave a pretty high class performance of what is quite a complicated flute sequence, an instrumental accompaniment that gives this track its full bells and whistles Jethro Tull vibe.
Kudos too to Jonas Rohde-Moe for producing some pretty darned tricky, finger twisting guitar sequences on ‘Planet of the Grapes’. And indeed to Metallica wannabe, Emil Kjærnli for giving it sox, when he had the full Status Quo rip-roaring guitar in the air at full throttle thang going on.
These are not easy songs to sing, and all due credit to Wang and Torkellsen whose vocals held up well on the night. The only downer came as a result of faulty or damaged cabling, which gave some intermittent gyp, particularly on the leads mic. All a bit unfortunate, but being consummate pros, Wang & Co kept going, adjusting their positions accordingly, to mitigate against the interference.
Their short but rockin’ 30min stint closed with the song ‘Dead’ of which, if anything, the band were the antithesis. Electrifying, energetic and full on, this brought their set to a dramatic and clangorous close.
Mats Wawa are as happy a unit as ever I’ve seen on a stage. Undoubtedly good friends, there is a magic to their synergy, while their effervescent enthusiasm spills over into the crowd, creating an energy that flows back and forth between band and audience. As a unit, they are in their infancy, and it will be interesting to watch their progress especially if, and most probably when, this band produce a full long player and take it out on the long and winding promotional road.
More JaJa than Wawa, this is a band with a bright future ahead of them. Giving one of the most entertaining live performances I saw during my time in Oslo, Mats Wawa is a band I would strongly recommend you check out next time you see them on a gig listing near you!
Setlist: Hola, Worries, Bed of Love, Walking with You, Lord Busines, Planet of the Grapes, Dead
Mats Wawa are Mats Wang (vocal/guitar), Terje Vea Torkellsen (vocal/keys), Mathias Sagedal (Drums) and Emil Kjærnli (bass guitar), with the addition of Jonas Rohde-Moe (guitar) and Petter HA (flute/percussion) for live performances. You can find them on Facebook, here.
When things MOVE in the music industry, they tend to juggernaut rather than chug along steam train style. Such is the case with the trajectory of the latest singer/songwriter to emerge out of Norway, Anna Lena Bruland, who goes under the moniker, EERA. With two single releases now firmly under her belt and a string of rave reviews to stick in her scrapbook, EERA has fast become a recognisable name on the music scene within an astonishingly short space of time.
Here current single, ‘White Water’, is an intriguing taster of what we have to look forward to on her forthcoming EP, recorded and produced with Nick Rayner, of Farewell J.R. fame, at his home studio in Cambridge. Of the EP, EERA explains, “My lyrics are based on images, rather than storylines. For me, it’s about creating imagery and wordplay that means something quite different to each individual.”
On the eve of EERA’s appearances at the renowned by:Larm Festivaland the release of her self-titled debut 4-track EP on 4th March, which falls smack bang between her two festival dates, I caught up with the London based Norwegian newbie of the moment, for a brief but extremely interesting Q&A, in which she talks about her dream “supergroup” collaboration, inspirational Farao, learning Alex G’s ‘Kicker’ and Meg the dog.
“Never become a musician, it’s too much hard work”
Hey EERA, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. First up can you tell the readers something about your musical background and influences?
My main influences are PJ Harvey, Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof etc. And also “older” stuff like Pixies and early Cat Power. Just artists with dissonant noises and great lyrics mainly.
What brought you to music and how & when did you decide to become a full time musician?
I don’t think it’s something you decide to do, it’s something that chooses you. My grandad was a big conductor back in the 60s and he always said to me; “Never become a musician, it’s too much hard work. But if you are going to do it anyways, I’ll make sure I’ll get a choir together for you so that you can become a choir conductor when you come back to Norway.” So I guess my back up plan is sorted.
Why did you move to London?
It was just a natural move from Liverpool. I lived there for four years before I moved down to London. My bandmates at the time were moving down, and I’ve always wanted to live in London because of the music scene here.
That seems to be the same for most Norwegian musicians – London is the big draw. Where did the moniker EERA come from?
I wish I had an exciting answer to this, but to be perfectly honest I just really liked how the word sounded and looked, and it’s nice that it’s similar to an era.
How would you define your style? Do you feel that music should not be pigeon-holed by constantly being categorised?
I don’t think music should be pigeon-holed, no. My favourite comments I’ve gotten after a show is that they feel that I’m doing something new, which is the best compliment any artist can get really.
What makes you stand out from other musicians/artists?
Hopefully I do stand out by the way I write my songs. The chord sequences I use, and the lyrics I write.
How did you approach creating and making your EP?
I recorded the EP with Nick Rayner, in his home recording studio in Cambridge. At the time, I already had the main core of the songs written. Nick just helped to get the sounds that were in my head into the computer. I really enjoyed being in an unconventional studio with a limited amount of gear. That inspires me the most. And he has the most incredible studio dog, Meg!
“I like to challenge the listener”
What were the sources of inspiration for your songs?
Something I can connect with. Either it’s something that has affected me, or others. But it has to be something that I understand fully and that I want to explore further obviously.
Do you expect the audience to be able to understand the themes/concepts of the songs, or do you think music should be open to free interpretation?
Not necessarily. I always intend to create songs where people can make up their own mind about what the songs are about. I like to challenge the listener, so that they want to listen to the song over and over to then fully understand it in their own way.
How do you approach playing live?
To create an atmosphere that people get sucked in to. I’ve never been obsessed with the idea that the live set needs to be exactly the same as the record. I like that it’s a bit different.
How did you find playing the LoBF and Eurosonic Festivals compared with smaller, more intimate gigs?
The more people the better for me really. Haha. My worst nightmare is to play in front of a really small crowd, if you do that you can see all of their faces! If there’s a larger crowd they all sort of turn into one, which makes it less scary in a way.
Aside from by:Larm, have you any other dates lined up?
As we as by:Larm, so far we have Great Escape and another gig in London (Sebright Arms) confirmed. There are a few more that we can hopefully announce soon!
“Farao is one of my best friends. She is a true inspiration for me, such a talented artist”
You’ve played live with Farao & did backing vocals for her (in Berlin) – how did that come about?
Farao is one of my best friends. I used to play in her band for two years and we also used to live together in London. So we’ve been playing together for a long time. So when she asked me to go on tour with her I obviously said yes. We have so much fun together! She is a true inspiration for me, such a talented artist.
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?
Yeah, I guess it is. It’s tricky for me to answer that question since I’ve always known of the scene, and followed it. And I think there’s always been some great artists here and there coming from Norway, but for some reason more and more people are recognising that at the moment.
If you could cover one song, what would it be and why?
I’m trying to learn “Kicker” by Alex G at the moment, purely because it’s just an incredible song.
If you could collaborate with another artist/band, who would you choose?
Well it’s so hard to just choose one so I might as well just tell you my dream band; John Parish on guitar, Christopher Bear (Grizzly Bear) on drums, Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) on additional guitar and effects etc. and Jenny Lee Lindberg (Warpaint) on bass and backing vocals.
Are there any artists/bands you’d recommend for 2016?
Yeah! There’s this mental band called The Mantis Opera that I love so much! They’re awesome live as well. If you’re into Battles and Deerhoof they’re definitely worth a listen. I got to sing with them live once which was so much fun!
What are EERA’s plans for 2016?
To write loads, and get back in the studio, and to play some awesome shows along the way.
by:Larm is one of Norway’s most prestigious festivals and the biggest Nordic emerging talent showcase; it is held annually in Oslo. Full details regarding tickets, artists and schedules can be found here.
Check out the video for EERA’s current single, ‘White Water, a Cleopatra-esque production that’s darker than it’s milky whiteness would lead you believe.
You can pre-order the EERA EP which comes in two gorge vinyl eds here –
“I tried to write songs without fear of exposing myself. A lot of the time I end up telling other people’s stories, but when telling them I can twist the story in any direction, and then it ends up being very close to something true about myself”
Anne Lise Frøkedal emerged from the chrysalis last year like a delicately coloured butterfly, flitting through the sky in search of a sweetly flowered meadow. Having spent much of her formative musical years with Norwegian pop group, Harry’s Gym (‘Whisper’, ‘Brother’), when they split in 2013, she dropped her forenames, adopted the moniker, Frøkedal, and launched herself as a solo artist releasing her debut single, ‘I See You’ in March of last year. Since then she has gone on to release an EP of the same name, as well as a plethora of singles, all of which have been received with much critical acclaim.
Having whetted our appetites and left us licking our lips in anticipation, today finally sees Frøkedal drop her debut album, ‘Hold on Dreamer’, as well as unveil the video for her latest single, ‘The Sign’, which you can watch here. In anticipation of this wondrous record, and wondrous it is folks, I asked Frøkedal some questions about her Cajun influences, ‘gentle strength’, the invisible man on the chair, and the black landscape of Western Norway. Here’s what she had to say:-
Hi Anne Lise, thanks for taking the time out. You’ve released a serious amount of music in the past 14 months. How long have you been writing these songs & gearing up towards your debut album, ‘Hold on Dreamer’?
Hei! I started recording this music in late 2014, after testing it on a live stage with Familien (Frøkedal’s band made up of Olav Christer Rossebø, Thea Glenton Raknes, Erlend Ringseth & Ingeleiv Berstad). Some of the songs are older than that, but never fitted into any other project I had, but the majority was written – or at least finished – around the same time as we started playing them live.
How did you approach recording ‘Hold on Dreamer’ and working with the renowned Jimmy Robertson?
We recorded most of the tracks live in a studio in Oslo that has a big recording room. Then I did overdubs (as few as possible) in my own little studio. Some of the more electronic tracks, I’ve recorded all by myself. I actually ended up producing the album as well. I was meant to find someone, but I never did. The reason is probably that I already knew how I wanted it to sound. The mix engineer, Jimmy Robertson, was really important to me, though. When I handed these tracks over to him, I really needed some fresh ears. Luckily, what I’d done made sense to him.
“I think it has something to do with the fiddle, the lack of perfection, the directness”
Your sound incorporates a lot of elements – Americana/Bluegrass/Native American/Folk/Traditional – using all those gorgeous trad string instruments – fiddles, acoustic guitar, etc, – mixed with modern day electric guitars & synthesisers. Can you explain why are you drawn to the “old world” sounds, and what your objective was in bringing them together with more “new world” sounds and techniques for this album?
I’ve known Olav Christer (Olav Christer Rossebø), who plays the fiddle on these tracks, for many years, and he’s constantly introduced me to traditional music from all over the world. What I love about this music, and perhaps the traditional Cajun music in particular, is the simple arrangements, but often very emotional expression. I think it has something to do with the fiddle, the lack of perfection, the directness and the fact that the traditional music was usually recorded live. I wanted to try something like that myself, even if I write pop songs
On the album there is only one song, ‘The Sign’ that uses a full drum kit for percussion, which was overseen by Olaf Olsen. What drew you to him as a percussionist and why the single instance use of a full drum kit?
On ‘The Sign’ I wanted to capture the slightly odd vibe of a collective euphoria. That’s why I had to abandon all intentions of moderation for a little while. After all, there’s nothing moderate about a spiritual awakening. The way Olaf plays on ‘The Sign’ is very typical for him. He plays very lightly, forward-going, but never rushing it. I love his drumrolls. His approach to the kit always makes me think of recordings that were made 50 years ago. I don’t know anyone who plays like he does.
“I am a bad liar”
Your album is really quite special, and your songs are very thought provoking and quite emotive. How do you come up with the ideas for your songs – lyrically and musically – and if you don’t mind me asking, do you pour a lot of yourself into them when you’re both writing and recording them?
I tried to write these songs without fear of exposing myself. I gave it an honest go, and I see now that a lot of the time I end up telling other people’s stories as if they were my own. I think it happens mainly because I am a bad liar, whenever I know too much about how things really happened, I feel obligated to tell the true version, but when I’m telling someone else’s story I can twist and turn that story in any direction. And then it ends up being very close to something true about myself.
There is a “gentle strength”, if that makes sense, to your songs. Do you think this is this reflective of you as a person?
Haha, it is probably easier for others to give a truthful answer to that. I am probably not the loudest type you’ll find in the music industry. And even if I am quite emotionally driven, I’m also very determined. I know very well what I like and don’t like.
‘Hold on Dreamer’ seems to be following a couple of themes, many of them full of positivity, self-belief and hope, but there are also moments of intense sadness. Was that just how things worked out or were you trying to find a balance between light/dark, or, was the intention to paint a true reflective picture of life and emotion?
I think the different characters in these songs are going through things that are very recognizable. There is both dark and light in these songs, and I wanted it to stay balanced.
‘Cherry Trees’ is an extremely beautiful and very poignant song, and possibly my favourite on the album. Can you tell me what it is about?
‘Cherry Trees‘ is about a relationship that is not going to survive, despite good intentions and an idyllic backdrop of cherry trees blooming in spring. The two people in the song have lost the connection they once had.
The title of the album, ‘Hold on Dreamer’ is a line taken from the song ‘The Man Who Isn’t Here’. The lyrics speak of shutting out the city, and the noise, and waking up to the inner dreamer holding us tight. Do you think we all have an “inner dreamer” that we could hear more clearly is there was less noise more silence in the world?
Yes. I think we have an inner dreamer that becomes clearer to us in times of great distress, because we have to shut out everything else.
And tell me, what exactly are you trying to convey through the image of the invisible man on the chair?
The way you can sometimes feel the presence of someone you miss who is no longer around – as it they were still there.
“On ‘The Sign’ I wanted to capture the slightly odd vibe of a collective euphoria”
‘The Sign’, such an uplifting song, seems to be saying despite all the destruction around us of society, nature, community – and despite our failings, there is always way to succeed, look around you and you will find it, it’s not too late for us to change our ways? Can you give us some background to the message?
I believe in this message, if we look for our own answers. But I also believe a similar message is often preached by people with the wrong agenda, and that’s when it gets disturbing.
It sounds like you very much had Norway in mind when you wrote ‘Misery’ – pine trees, black mountains etc. How much has being Norwegian had an influence on your music?
Well spotted. The song is inspired by some of the gloominess of the landscape, and sometimes people, in the west coast of Norway, where I’m from. I have made jokes about it when playing the song in this area, but they always respond in such an enthusiastic way to the track, that I suspect that they recognize something. I think a lot of the melancholy in my music to a certain degree has to do with being from a part of the country where it (seemingly) always rains, and the long dark winters over here. And I think the traditional Norwegian music that I’ve become familiar with through my fiddle-playing friend has (subconsciously) influenced the rhythmics of my songs and sometimes even the way I sing.
And finally before we let you go, who are your tips coming out of Norway just now? Who has Frokedal on her turntable?
And what better music for Frokedal to spend her time with than this most delightful of confections!
Thanks so much to Anne Lise for her very precious time and her honest, insightful answers!! You’ll be able to read my review of ‘Hold on Dreamer’ soon, keep your eyes peeled to my Twitterand FB. In the meantime, have a listen to a final piece of Frokedal music as you take a peek at the video for ‘Kid’, here.
‘Hold on Dreamer‘ is out now through Propeller Recordings, and available through the usual fare of iTunes, Spotify etc, links here.
You can follow Frokedal on Facebook, Twitterand her official website, where you’ll find details of musical releases, and her current tour which kicks off in York tonight, working through the UK, then moving to Germany and on to Norway. Alas no Dublin, next time hey!!