wed 24/07/2024

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

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 5

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

Efterklang (left to right Mads Brauer, Rasmus Stolberg, Casper Clausen): seen in Pyramiden, the former Russian mining settlement on the island of Spitsbergen, which inspired their new albumAndreas Koefoed

A lot has blown in since the last Scandinavian round-up. The most recent releases sifted here include singer-songwriter intimacy, various forms of electropop, several shades of jazz experimenta, joyous dance-pop and some distinctly non-Scandinavian flavours. High points are many. Satisfaction is a certainty.

On their last album, 2010’s Magic Chairs, Danish moodists Efterklang gently embraced a more direct way of presenting their songwriting. Up to that point, their sepulchral melodies had intertwined with instrumentation that merged glitchiness with the organic. Magic Chairs smoothed the edges off, yet the songs took on a new life live. The band have discussed the inspiration for the album and the processes behind it here on theartsdesk.

Although their new album Piramida is both a step back to before Magic Chairs and a development of it, knowing nothing about its evolution doesn’t prevent being sucked into its currents. Piramida has Magic Chairs' more linear song styles but, instrumentally, it’s akin to their debut album Tripper. Casper Clausen’s vocals are (very) close-miked and aim directly for the ear. What could be jarring, staccato rhythms are treated, softening them. Despite the directness of the melodies and the voice, Piramida is out-of-focus and gauzy. The key song is “The Ghost”, which is coloured by brass and rotating rhythms. Step-by-step, layer-upon-layer it builds, climaxing with a gospel-like chant. Then, suddenly, it fades. Piramida is a wilful yet rewarding album made by a band testing and extending their limits.

Efterklang perform  Piramida's "Ghost" with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at Sydney Opera House

Sweden’s Jens Lekman's third album is also about mood. The Gothenburg singer-songwriter has reflectively set his own pace for almost 10 years, and it's been five since his last album, Night Falls Over Kortedala. The Melbourne-recorded I Know What Love Isn’t has traces of Everything But the Girl and Aztec Camera, with jazzy twists and a slight taste of country. The dramas Lekman sings of spring from observations on how small things signpost greater things: dandruff on a shoulder, what follows after using a bag of frozen peas to cool off on a hot day. Lekman never gets hot under the collar, but his inclination to understate doesn't shroud the dilemmas he wrestles with.

Listen to the title track from Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn't

His fellow Swedes iamamiwhoami have made a splash Lekman would probably wince at. Their oblique videos, posted online, have attracted attention for a couple of years. The husband-and-wife duo Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund style themselves as a "multi-media entity". Nonetheless, they've made an album, kin. Decoupled from the visuals (kin has been uploaded as a series of "chapters") iamamiwhoami reveal themselves to be moody, school-of-The-Knife-Fever-Ray electropoppers. Really great and jolly Swedish, but in being so textbook kin is unlikely to escape the shadow cast by the awards and praise the videos have received.     

The other new arrivals from Denmark aren't all as internet-friendly as iamamiwhoami and emphasise the difficulties in getting to grips with what the country’s sound might be – if there is one. Hold on to Nothing, the first EP – a red-vinyl 10-inch - by the duo Broken Twin is a melancholic and accomplished calling card, the sort of debut which instantly makes its presence felt. The four songs ebb and flow with a familial resemblance to our own Lanterns on the Lake and Parades-era Efterklang. Una's Présente Télé Rouge is equally striking and obviously don’t look locally for inspiration. The vocals of Una Skott (a six-piece band play on the album, yet Skott writes, produces, mixes and plays on Présente Télé Rouge) have the fuzzy quality of Lush, but the straightforward songs are rooted in the French electropop of Antena and Elli et Jacno. A winner. Strange to hear this from Denmark.

Broken Twin perform "Beaches" from the Hold on to Nothing EP

Although Cody are Danes too, the roots of their music are equally geographically pinpointable. On Fractures, their Nordicana (Nordic Americana) sits alongside Calexico and Townes van Zandt. Sensitive string arrangements lift the album. As familiar with American archetypes are Danish rockers Thee Attacks, whose Liam Watson-produced second album Dirty Sheets takes them beyond the Sixties’ R&B of their debut into a hypersonic, groove-infused MC5/glam/Hives mélange. Pity about the distracting, puerile and sexist sleeve image.

In from Finland is Mental Health, the new EP from LCMDF. A terrific leap forward from their album Love and Nature, the four-tracker marries their urban-influenced pop to a new, wide-screen perspective. Lead cut “I Go Insane” tacks the rhythms of The Beatles' “Tomorrow Never Knows” to a melody that’s an irresistible über-earworm. “Paranoia” is as insistent, and equally great.

Listen to "I go Insane" from LCMDF's Mental Health EP

StaRRk, the new album from fellow Finns RinneRadio, is more esoteric - melding the wind instruments of jazz to violin, harmonium and a dark electronica. Texture-wise, StaRRk is more akin to slowed-down metal than jazz and comes across like the soundtrack to dust settling after a volcanic eruption. More sunny – they even have song called “Sunny Season” – are Helsinki’s Big Wave Riders, whose debut album Life Less Ordinary veers between the rave-pop of Screamadelica Primal Scream and the jagged edges of The Bodines. In another era, Creation Records would have snapped them up.

Watch the the video for "Black Pink" from RinneRadio's StaRRk

Norway’s Philco Fiction are trio fronted by songwriter Turid Soldberg. On their debut album Take it Personal, Soldberg's vocals bring an otherness to an electropop melodically tinged with a Middle European lilt. Songs open sparsely and build to choruses that worm in. What initially seems subtle, possibly slight and Björk-ish is actually pure pop concealed beneath surface textures.

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.

The more in-your-face Dead Skeletons are a dark collision of psychedelia, Krautrock and glam that's a neat counterpoint to Of Monsters and Men. With the compelling "Dead Is God", they're toe-tappers too.

Watch the video for Dead Skeletons' "Dead is God"

As idiosyncratic as Dead Skeletons are Finland’s Kiki  Kiki Pau, whose second album Pines is issued via download only. Being mixed by Gustav Ejstes of Sweden's Dungen gives some idea of the where Kiki Pau are coming from – over four, elongated pieces Pines touches base with Spacemen 3, Country Joe & the Fish, Neil Young and all points between on the map of inner space. A fabulous album.

Listen to “Tomte Mars” from Kiki Pau’s Pines

Fellow Finns Koria Kitten Riot’s (actually a vehicle for solo artist Antti Reikko) The Lows & the Highs is a poppy mix – despite the gratuitous swearing - of singer-songwriter intimacy with what sounds like limited use of electronica. However, all the instruments are live, bringing a fluidity lacking in folktronica. Also in was the news that the great, Finnish Balearic-influenced duo Shine 2009 decided on a temporary musical refocus so had changed their name to Cup before returning. The hiatus was marked with a final - for now - video as Shine 2009, seen here.

Watch the video for Shine 2009's "Our Nation"

A pair of striking albums also need covering: To the Soul by Sweden’s Frida Hyvönen and Wild Dog by Norway’s Susanna. To the Soul, regardless of where it’s from, is exceptional and amongst the year’s best so far. Hyvönen’s third, it’s a bestseller in her native Sweden. To the Soul has an identifiably Nordic lustre. Hyvönen's cut-glass delivery is as regal as her look. A sense of detachment haunts the album, but seems more a result of nostalgia and loss than escape. Wild Dog by Susanna (K. Wallumrød -  who also records as Susanna and the Magical Orchestra and is the sister of Christian) is a jazz-inflected – in the Blue-era Joni Mitchell way – suite of songs that seduce with their quiet intensity.

Finally, from Scandinavia’s close relation Estonia and the always interesting Seksound label come the eight-piece Tartu Popi ja Roki Instituut (the Tartu pop and rock institute) with the fabulous and Estonian-sung Biidermeier-Psühedeellia, an aural sigh of an album which holds its head high in a world populated by Stereolab and Belle & Sebastian. An immediate album which proves that, like everything else here, wherever it's from music always has the power to reach out.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Listen to "Berta ja Harald" from Tartu Popi ja Roki Instituut's Biidermeier-Psühedeellia


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