Welcome to the tenth edition of Nordic Music Scene, a monthly section within God is in the TV that is dedicated to reviews and news of artists from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and their associated territories, focusing on indie artists and labels.
In this edition: Roxette, Rånda, Sínai, KAKKMADDAFAKKA, Tula, Chain Wallet, The Entrepreneurs, Cyrus Reynolds, Nightwish, Alan Walker, Helga, Summer Heart, CHINAH, Selma Judith, The Ghost of Helags, Little White Things, Pussy Riot, Lokoy, Amanda Tenfjord, Sigrid
Sections this month: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists/EPs/Live Shows/Videos/News/Down Memory Lane
Singles, EPs and albums are now rated out of 10.
All the editions of Nordic Music Scene are stored under ‘Features’ on the GIITTV website or can be located by searching the website for ‘Nordic Music Scene’.
(Norway/UK) Sínai – A.N.X.I.E.T.Y
Having been born in Oslo (with Eritrean and Ethiopian roots), Sínai qualifies for NMS. She released debut singles ‘Drive’ and ‘Race Horse’ earlier in 2018 and she returns with ‘A.N.X.I.E.T.Y’.
The song’s raison d’être is a little convoluted. It seems that, travelling to a music session one day she was wracked with nerves and to combat it started thinking of random acronyms to avoid listening to sad songs, but had to concede defeat although not before concocting one for anxiety.
The trouble is, “A new ex is evident, that’s you” is a little baffling and contrived, and might benefit from being drawn out a little more. It doesn’t make the same impression as, say, Rachel Stevens’ simple ‘Sweet Dreams My L.A. Ex’. Apparently it refers to the ‘ex’ being her anxiety personified. She’s ending her relationship with it, stopping it from controlling her life.
Ultimately, the acronym exercise calmed her nerves and that’s all that matters. Mental health is a concern for her generally, and as an anxiety sufferer herself.
She’s better known as a songwriter than singer having worked with many artists and is wholly independent, with her own business.
The tune is catchy and will soon have you foot tapping along to it.
(Norway) KAKKMADDAFAKKA – Naked Blue
No, I don’t know how to pronounce it either, though it sounds a little rude, bro.
The band, all classically trained musicians as many in Norway seem to be, released back-to-back albums in 2016 and 2017 then spent the majority of 2018 on the road, gathering inspiration. With their fifth full-length album on the way, the six-piece outfit returns with ‘Naked Blue’, a mellower affair. It was released on 30th November via Bergen Mafia Records. The album will show on 22nd March next year, and themes include “relationships, tales from Bergen and mental health. I guess this is the most intimate Kakkmaddafakka album and the most honest album we have ever done”.
Speaking about the new single, the band says, “It was one of those songs that only took five minutes to write. The weather in Bergen this spring and summer made us uber-creative. I was lying on the balcony boiling and dreaming in the sun. Out of nowhere I felt the urge to go inside and play guitar. Five minutes later I had the song. It just felt natural to go with as the first single! It represents the sound of this record! And we really like it a lot”.
Compared openly with The War on Drugs, it seems they’ve suspended hostilities and gone on them during the opening bars. It’s all a bit shoe-gazy. But then the tempo ramps up and I’m intrigued by the singer (I’m assuming it is Axel Vindenes), he sounds like a male version of Das Body’s Ellie Linden. I’d be intrigued to hear a duet.
Something of a slow burner which is creeping up on me with every play.
KAKKMADDAFAKKA will tour extensively in Europe during January/February and April but with only two UK Dates – Corporation, Sheffield on 26th January and Nell’s London on 28th January 2019.
(Norway) Chain Wallet – No Ritual
Chain Wallet is a Bergen-based three-piece which will release its second album, No Ritual, on February 15th, 2019. This is the title track from it.
Dream pop seems to be the order of the day across Scandinavia and this 1980s-themed overtly guitar-led wander, in a Jesus and Mary Chain-manner, is a prime example of it.
The track, and apparently the album, chronicles the introspective and confused mindset of the millennial (from an objective viewpoint I assume, they don’t look to be that young), something I know absolutely nothing about, but which many will no doubt respond to. The band says, “The lyrics evoke a sense of being stuck between different planes of existence.” In the cloud..?
While Chain Wallet’s first album was dreamed up in their rainy hometown of Bergen, this one found them in a small cabin on a remote beach in the southwest of Norway.
(Denmark) CHINAH – Strange is Better
There has been a lack of Danish artists in here just recently so I’m more than happy to feature two that I’ve just come across and who have released singles in the last couple of months or so. The first is CHINAH, a trio from Copenhagen who have also just released their debut album, Anyone.
‘Strange is Better’ is a Banks-like R&B effort with an electronic twist. The vocalist (Fine Glindvad) has quite a beguiling voice that sucks you in.
Chinah originally formed in 2014 as a folk outfit before experimenting with artistic minimalism and synthesised R&B production.
They played a sold-out London show in November so perhaps they might come back and do a proper tour?
(Denmark) Selma Judith – ‘Kind of Lonely’
This is Selma’s debut release and according to her Facebook page she’s only just started out this year although I read she’s previously collaborated with MØ, Vera and The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, which is high flying. She’s also just released a cover of Jorja Smith’s ‘A Prince’.
She’s got the voice and can convey the soulfulness of the song perfectly. I’m not convinced by the video. In the first part it looks like she’s just crawled out of bed looking for her first fix of the day and I’m not sure that the shower exhibitionism is really necessary. What does it add?
But then I’m not the target market, am I?
(Sweden) The Ghost of Helags – I Carry your Heart
Electronic-pop duo The Ghost of Helags (I’ve no idea what it means) released their new single ‘I Carry Your Heart’ on December 14th, through Germany’s Snowhite Records. It is the first track from their forthcoming EP, due out in April 2019.
The song is written “at a fragile point in life, where you realise that nothing counts more than respect, love and appreciation for the ones who are closest to you. It was written at a low point to carry on to the right path and let old baggage from the past go.”
‘I Carry Your Heart’ was recorded as a one-take in an old music school in Uppsala in Sweden, with backing vocals from Danish singer Sidsel Marie Søholm. Hence it has a rawness that fits well with the pleasant harmonies. Made me think of the Watson Twins.
(Sweden/Ireland) Little White Things – In the Fire
Little White Things are a duo of the Dublin-raised David Behan – not a bad surname to have for an artist – and the Swedish born Max Bergstrom. This is their new single ‘In The Fire’, which explores relationships, friendships, and enemies in the modern age.
It was written over Christmas last year and originally written on a 4-track with just a drum machine and an acoustic guitar.
The band says: “‘In The Fire’ is our interpretation of the human relationship and how it continues to evolve whilst staying completely the same and how we all just might love that. Depending on your definition of love.” Hm. Depends on what the meaning of is is, as Bill Clinton might say.
Little White Things as a project might never have existed, were it not for a chance meeting. After the collapse of his previous band, Max was close to returning to his native Sweden, but after bumping into the exuberant David at a late-night party, the Irishman’s vision for his next musical project was enough to convince his new pal to stick around.
They have over 50 songs written and are eager to get out on the road to display the fruits of their labour.
It’s an exuberant song which might perhaps have benefitted more from a summer release. There’s a disturbing line which seems to go “nuke them in the fire” but I’m sure it’s only my geriatric hearing. If not, over to you, Peter Kay.
Singles from previously featured artists
(Sweden) Tula – Glow (from the EP Skin)
Swedish-born Berlin-based dream pop artist TULA returns with ‘Glow’, lifted from her EP ‘Skin’ which was released on November 23rd, via I LOVE THAT SONG.
‘Skin’ is the culmination of her work throughout the year. Embracing more adventurous strides, the EP aims to mark her place on the sombre side of progressive dark-pop.
Actually, as with the track I reviewed previously, ‘Colours’ which is also on the EP, I don’t hear too much that could be classed as ‘dark’ in Tula’s repertoire, although it certainly qualifies as “brooding”.
Speaking about her new EP, TULA said, “Cell memory of the skin lasts a whole life, while a memory of the mind dissolves gradually.” Quite.
‘Skin’ was produced in co-operation with Klas Åhlund, who has worked with Robyn and Madonna.
(Denmark) The Entrepreneurs – Say So
The Entrepreneurs will release their debut album ‘Noise & Romance’ on 1st February 2019.
This is their latest single from it, ‘Say So’. There seems to be a lot of energy coming out of Denmark just now and this is no exception.
Bass player Anders Hvass says, “It’s a surreal story about being controlled by your emotions without having any control of your body and mind. The lyrics are about having your back against the wall and having existential doubts about who you are as a human being. In the same way, the video exhibits a group of individuals in a civilised setting broken down to the bare essence of the human being. We thought it would be interesting to use the fierce drums in interaction with these animal-like and reckless individuals.”
The video underlines the song’s energy with a seemingly gloomy social get-together ending in uncontrolled dancing
After touring extensively with their debut EP, the trio gained a reputation as one of the fiercest live bands in Denmark, bringing their experimental variations of punk, grunge and post-rock to both Denmark’s venues and festivals including Roskilde, Spot and Reeperbahn. The band will be playing at Eurosonic in January.
The Entrepreneurs are lead singer and guitarist Mathias Bertelsen, bass player Anders Hvass, and drummer Jonas Wetterslev.
I wasn’t entirely convinced when I reviewed their previous single but this one can’t be dismissed.
(Sweden) Helga – In the Wilderness
The last time we ran a song from Helga (NMS #7 – October 2018) she was singing about the environment and on this latest single, ‘In the Widerness’, taken from her ‘Nebulous’ EP released on December 7th, she tackles the same subject from her cabin in the Dalarna woods in Central Sweden, where she lives with just her guitar for company.
Helga says the new songs are “a musical translation of my inner and physical world. I personally love reverb-drenched music and sounds, drawing inspiration from my dream world, the misty forests, and Swedish folk music.”
‘In The Wilderness’ reflects on the state of the natural world from the perspective of someone who spends her life close to nature. Her meditation upon the state of the world, while full of beauty, is tinged with darkness and melancholy.
Heavier than previous efforts (as I remarked previously, Spotify classifies her as ‘metal’, and there is none of the ‘pop and ‘folk’ that was identifiable on the earlier track), pounding drums and mournful guitar lines are juxtaposed with Helga’s haunting vocals. And yes, there’s plenty of reverb.
(Sweden) Summer Heart – Touch
Summer Heart, which is the solo project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Alexander, popped up in NMS #6 with one of his swoony, woozy R’n B-pop ’12 Songs of Summer’ project, what I described at the time as “the perfect soundtrack to this everlasting summer.” I added, “I’m not sure what it will sound like in January.”
That summer is long gone, and it is January and the Winter of our Discontent. But still those summery songs keep coming. This is the latest one, ‘Touch’.
He says, “the lyrics for ‘Touch’ are inspired by the idea of feeling different. Not better or anything, just different. You know how we all more or less are trying to play along to the game that life is but without knowing exactly how to or what is actually expected of you. Doing music can definitely make you feel like an outsider from time to time, so I guess that’s where this idea is coming from in the first place.”
Actually, it’s probably coming out at the right time, what with the shortest day behind us and the beach to look forward to, though that’s a long time off yet.
‘Touch’ was released on 14th December via Perfect Texture. Summer Heart will be embarking on a 16-date U.S. tour in February/March 2019.
(Norway) Lokoy – Can We All Go to Bed
Sløtface’s pop-punk artist-turned-producer, the 21-year-old bassist (Lasse) Lokoy has shared his new video for ‘Can We All Go to Bed’, the lead tack taken from November’s EP of the same name.
Lokoy says, “The video was filmed in a place called ‘The Dock’ in Bergen, Norway. It’s an industrial landscape which constantly moves (shipping containers and cars are always moving and transforming the area). The studio where we often work is based in the dock, it’s always interesting to see something so familiar constantly change, it’s a really inspiring place for making music.
I made the video with Samuel Rud Dale, the aim was to get the aesthetics of the video to be a mix between Bon Iver and Boy Pablo. This live-version is a more intimate version of ‘Can We All Go To Bed’ and I hope people will enjoy this version as much as the original recorded version.”
Lokoy’s solo work is considerably different from what he does with Sløtface, which makes you wonder what his longer-term aim is (although Sløtface are reported to be ready to release some new material of their own). It’s rare to see a bass guitar being used in a lead capacity like this.
(Norway) Amanda Tenfjord – First Impression (featured track, Pick a Card)
This is somewhat delayed, the EP was released in November, but in our defence we actually showcased three of the four tracks in separate editions of NMS previously (#3, #7 and #8), leaving the one that is featured here, ‘Pick a Card’, which is a brand new one.
There has been quite a lot of promotion of Amanda already, and some of it verging on hype, “the next big thing” and so on. I’ve previously noted the similarity in some of her songs and her vocal delivery with Sigrid, an artist who has had massive publicity despite not having released an album yet (that’s in March by the way, see the News section).
The Sigrid connection should not really be a surprise as Amanda co-writes with the likes of Askjell Solstrand, one of Norway’s hottest writers, who also works with Sigrid and with Odd Martin, who works with Aurora. As I’ve said before there is a distinct Norwegian sound emerging across many genres and one that is quite differentiated from that of Sweden.
I also thought I heard in the track ‘First Impression’ something of the Netherlands’ Kosovan immigrant Naaz in her.
Originally hailing from a small village in western Norway called Tennfjord, she is now based in Trondheim. She was recently awarded Norway’s Forbildeprisen, with previous recipients including Aurora and Gundelach.
I would describe her as an observational songwriter in the same way as there are observational comedians. Creating a picture of a person in your mind out of a first impression; rejecting a potential mate for being second-best; and being stuck in a relationship, or job because of inertia, are the subject matter of the first three songs on the EP. ‘Pick a Card’ as the title suggests deals with the wider issue of decision and choice making, something she describes herself as being particularly poor at.
It’s a much slower track, with an r’n’b feel to it. It has the same qualities, in the production and her voice, as the other tracks though I believe she still sounds unnervingly like Sigrid with the same rapid-fire delivery though her lyrics do appear to be a little deeper.
Will she follow the same meteoric path as Sigrid? Probably not – if that was going to happen it would have done by now. I see Amanda as more of a slow burner. A twinkling pulsar out there in the heavens, rather than a shooting star. But that’s no bad thing. The former tend to stick around for a long time while the latter’s trajectory is one of burn-out.
Incidentally, looking like she might be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sister won’t do her any harm. Neither will supporting Highasakite on their seven-arena Norwegian tour from March, though I note that it doesn’t include the UK and Ireland dates, which is a shame.
Undoubtedly Finland’s best known and most respected band, Nightwish wrapped up their 75-show global tour in Manchester on 11th December. The symphonic metal outfit concluded their ‘Decades’ tour, which was a special set containing songs from across the full spectrum of their work since 1997.
“Having had time to reflect, this was quite possibly the most impressive live performance I’ve seen, and fully merited the standing ovation it got” was my verdict.
Find out why, here:
(Norway) Alan Walker
The Norwegian producer/DJ and king of EDM played two shows in the UK in December and GIITTV was at the Manchester show to check out Alan Walker’s “live performance” on the day that his debut album Different World was released.
Was he going to ‘sing us to sleep’, would it be a ‘different world’ from the one we expected, was he ‘faded’ after all his exertions? Was…ok, enough of the puns. Find out here:
Cyrus Reynolds (ft. S Carey) – Foraker
This video qualifies for inclusion here even though Cyrus Reynolds isn’t Scandinavian, on three counts. Firstly his label is Swedish. Secondly, the video was shot in Iceland. Thirdly, we’re short on material this month.
The now Los Angeles-based New Yorker has conjured up something here, together with Ben Simon Rehn, that the Iceland Tourist Board would give a glacier and a volcano for, a beautifully filmed video to support what he describes as “a love letter to my wife, harpist Lara Somogyi, through the eyes of a wayward traveller” although the original song was actually set around an Alaskan glacier called Foraker.
Reynolds continues, “There’s this deep connection with the heart of the glacier and the outdoors and he keeps coming back to this same place to look for something that’s actually inside himself. It’s a harkening back to why I write music, and a new sort of authenticity for me. Before I was writing, I was manipulating all of these live string sounds for Output, and crushing them until they hissed like a wind and knocked and scratched like low hanging branches. I started using these sweeping 808s that hit you in the gut like a mile of ice is cracking beneath your feet and slow melodic synths that boomed from the distance like fog horns. Once I had the initial sound design recorded, I had a world that inspired me to write these heartfelt lyrics to Lara and everything suddenly was coming out into the open and all of these emotions and layers I didn’t know were there. Those are really precious and sought after moments in song writing for me. When everything just clicks and you can get straight the emotion and feeling.””
The song features S. Carey, who is a backing vocalist and percussionist in Bon Iver’s band, on vocals.
A classically trained composer (Royal Academy of Music) turned electronic sound designer (Output, Kanye) Reynolds’ compositions and songs have featured on a number of projects including Joachim Trier’s film Thelma, The Americans, Ethan Hawke’s Good Kill, Assassin’s Creed, and Greedfall.
Reynolds leans heavily towards the cinematic and dramatic, which is evident both in his music and in the video.
‘Foraker’ was released in the autumn of 2018 through Swedish label Dumont Dumont.
I considered giving it 8/10 but then I read that Cyrus Reynolds said that “the song had a place and a heart, and then S. Carey came in and gave it a pulse and a new life.” I’m not sure he does. If anything I think it sounds a little effeminate – awfully like Novo Amor – and thus out of kilter with the machismo of the video. So:
(Norway) Sigrid’s debut album Sucker Punch scheduled for release in March
The day of reckoning draws nearer for the young Norwegian dance-popper, Sigrid Solbakk Raabe, whose debut album Sucker Punch will be released on 1st March.
Hyped to the heavens throughout 2018, right from 1st January when she was the BBC’s Sound of 2018 winner, through appearances on a multitude of TV chat shows in the UK and USA, and a raft of festivals already completed including Glastonbury, Coachella and Reeperbahn, but all of them without a catalogue to speak of, and she released her debut single as long ago as 2013. Which puts her in the same bracket as her compatriot Alan Walker, whose massive global fame is really based on just one, 2015, song (though his December 14th-released album is rather good).
Can Sigrid prove she is the real deal or will the album just confirm the hype? Presumably the majority of the songs that have been released so far – and there aren’t many – will appear on the album, including at least a couple of those on the ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ EP. Some of them have been quite spectacular; others just bland Scandi pop, including the album’s title track.
In the meantime her promotion, which has grown exponentially since she signed to Island Records, continues. In 2019 she will be supporting George Ezra’s 2019 UK tour having just come of the back of a European one with Maroon 5.
During the BBC’s Christmas Top of the Pops programme (yes, I watched it) the two presenters drooled over Sigrid, one of them asking the other, perhaps tempting providence, “what can possibly go wrong for her”? Well plenty, actually. On the other hand plenty can go right. We shall see.
‘Go To War’ (which will probably be on the album) at Coachella, 2018.
(Sweden) Two members of Pussy Riot fail to gain asylum in Sweden
Two members of Russia’s Pussy Riot, who escaped the clutches of the FSB in 2017, went on to flee to Sweden and to claim asylum there. In the interim Alexey Knedlyakovsky, the only male band member, and his partner Lusine Djanyan, who now have two children, one of whom was born in Sweden in 2018, have been promoting themselves as an art collective and playing at various shows and festivals across the country.
Both were part of the small group infamously battered by Cossacks at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 when they tried to record and film their song ‘Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland’.
I saw them at the Gefle Gas Festival in June where they joined several other Russians including Mikhail Borzynski, a noted dissident now resettled in Sweden, and made their own debut performance, joining local and national art-rock/punk heroes The Pillisnorks on stage for their final song, donning their traditional balaclavas, with Knedlyakovsky taking the mic to ask national governments to boycott the World Cup. I reported it at the time as a defining moment and a remarkable act of courage which galvanised the audience.
Speaking to Knedlyakovsky and Djanyan privately at the festival they told me they hoped that other Pussy Riot members would attempt to disrupt the World Cup and that did happen but not until the Final, when several of them invaded the pitch dressed as police officers. Indications are that they were harshly dealt with.
It appears that their application has been rejected by the Swedish Migration Board.
A petition has been set up by change.org to ask the Migration Board to reverse its decision.
Down Memory Lane
(Sweden) Roxette – It Must Have Been Love (covered by Rånda)
‘It Must Have Been Love’ was written by Per Gessle, Roxette’s chief songwriter and joint founder of the duo, now a solo artist following Marie Fredriksson’s retirement. He is touring right now, with a set that relies heavily on Roxette material.
It was Roxette’s third number one hit in the United States, and is one of their best selling releases, being certified gold or platinum in a number of countries and reaching #1 in 11 countries including the Billboard 100 in the U.S., but only #3 in the UK, and strangely only #6 in Sweden though it spent 12 weeks at #1 in Norway!
Four different versions of the song have been officially released. The original 1987 track (‘It Must Have Been Love [Christmas For The Broken Hearted’]) was followed by the most successful incarnation of the song, a slightly edited version – omitting the Christmas references – which was created for the soundtrack to the 1990 movie Pretty Woman. Other versions have been a Country & Western one, a Spanish language one and an orchestral performance.
A performance from a Swedish TV chart show in 1987 acted as the song’s first music video. It features Fredriksson and Gessle sitting on a couch on a stage, lip-syncing to the song.
As of 2014 it had been played five million times on radio.
In this instance I decided to do something a little different and host a cover version by what is one of my favourite, while yet comparatively unknown, Nordic bands, Rånda. It’s no ordinary cover though, having racked up over one million Spotify plays itself (though a much more modest 430 or so for this video).
Main photo of Amanda Tenfjord by Thomas Rosser