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Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 14 | reviews, news & interviews

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 14

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 14

Edgy Icelanders, an atmospheric Swede, an instantly memorable Norwegian and much more

Iceland's Pink Street Boys: an aural steamroller

Don’t be fooled by the header picture. Despite the relaxed poses, Iceland’s Pink Street Boys are amongst the angriest, loudest, most unhinged bands on the planet right now. Hits #1, their debut vinyl album – which follows distorted-sounding, lower-than-lo-fi cassette and digital-only releases – is so impolite and wild that once the rest of the world gets the message the story of what constitutes the current-day music of their home country will have to be rewritten.

They are not an anomaly. Iceland is currently witnessing a groundswell of loosely punk–inspired bands drawing from the edgy spirit of seminal Eighties Icelandic bands Þeyr and the pre-Sugarcubes Purrkur Pillnikk.

Hits #1 features no glitchy beats, no otherworldy vocals, no bendy melodies. Instead, it is about juddering full-on attack. The unifying elements are pile-driver guitar as lacerating as James Williamson’s on Raw Power, muddy, shouted vocals, layers of distortion, feedback and stray noises – as if Space Ritual Hawkwind were being chased by a pack of dogs and then put through a blender.

Listen to “Kick the Trash Out” from Pink Street Boys's Hits #1

The overdriven aural steamroller that is Hits #1 opens with “Body Language” which, after what sounds like a jet engine revving up, settles into attacking the ears with sheet-metal guitar, clattering Keith Moon drums, bottom-heavy, wall-rattling bass and an unintelligible vocal bawling in the midst of this maelstrom. All the while, grinding and whooshing sounds weave in and out of the cacophony. Hits #1 (which is not on Amazon, but copies are available from their label) has no time for slow tracks.

Pink Street Boys would be a stand-out wherever or whenever they were from, but they’ve tough competition from other recent arrivals from the North. The Diamond Waves EP by Sweden’s Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation – their third release – is a 12-inch, four-track atmospheric wonder which, while shaking hands with Mazzy Star, The Rain Parade and Spiritualized, sounds like none of them due to the hymnal beauty imbuing the songs. Melody and forward motion are to the fore and, overall, Öhrn and her band suggest ancient and mystical artefacts found in a newly discovered cave.

Watch the video for "Free" from Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation's Diamond Waves EP

As striking, but more earth-bound is Runaway, the debut EP by Norway’s hotly tipped electro-slanted singer-songwriter AURORA. A favourite of Katy Perry’s, the Bergen-born Aurora Aksnes’s cut-glass voice has a seemingly endless range which carries melodies so instantly memorable they already sound like hit singles. Singing of disassociation from society and outsiderdom, AURORA sounds as though her 18 years have not been spent running with the pack. Although nothing is certain, everything about her suggests imminent international breakthrough

Listen to “Running With the Wolves” from AURORA's Runaway EP

From Tromsø in Norway’s north, Anneli Drecker has already made world-wide waves with Bel Canto and Røyksopp but her new album Rocks & Straws is a definitive statement about where she grew up. The lyrics are English-language translations of poems by the Norwegian writer Arvid Hanssen. Though not the first musical setting of his poetry, this is the first in English. With its words centring on the environment and people’s relationship to it – wind, rain, snow, seabirds and fisher-folk – Rocks & Straws is, unlike many of Drecker’s previous recordings, not electronic based but largely acoustic and features delicate, swelling orchestration. With her distinctive, emotive voice dominating, the album is a sensitive tone poem about homecoming and roots.

It’s hard to find anything specifically Danish or conspicuously enthralling about the debut album from Shiny Darkly, Little Earth. Their effective and dense mélange draws from early Echo & the Bunnymen and The Jesus & Mary Chain, and tops it off with deep Ian Curtis vocals. Their compatriots Alcoholic Faith Mission are similarly non-Scandinavian in outlook and, on the synthpop-inclined Orbitor, pull off the neat trick of marrying Animal Collective’s fragmentation with the epic outlook of Arcade Fire. Each song on the album is a potential anthem. The Migrant (the assumed name of singer-songwriter Bjarke Bendtsen) is also Danish and has a more singular voice. His album The Flood shifts from acoustic-bedded reflections to jagged, desert-scorched epics with hints of early Green On Red. “Belly of a Man” and “Silence” are the pick tracks.

Listen to “Silence” from The Migrant's The Flood


Three other bands with leanings towards the familiar are Sweden’s Pale Honey, and Norway’s Cartoon Shadows and Los Plantronics. On debut album Youth, Pale Honey set to the task of minimally integrating PJ Harvey, The Breeders and Pixies. It’s effective, but feels too much an exercise and could do with some unfettered abandon. Cartoon Shadows’s single “Gem” is rootsy, hippy-vibed soul in the way of mid-period Santana or Redbone and may appeal to Toploader fans. With Surfing Times, Los Plantronics romp through a hybrid of Spaghetti Western music and surf instrumentals, while layering Mariachi brass on the top. Their demolition of Gene Clark’s “So You Say You Lost Your Baby” beggars belief.

At a polar opposite musically, comrade Norwegian Stockhaus (Kristian Stockhaus) has issued his second album, Labor of Love. Best-known as a producer, mixer and member of the challenging rock-jazz freaks Ungdomskullen, Stockhaus has, on the album, created a series of beats-underpinned songs tapping into a Balearic rave-electronica suggesting the moment house went electro rather than acid house. It might work better in a club than on album. Also electronically bedded are Iceland’s Samaris, whose spectral Silkidrangar Sessions reworks tracks from their Silkidrangar album live in the studio with additional musicians to make them even more shadowy and translucent.

Watch Samaris recording Silkidrangar Sessions

There is nothing at all transparent about the robust Firehouse, a most striking album birthed by the always fertile world of Norwegian genre-blurring experimenta and jazz. Firehouse is by Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity, a sax, double bass and drums trio led by the eponymous percussionist. This turbulent album takes the craziness of Bitches Brew and adds a punk-style attack. If three well-schooled jazz musicians were force-fed Motörhead, this would be the result (nothing from Firehouse has been uploaded to the internet, so a sample cannot be included here).

Another trio, The Skydive Trio are led by guitarist Thomas T Dahl, who is joined by bassist Mats Eilertsen and Finnish drummer Olavi Louhiviuri. Their Copenhagen-recorded debut album Sun Moee is sinuous, and dominated by the rounded tones Dahl’s electric guitar. It could have been issued by Impulse! Records in the late Sixties. With the compelling Angående Omstendigheter Som Ikke Lar Seg Nedtegne, the similarly configured acoustic trio Monkey Plot veer from rhythmic bases to the fragmented. Appropriately, for something so shape-shifting, the album’s title translates as “about circumstances which cannot be recorded”.

Finally, to Finland. Not the country, but the Norwegian quartet. Finland comprises four well-known musicians: Ivar Grydeland (guitar: Huntsville), Pål Hausken (drums: In the Country, Ida Jenshus), Jo Berger Myhre (bass: Splashgirl, Nils Petter Molvær, Mariam the Believer) and Morten Qvenild (keyboards: In the Country, sPaceMonkey, Susanna & the Magical Orchestra). They have played together since 2010, but the album Rainy Omen – recorded in June 2011 – is the result of their first time in the studio. It’s terrific.

Listen to "No Low Voices" from Finland's Rainy Omen

Finland's album comprises five pieces, ranging from four to almost 14 minutes long. Surprisingly, given the nature of most of the contributors' other work, the album is not all instrumental. Equally surprisingly, given the same thing, it is not challenging experimenta. Overall, Rainy Omen is characterised by a hard motorik rhythm and recognisably rock instrumental interplay in the manner of Explosions in the Sky and Sonic Youth. If Finland were on stage at, say, an All Tomorrow’s Parties event any audience seeking post-rock thrills would find much to chew on.

And, for this column, the name is helpful as nothing has come in from Finland itself. To reiterate what has been said before: providing it has not been covered elsewhere on theartsdesk, whatever turns up is included. It just needs to be a new, or recent, release.

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