mon 15/04/2024

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 13 | reviews, news & interviews

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 13

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 13

Elegiac Faroese singer-songwriter, flourishing Norwegian creativity, quirky Danish pop and all points between

Faroese singer-songwriter Eivør: once heard, her 'Bridges' album is irresistible

Very often, the greatest impact comes without shouting. Subtlety can have a power lingering longer than the two-minute thrill of a yell. So it is with Bridges, the eighth album by Eivør. In the past, the Faroese singer-songwriter has collaborated with Canada’s Bill Bourne, the Danish Radio Big Band and Ireland’s Donal Lunny, and taken turns into country and jazz.

Bridges builds on her last album though, 2012’s Room, as further evidence that she is now more focused than ever.

Bridges is an all English-language album. It opens with the elegiac “Remember Me”: the song asks “Will I leave a trace?” and could be addressing death or another loss. As it ends, its atmosphere hangs in the air. Overall, the album is about bonds and the inherent uncertainties defining them, and each unhurried song progresses with a melodic authority, one verse building on the previous. The title track nods back to her folk roots.

Eivør Pálsdóttir is not obscure. In Iceland, she recently headlined two nights at Reykjavík’s Harpa concert hall, the equivalent of a pair at London’s Royal Festival Hall – no mean feat in a country with a population of 320,000. She is resident in Denmark and well-known there. To the immediate south, Germany has embraced her. Whether the affecting Bridges will take her even further afield is impossible to call. But it could be. Once heard, its pull is irresistible.

Watch the video for “Remember Me” from Eivør’s Bridges

Norway’s Christian Wallumrød also doesn’t shout. Pianokammer is his first solo album after many collaborations and, for ECM, releases with the Christian Wallumrød Trio and the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble. Pianokammer is solo as such, and also not issued by ECM. The press material neither says nor implies the album is a deliberate break with what has gone before, but it certainly distills his music to its core essence – the relationship between the player-composer and the piano (the album was recorded in 2013 and 2014 with three different grand pianos). The six pieces range from the Satie-esque through explorations of the sonic decay and vibrations of the instrument’s strings to compositions where precisely picked notes sound like individual raindrops plunking on a window. Pianokammer is a resumé of Wallumrød’s talents and cohesively shows creativity flourishing on its own. If this new, direct voice is his future, more please.

Listen to “Hoksang” from Christian Wallumrød’s Pianokammer

Another artist asserting their own voice is Denmark’s Oh Land. Beyond her own country, her previous albums were issued by Sony and David Sitek of TV on the Radio’s imprint. Her fourth, Earth Sick, arrives on her own label. The international release comes just before a profile-raising cinema appearance in the Danish western The Salvation. Like Eivør, Oh Land – Nanna Øland Fabricius – is not obscure. She has appeared as a coach on Danish TV’s junior version The Voice and is a favourite of Katy Perry. Earth Sick is quirky modern pop: highlights are the sinuous title track and the exotic, kinetic, string-infused “Doubt My Legs”. The album is a treat. Red Lines, from fellow Dane Hannah Schneider (her third album), is in similar territory but more sugary, less assured and relies on the repetition of chorus or vocal lines to makes its impact.

Watch the video for “Flags” from Oh Land’s Earth Sick

Pop is also visited on Gemini Gemini, the fourth album from Sweden’s Jennie Abrahamson. Marrying the pulse of The Knife to the dynamics of Ane Brun (like Brun, Abrahamson has performed with Peter Gabriel), its pick is the insistent “Wolf”. Blind Night, the second album from Norway’s Team Me is similarly and poppily direct, but the thump of Arcade Fire looms distractingly, as does a tendency to swamp the songs in anthemic vocal lines. Blind Night does not allow itself to breath. Also Norwegian, Sandra Kolstad has a firmer grasp on who she is. The shimmering dance-pop of her third album Zero Gravity State of Mind has an attractive swing which runs counter to the use of programmed beats.

As ever, much that’s experimental has come in, the bulk from Norway. Sweden, though, has let loose The Reason Why Vol. 2 from Goran Kajfes’ Subtropic Orchestra. Like its Vol. 1 predecessor, it collects interpretations of compositions by disparate writers, ranging in this case from Grizzly Bear to Milton Nascimento. There’s no doubt Kajfes is a winning trumpeter and that his presence is engaging, but this whistle-stop tour around the world comes across as a compilation album rather than a unified listen. At track four – Nascimento's “A Lua Girou” – the wish surfaces for Kajfes to settle with one style and explore it.

Listen to “Yakar Inceden Inceden” from Goran Kajfes’ Subtropic Orchestra’s The Reason Why Vol. 2

The same applies to Tonik Ensemble’s Snapshots, an album of acoustic-infused electronica from Iceland’s Anton Kaldal Ágústsson. After opening with a cool slab of glitchiness overlaid with reflective wordless vocals, it unfolds to incorporate Balearic-style soft blooping and trip-hop-ish deliberations. The human voice is incorporated with deftness. Ágústsson has a sure touch, but Snapshots doesn’t hang together as an album.

Turning to Norway, Bonita, the first studio collaboration of improvising vocalist Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus, takes music to places it’s hardly been before. Alternately playful and intense (with a disturbing edge) the album could be a product of the pioneering boundary-breaking label ESP records, whose Patty Waters comes to mind. With Steps, Kjetil Husebø – more usually tied to electronica – has made a solo piano album with a sensibility drawing on serial and systems music. Steps is not jazz or modern classical, but could be both. Underpinned by a firm, rhythmic left hand, this is a satisfying album of deliberations. PUUL are the duo of electronicist Terje Evenson and British bassist Tim Harries. Their eponymous album is defined by a minimalist pulse and a distance which suggests a cave with Harries at its mouth and Evenson filling it with swirls of sound washing around its depths.

Listen to “Ornella” from PUUL’s eponymous album

Both Evenson and Harries are members of Spin Marvel, which also features trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær and drummer Martin France. Their third album InFolding shares PUUL’s evocation of church-like enclosed spaces but brings an exotic edge by inviting in Jon Hassell’s Fourth World music and the jazzier end of King Crimson. Although similarly international – a Swedish and Norwegian core are joined by an Italian guitarist and the Swedish vocalist Mariam Wallentine (Mariam the Believer, Wildbirds & Peacedrums) – LabField’s compelling Bucket of Songs has a firmly Norwegian genre-crossing outlook with elements of gospel and gypsy rhythms. Yet it sounds consistent and unique.

Less out there is Sweden’s Garden, whose dark rock has an Eighties feel. Shades of The Chameleons, Echo & the Bunnymen and pre-first album Sisters of Mercy colour their Garden of Deception album. Dwelling on melody rather than the favoured styles carries the album. Even better, and again in a mid-Eighties vein, is How You Spend Your Days by Norway’s Dig Deeper. The lively album has the bounciness of Ocean Rain Bunnymen shot through with a strong taste of both early Dream Syndicate and Green on Red. Go for track seven, the epic “Cast No Light”.

Listen to “Cast No Light” from Dig Deeper's How You Spend Your Days

The Danish duo The Wands also look back. Despite a tiresome Liam Gallagher-ish vocal drawl (one of their songs is cheekily called “She’s Electric”, pilfering the Oasis title), they look to garage rock on their The Dawn album in the same way as Texas’ Black Angels. With wheezy organ, clumping beats and the drone of Spacemen 3, The Wands exude comedown vibes and a general grouchiness which would render any trip a bad one. “It tastes so sweet, it reeks of death,” they declare on “Get It out of Your System”. It’s a fair bet The Wands are not having as miserable time as they like to depict – instead, despite themselves, The Dawn is great fun.

The best of what’s covered here can’t fail to surprise, then thrill and become integral to the soundtrack of life. Finally, as the question has been raised, an explanation of the make-up of these round-ups. Providing it has not been covered elsewhere on theartsdesk, whatever turns up is included. It just needs to be a new, or recent, release. That simple.

Watch the video for “War” from The Wands’ The Dawn

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