fri 19/09/2014

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 5 | New music reviews, news & interviews

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 5

Nightmarish Norwegians, Francophile Danes, regal Swedes, in-your-face Icelanders and Finns voyaging to inner space

Also from Norway, jazz guitarist Stian Westerhus - in contrast to Philco Fiction - is all about texture and how he merges his playing with the other elements brought to his often experimental music. Although his two new albums take different approaches, each is – in equal measures - challenging and satisfying. The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers, mostly recorded in Oslo's Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum to take advantage of the echo, is a series of shifting soundscapes which mutate the guitar into a violin, a cello or harmonium. Nightmarishly intense, the result would be at home on a David Lynch soundtrack. Didymoi Dreams, a partnership between Westerhus and improvising vocalist Sidsel Endresen, uses the guitar to set up precise, plangent and drifting frameworks through which Endresen interweaves trills and gurgles, and even evokes throat music. The pairing of vocalist and guitarist is seamless.

Stian Westerhus and Sidsel Endresen improvise live, 2011

The Faroese label tutl has been busy, extending its reach beyond the remote island group. White Flag Society are the Denmark-based duo of Norwegian-Danish singer Jullie Hjetland and Danish producer Henrik Marstal. Their debut tutl album, Surrender, is electronica-bedded folk-pop project nodding towards The Pixies and Cranberries and exhibits stadium-filling, lighters-aloft ambition. Also from tutl and more fun are MonkeyRat who, although based in Denmark, include musicians from the Faroes. Frontwoman Anna Iachino is of Canadian/Italian extraction. Their Sunshine is rap-jazz-funk-reggae-soul, and eschews the metal such a blend would normally take on board. Tokin’ figures pretty high on MonkeyRat’s agenda.

Listen to “Amsterdam” from MonkeyRat’s Sunshine

With a somewhat different agenda, the album Deeyah Presents Nordic Woman brings together 18 female artists from across Scandinavia – a track apiece, all previously released. The liner notes refer to “Nordic legends [which] feature women of extraordinary strength, wisdom and valour”. Deeyah is a Norwegian-Pakistani/Afghan producer dedicated to celebrating female musical heritage and bringing attention to the barriers women face. The album mostly draws from folk in all its forms, with the powerful vocals of “Raudan Synty” by Finland’s Suden Aika a particular standout.

Catching up with what’s come in over the summer months, the album shouting loudest is the debut from Icelandic sextet Of Monsters and Men. They’re cleaning up in America with what, on the face of it, seems to be a hybrid of Mumford & Sons and Arcade Fire which could have been cooked up in a laboratory. But My Head is an Animal offers more than a first pass suggests. Nanna Bryndis Hilmardóttir’s voice carries anthemic melodies, but is immediate and fragile – a counterpoint to the drama of the surging performances which underpin it. Intimacy is usually sacrificed when embracing the big music, but Of Monsters and Men strike a rare balance, unlike our next Icelanders who go all out for impact.

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