tue 02/09/2014

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 10 | New music reviews, news & interviews

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 10

Norwegian label celebrates its 150th release in style alongside a spellbinding Finn, compelling Swede, a warm-hearted Dane and more

Returning to both Finland and the rock end of things, the bludgeoning Climax by Beastmilk is awash with emo-anthems avowedly drawing from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd. Actually, the band come over as having swallowed the works of Manchester’s Chameleons while dreaming of occupying the stages of stadia alongside U2. More appealing is the eponymous debut album from Helsinki trio Talmud Beach, a collection of minimalist, desert-dry swingers which sound like a Krautrock-informed Canned Heat.

Delay Trees are Finns drawing from sources closer to home. Their third album Readymade opens quietly but soon blossoms into a soaring and diffuse confection elegantly marrying shoegazing to first album New Order. Their label mate's Black Twig‘s second outing Heliogram is cut from the same cloth, more Teenage Fanclub-ish, less direct melodically and sports a fantastic, enveloping, in-the-room production.

Listen to “Perfect Headache” from Delay Trees’s Readymade

After these four further Finns, west to Norway for the celebration of 150 releases from the Rune Gramoffon label. Marking the milestone in fine style is the box set Sailing to Byzantium, titled after the W B Yeats poem using the metaphor of a journey to contemplate eternal life. As it’s limited to 500 copies, this release probably isn’t going to be a keystone ensuring that Rune Gramoffon exists forever. It is, though, a testament to a singular vision which has been integral to defining an essential part of Norway’s music to the outside world. The label’s first release, in 1998, was Supersilent’s 1-3 which was described at the time as “totally improvised deathjazzambientavantrock from new limits-stretching quartet… essential if you are looking for a musical challenge.”

Sailing To Byzantium Rune GramoffonSteering this vision is Rune Kristoffersen who, in partnership with designer Kim Hiorthøy, has ensured the label’s cohesive identity. Sailing to Byzantium sports characteristically oblique imagery from Hiorthøy (pictured right). The box contains four 10-inch records, each in a different colour vinyl. There’s also a massive poster and a booklet with a fascinating interview with Kristoffersen and Hiorthøy.

The 16 tracks range across the label’s catalogue and all the styles touched on over the years. It is not all “musical challenge”, but the first two records will satisfy those looking for that. The second half of the box covers cracked and atmospheric folk rock (Phaedra), disturbing musical self-examination (Jenny Hval’s “Blood Flight”), idiosyncratic vocalists and jazz-folk crossovers with no peers (Nils Økland and Arve Henriksen). A magnificent body of work.

Listen to Jenny Hval’s “Bloodflight”, included on Sailing to Byzantium  

In the run up to their special 150th release, Rune Gramoffon continued ploughing its wilful path with Death Rattle, a collaborative improvised album by Philadelphia-based guitarist James Plotkin and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. A chaotic and wild storm, it will be dug by fans of The Thing (who Nilssen-Love has played with), Sunn O))) (Plotkin has worked with them), Albert Ayler and Nilssen-Love’s metal-jazz Scorch Trio. Sailing To Byzantium has been followed by Bushman’s Revenge's Thou Shalt Boogie, a text-book genre-breaking and seamless marriage of prog-rock, Hendrix guitar peels, Asian-slanted psychedelia, sludge metal and free jazz. It ascends, and then ebbs and flows effortlessly.

Rune Gramoffon isn’t alone in issuing albums by members of Bushman’s Revenge. Their Rune Nergaard and Gard Nilssen crop up as two-thirds of Astro Sonic, whose debut album Come Closer and I’ll Tell you is out on the Hubro label. Although synth driven, it evokes the dense atmospherics of the early model of Germany’s Ash Ra Temple. The same imprint’s second album from Cakewalk, Transfixed, is dense, rhythmic and guitar-driven, taking – like early Sonic Youth – from Glenn Branca. Skadedyr's Kongekrabbe, also on Hubro, are even further out and include a dozen musicians making a weird, disorienting music sounding like a smoother version of one of John Cage’s radio pieces tuned into jazz, voices echoing inside caves and the sound of a distant motorway.

Listen to the title track from Skadedyr's Kongekrabbe


Of course, Norway isn’t all about music which pushes the limits towards the Avant, perplexing and unprecedented. All Your Limbs Singing, the first solo album from jazz guitarist Kim Myhr seduces with the reflectiveness of meandering currents of water (listen to the album's "Sleep Nothing, eat Nothing" below). His liquid, 12-string acoustic guitar shimmers like a flock of birds taking flight, then cascades as if running rapids. A lovely album.

No doubt there will more excellent surprises next time, and even more evidence for music’s vitality in a region which treasures breaking boundaries as much as it does infusing the classic with the new. And perhaps Iceland will have bubbled up too.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Listen to "Sleep Nothing, eat Nothing" from Kim Myhr's All Your Limbs Singing

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