Welcome to the 15th 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.
This month, FELIN is back with another dose of musical Scandi Noir along with the even more controversial Ängie, I See Rivers move mainstream, two talented Finnish artists combine to pour ice cubes down the vest of their ailments, a reformed Swedish alt-rock band reprise The Jam in a song about a character from The High Chaparral, and Aurora sets up her next album with a “happy song about suicide”.
In this edition: Natalie Sandtorv, Ljung, Hildur Höglind, Astrid Swan/Stina Koistinen, LUNE, Memoria, I See Rivers, Klll J, Isotope Soap, Flikka, FELIN, Plàsi, The Last Cow, Sherpa, Ängie, Simon on the Moon, Ceci Noir, Aurora, Zara Larsson, The Sleeplings, UK and U.S. artists in Norwegian ‘boutique’ festival – Pipfest,
Sections this month: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists/EPs/Live/News
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’.
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(Norway) Natalie Sandtorv – Portman
I picked this one up for the oddest of reasons. Glancing at it I thought it read Natalie Portman and being a fan of that fine actress I couldn’t resist it. I’m glad I didn’t. This Natalie’s ‘Portman’ is her debut single for Jazzland Records, a serious Norwegian label that deals mainly in, yes, jazz, and which has previously featured in NMS by way of the father-daughter duo of Eberson, who released an album last year.
There’s a bit of everything in here from someone who is essentially a jazz musician: soul pop with roots in RnB and hip-hop, spiritual and cosmic jazz, “and the ghosts of (Prince’s) Paisley Park (Records)”.
Natalie Sandtorv is from the small coastal town of Ålesund, which puts her in good company as it is also the hometown of Sigrid and of Highasakite’s Ingrid Helene Håvik. She studied jazz, improvisational music and electronics at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo and at Griegakademiet in Bergen. She’s been through several bands, including one that engaged in free improvisation so this is quite a regular piece by her standards. She’s also played the front woman role with Morning has Occurred, a jazz ensemble that arose out of the Griegakademiet and which also featured Marte Eberson, now of Eberson and previously of Highasakite.
Where music is concerned, Norway’s a village.
In 2015 she released her first solo album Pieces Of Solitude.
‘Portman’ is one of those songs – it is “about two lovers” – where the vocals, music and lyrics seem to meld together into one fine concoction.
(Sweden) Ljung – Wasting My Time
Swedish artist Olivia Ljungquist has shifted between different varieties of artistic expression, but music has always been a constant. Reaching a point of ‘now or never’, at which life had become “tiring” and “nothing seemed real” – Ljung arose suddenly out of it. In a bedroom studio she started writing and producing her own kind of beat-based, dark and twisted, electronic pop music.
Olivia was raised in the west coast countryside of Sweden, and is now based in Gothenburg. Harsh cold winds from the sea and dark Scandinavian surroundings have always been present and can now be heard in her music.
Her debut single ‘Sleep’ was released in 2018 and now Ljung (it translates as ‘heather’ from Swedish to English though I don’t know how significant that is) releases her new single ‘Wasting My Time’.
It’s a long track, perhaps a shade too long at 4:40, and one I can’t quite get my head around. There’s a persistent rhythm in an abnormal time signature with trap beats. It opens like Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’ then you think it’s going to be a dance track but it settles into a sort of electronic ballad.
Then mid-song there is a short instrumental section in counterpoint that I recognise from (again) Highasakite’s ‘God Don’t Leave Me’, it’s so similar (and welcome). Then it changes direction again a couple of times. It seems the time she’s wasting is on another individual.
There’s possibly a bit too much going on here, that’s she’s crammed too much content in. But it’s a game, atmospheric effort for an early career song and Ljung is definitely worth keeping tabs on.
(Sweden) Hildur Höglind – Further Apart
Alt-pop artist Hildur Höglind has released a new single ‘Further Apart’, taken from a forthcoming EP ‘Take Off’.
Growing up in a family of musicians in a small village Höglind has gone from gigging in local clubs she was too young to be in at 15, to playing some of the biggest festivals in Sweden.
With a lifelong interest in language and writing, it was when she picked up a guitar that she found an outlet for her words. Literature will always have a place in her creative heart however, with last year’s ‘Poems’ EP featuring musical interpretations of verse by Dylan Thomas and Edgar Allan Poe.
The new track is a tale of lost love, of “two people who are falling out of love with each other but are reluctant to end the relationship because there’s nothing obviously wrong with it.”
Thomas and Poe…it also sounds a bit high brow and she is known to write lyrics that are not afraid to broach deep subjects such as mental illness and existential dread but her soft melancholic vocals (with unknown male backing) quickly put you at your ease.
Not a slow burner, it will quickly haul you in.
(Sweden) LUNE – Don’t Speak
Nope, not a No Doubt cover. LUNE is Linnéa Martinsson, the vocalist behind Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Leave the World Behind’. She has now started her own label Play Human through which she self-releases “without hindering her creativity.”
LUNE released her debut album Music & Sports in 2013. Two years ago she returned with a teaser single, ‘Healing Song’, which became one of the most played songs on Swedish radio that year.
‘Don’t Speak’ is described as an electropop-bop and I can’t do better than that. If I just relied on Press Releases though I’d be telling you that the song “features hot and dusty production which rides beneath Martinsson’s stratospheric tones, blazing and dazzling across apricot-tinged skies.”
And of her own song, LUNE says, “’Don’t Speak’ moves like a warm wave through my body, making me dance from the inside out. When I sing, you can see soft orange lasers beaming from my mouth.”
Wow. Apricot skies. Orange lasers. Which planet are we on, Spock?
I’ll translate. She delivers, in a sometimes breathless falsetto, a piece of pure sultry Scandi-pop. Nothing too demanding musically, while leaving us to grapple lyrically with, “Light up, I’m breathing your body in and out like a cigarette”. The track should come with a health warning. Essentially she wants him (or her) to shut up and let their body speak for them.
All this against a background of a central synth riff and a bridge, either of which could soundtrack ‘Teletubbies’, ‘In the Night Garden’, or the return of ‘Bill and Ben – the Flower Pot Men’. In fact, the slightly ethereal bridge is the best part of the track and really ought to be on a better one.
That isn’t to put the song down. There will, no doubt (pardon the pun), be a market for it and it will get lots of plays again (it already has quite a few). But me for me, I’m afraid, 6/10 is the best I can muster.
‘Don’t Speak’ was available on all platforms from 3rd May 2019 via Play Human. We can expect more new music from LUNE during the summer.
(Sweden) Memoria – Black Coats/Whitefear
Memoria is the solo darkwave/postpunk project of Tess de la Cour, who also plays in Snake and who was instrumental in putting the Swedish Riot Grrrl Sessions together but this year she will focus on Memoria and is recording her debut album which will be released in September.
‘Black Coats / Whitefear’ is the second single taken off that upcoming debut album ‘Cravings’. It’s a slowed down and dark electronic version of Lost Sounds‘ garage punk song. Described as “melancholic but uplifting” I’d opt for the latter over the former. It builds into something of an anthem and has shades of Jean Michel Jarre about it. Unfortunately, the power of the music makes it difficult to hear some of the vocals; in fact “my head hurts and its killing me” is all I can make out. And it could perhaps benefit from a bit of variety along the way.
No other complaints though. An interesting track which suggests the album is well worth a listen.
(Norway) I See Rivers – Helios
Another example of a Nordic band that is and isn’t, in that the three Norwegian ladies, each from different and far-flung parts of the country, met each other while studying music in Liverpool, formed the band and subsequently drifted off to Tenby in South Wales, which must be a bit more like their homeland than are Stanley Park, Bootle Docks or Toxteth I suppose.
I saw them three years ago opening for Newton Faulkner in front of a big audience at the Albert Hall in Manchester but it didn’t faze them at all, they rose majestically to the occasion with an honest performance of their highly harmonised ‘float pop/folk’ music, much switching of instruments and a great, natural rapport with the audience that won them a lot of friends on the night.
Since then they have also toured Europe, with Cosmo Sheldrake, on their own in a sell-out tour, and they are now heavily involved with recording their debut album alongside Owain Jenkins, Toby Couling, Alec Brits and Emilie Krogh Johannessen at ‘Studiowz’ in South Wales, where they recorded their debut EP, for a release in Spring 2020.
As for the song, they say, “as the Greek God of the sun, ‘Helios’ would emerge in the sky each dawn in his golden chariot, bringing the new day. In the context of this song, Helios is meant to represent the experience of seeing someone through rose-tinted glasses, thinking the world of them, seeing them as the actual sun, before finally seeing them in their true light.” It is thus considered also to be a bridge between the two previous EPs and the forthcoming album.
As usual, they’ve attracted a shed load of ‘sounds like’ and ‘for fans of’ comparisons, from our esteemed peers and from PR representatives, including First Aid Kit (well, they harmonise nicely and Eline does look like Klara Söderberg from a distance); Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, The Staves and Emmy the Great.
Typically I rubbish such notions but on this occasion I can hear a little of each of those, for sure. This song is also notably more cultured and consistently melodic than what I recall from that live performance, as if they’ve learned quickly what it takes to make a mainstream hit, which is what this might just be.
‘Helios’ was self-released on 31st May.
Forthcoming shows in the UK:
Focus Wales: Wrexham – 18th June
Clwb Ifor Bach: Cardiff – 28th June
(Denmark) Klll J – Moon Sick
Danish experimental art-pop star Klll J’s new single ‘Moon Sick’ was released on May 5th, ahead of her debut album ‘Superposition’ which is due on 14th June.
We’ve had some scientifically flavoured songs to review recently but this one potentially takes the biscuit.
Talking about the album, Kill J explains, “I was inspired by the multiverse theory within quantum mechanics. There as many universes as there are choices, for every choice we make, there is a corresponding world. Somewhere there is a universe, where I´m not an idiot and I am in a perfect relationship.”
Well, Chaos Theory is one thing but multiverses are way too far out for me, man. If the album follows the same orbit throughout I guess particle physics king Dr Brian Cox himself might be doing the voiceover. It looks like it’s going to be, she even visited CERN -The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in Geneva – to seek inspiration in preparation for the album. Coming soon, Klll J ft. the Higgs Bosons?
“In the end, only science will save us,” she intones. Does that make her a Science-tologist?
She does seem to like serious subjects. Previous songs have been fiercely political (‘Strange Fruits of The Sea’), or otherwise suggestive merely through their title, such as ‘Dead Weight Soldier’, and the recently released ‘Addicted’, and the new single is in fact the fifth offering from the forthcoming debut album.
I was sort of expecting something between spaced out British “Cosmic Dross” band Henge and the brilliant Danish weirdo Lydmor. But she’s picked up quite a lot of airplay and support in the UK and as one of the BBC jocks backing her is Annie Mac that suggested to me that her style would be ambient electronic and so it proves to be. In fact I wasn’t surprised to learn that she is regarded as Denmark’s “fiercest drone-pop mercenary.”
This particular song deviates from the world of quantum physics. Co-written with Liam Howe it was inspired by her childhood obsession with Mariah Carey. Wasn’t Carey identified as an alien in ‘Men in Black’? There has to be a scientific connection somewhere.
Joking apart it is a good song. For all the dronery, which seems to be as much hammered percussion as synth-based, she gets pretty close to the sort of atmosphere Kate Bush used to produce (without actually sounding like her). I’ve written a lot about Shakespears Sister’s Marcella Detroit recently and the astonishing note she gets on ‘Stay’. Well KIII J gets pretty close to the same note consistently in this song although I don’t know whether or not it is courtesy of mechanical assistance.
‘Moon Sick’ was released via Nettwerk Records.
(Sweden) Isotope Soap – Reversed Big Bang
Swedish label Emotional Response Records released an LP compilation of previously Swedish only 7inches/Mini LP, from the veteran Synth punkers Isotope Soap. Featured in it is this single, ‘Reversed Big Bang’.
NMS was offered formal bios of the band but I thought I’d see what I could find myself as a sort of academic exercise.
On Facebook they say they were founded in 1902, which makes them the oldest punk band after The Ramones and the New York Dolls I reckon. Band members are Jan-Erik, Herr Bollionär, and Viisi. Emotional Response isn’t listed as their label but Reich Records is. I thought that might be some sort of Nazi-lite joke but it seems there is Reich Records so I’m not sure where that is going.
Under ‘Awards’, they only list “worst ever band”, while ‘Band Interests’ are solely “masturbation”. You do get the impression these lads don’t take themselves too seriously.
Which is a good thing because ‘Reversed Big Bang’ is awful. Its one saving grace is this video which bears some comparison with that for Pom Poko’s ‘Crazy Energy Night’ together with something out of ‘The Muppet Show’.
And I’ll bet they’ll love me for giving it this score.
(Sweden) Flikka – Radar
Flikka is adopted from the Swedish word ‘flicka’ which means ‘girl’; she took the name growing up in her native Stockholm having found that being seen as “such a harmless thing as a girl” gave her the freedom to be wild, fearless and to have provocative self-belief.
Heading for a career as an actress she was reconverted to music (she had previously been a student of choir school), when a brother offered her a vocalist job in his high school band. She began to write her own music, performing in the subway in Stockholm and recording in her parents’ basement.
‘Radar’ is her second-ever track and the follow up to her debut single ‘Someone to Lose’. She is newly signed to London independent label Blue Flowers. It was produced by Leon Michels and recorded at Diamond Mine in Long Island City, New York and Rhinebeck, Upstate New York with Nick and Homer from Sharon Jones’ band, the Dap-Kings.
The ‘radar’ of the Beatrix Blaise – produced video is a pier discovered by chance when browsing Google Maps and it recurs throughout it. Otherwise it was shot outside on one of the coldest days in Stockholm this winter. Stockholm in the snow is becoming a common video theme; I recall an excellent one by Wildhart a year ago. This one isn’t anything like as good but it goes well with the theme of this particular song which is self-destructiveness, of trying to kick bad habits, escaping reality, and the pursuit of positivity in amongst chaos.
As for the physical scenes in the video, as a teenager she learned judo to a competitive level, and got the idea that some judo would suit the aggressive tune that ‘Radar’ is. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu club was able to accommodate the filming.
Ok, so what about the song? What attracted me over the minimal bass-heavy tune was her voice. It isn’t unique but it is certainly different. She sings in an endearing Swedish version of Estuary English, “Does yer ‘ed spin?”, “what are you coming fer?”, which does make you want to put it on repeat.
Not a bad effort and some promise here.
(Sweden) The Last Cow – Manolito
The Last Cow is a new Swedish alternative rock band from the city of Gävle, featuring members from classic early Swedish punk and new wave bands, such as PF Commando, Russian Submarines and Ex-Pop.
Whenever I see Gävle mentioned I always pay attention. This place of 100,000 souls produces as much music as cities 10 times its size, of every genre imaginable – and some that aren’t – and it is always top class.
Among the musical influences to be found in The Last Cow’s sound are The Velvet Underground, Manic Street Preachers, Pearl Jam and Tom Petty. After a long hiatus from the music scene the members of The Last Cow have made a spectacular comeback in 2019, releasing seven singles in a row. This week it’s their fourth single: ‘Manolito’.
For those not in the know (I wasn’t) Manolito “Mano” Montoya is a character played by Henry Darrow, a Puerto Rican actor of stage and film known for this role on the 1960’s television series ‘The High Chaparral’. Manolito is the brother of the wealthy Mexican Victoria Cannon, wife of the ranch’s owner. His restlessness, his search for something that he cannot put into words, but something that he knows he’ll recognise when he sees it, his traits as a lover, activist, carouser, and peacemaker, combine to define his complex character.
Manolito is not a cruel man, but he is capable of killing, whether with a knife or a gun. He is not a man to betray lightly, despite his seeming nonchalant attitude. There is nothing simple about Manolito, who is formidable, discerning and loyal, yet restless, self-indulgent and ever searching–a collection of contradictions hidden by a pair of warm brown eyes and a roguish smile.
Well, after that potted history of a long-forgotten character apart from on Gold or Dave, how does the song match up? It starts like the soundtrack to ‘Plan Nine from Outer Space’ but quickly brings in some big guitar chords which set the scene for a The Jam-like song, which could be ‘Down at the Pony Express station at midnight’. It has the same blend of Mod-ish in your face ladd-ism combined with a strong tune. Then at around 1:25 there’s a cute little distinct nod to 1970’s prog-rock band Argent’s ‘Hold Your Head Up.’ It loses track a little around the two-minute mark but quickly picks up the thread again.
You’ve probably heard every chord and note in different arrangements if you’ve been listening to music for long enough but this particular one won’t take long to grow on you. I loved it.
‘Manolito’ is released on Comedia.
(Sweden) Plàsi – Mystery
Plàsi, originally Mikael Bitzarakis, was born on the island of Crete with a Greek father but mainly raised in Sweden with his mother where he moved by the age of four. He writes and produces his music himself, and has studied songwriting at the music school Rytmus in Stockholm. His stage name comes from the Ancient Greek word for creation (πλάση), which best describes his passion for songwriting and entrepreneurship. He is inspired by the likes of José González, Sufjan Stevens, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Kings of Convenience.
During 2017/2018 he gradually released a new album People consisting of nine tracks. He is characterised by stripped productions based on acoustic guitars and meaningful words
He says, “This track, ‘Mystery’ was curated on a dark night by the misty coastline, the sea at night gives me a mystic feeling of always being followed by someone without knowing the reason”. ‘Mystery’ is an attempt to picture that with sound and lyrics.” It is the first of three singles from his forthcoming EP.
Setting aside the comparisons with Sufjan Stevens, The Tallest Man on Earth, et al when I first heard it I thought I was listening to the classy Dane/Greenlander Simon Lynge, whose album Deep Snow was reviewed in NMS #9. He has the same crisp, clear acoustic style and “don’t panic” vocal delivery.
His work is released through Canadian label Nettwerk Records.
(Denmark) Sherpa – Young Love
Following his debut EP ‘Heartless’, Danish artist Sherpa (AKA Carsten Eliasen) – marks his return with a nostalgic, synth-pop single ‘Young Love’, released on 17th May.
Reflecting on first loves, relationships and breakups, Sherpa ruminates on the halcyon days, where everything was new and moments felt everlasting. The longing message, “let it happen, let it happen, let it all rain down again,” reminds the listener that despite all the pain that love can carry, you would do everything all over again.
The problem I have with anything to do with ‘young love’ or ‘first love’ is that I can’t help but compare the song with Emmy the Great’s seminal ‘First Love’ on the album of the same title, which was released 10 years ago and which will be re-released this month. Emma-Lee Moss’ effort is a four and a half minute allegorically-infused definitive rendition of a complete beginning-to-end story of a first love encounter, which is peerless and which ends with what is evidently a musical representation of an orgasm. That’s what any competition is up against.
Having said that, Sherpa’s effort isn’t at all bad (and is nothing like as cloying as the creepy Slovenian entry in the Eurovision song contest when they didn’t take their eyes off each other from beginning to end). It is in a different style altogether, the prog rock-like battery of synths that open the song and the yell-at-the top-of-your-voice vocal delivery suggesting it could have been a contender for Denmark’s own Eurovision entry this year. Mixed in amongst the synths is a beat that suggests a fluttering romantic heart, a neat touch.
I checked out his previous single, ‘Fornever’, a ballad that is quite different. His style is still evolving.
(Denmark) The Sleeplings – Four Hens Down
Good to know that prog hangs on in Scandinavia.
Denmark’s prog-rock trio The Sleeplings released their single ‘Four Hens Down’ along with this video on 31st May.
‘Four Hens Down’ is about meeting the darkness of loneliness when taking over a large house after a divorce. The house was the main inspiration behind the single’s haunted atmosphere. There is a true story of a former mistress whose chickens time and again are slaughtered by the fox. It’s the lady fox furiously killing all the chickens, never settling only for what she can eat.
The video was recorded in the woods of Horstved of Djursland, Denmark. Flintholm, the old house appearing in the video was built in the 1930s and is now also known as The Witches House. This new nickname tells a lot about the place’s unique atmosphere; the house reflects the contemplative and cinematic nature of their music — and the location is another protagonist in the band’s atmospheric music video… and there’s even a bone-chilling story about the video shoot that Jesper, the front man, tells,
“When we recorded the video, only a single window frame kept the front of the house standing. Two days later I saw a photo on Instagram where the whole front had crashed, right where our drummer Steen had been sitting. He WAS a bit nervous during the session… What are the odds?”
To be honest it took a few plays to get into it. It’s heavy and complex as you would expect given the subject matter and there’s quite a lot of discord, especially two-thirds in. You get the impression it would make for an interesting live track if they can replicate the atmosphere.
Singles from previously featured artists
(Sweden) FELIN – Woman with a Knife
I have no difficulty hosting FELIN again; I think this girl has real talent. It’s just that she chooses some, let’s say dodgy, subjects for her songs, a sort of musical take on Scandi Noir TV drama.
Last time out (NMS #13), in ‘Black Heart’, it was a song about the workings of a serial killer’s mind. This time, in ‘Woman with a Knife’, and inspired again by the dark humour of Tarantino films, the song is about refusing to accept mistreatment in a relationship. It is, she says, about “the beginning of the end, when jealousy and suspicion start to grow and slowly but surely makes you go insane… (whereas) ‘Black Heart’ was about the beginning of this destructive love story. I wanted to exaggerate these feelings in a cinematic way and dig into the dark side of our minds.”
The PR refers to her “signature distorted vocal” though what I hear is quite natural and quite sexy in the way of the opening credits theme song of a James Bond film of the Roger Moore era. In fact the ‘FELIN Collective’-produced video puts me more in mind of a Bond film than of Tarantino. ‘Goldfishfinger’? Sorry, that was Connery, wasn’t it?
Moreover she’s one of few artists who can marry a pop theme with a rock delivery, consistently.
It isn’t quite as impressive as ‘Black Heart’ and definitely not up to the very high standard of the poppy ‘21st Century’, the best song of hers that I’ve heard to date, but it still merits 8/10.
(Sweden) Ängie ft. Zheani – Orgy of Enemies
We welcome back Ängie – and I mean that most sincerely folks – for the first time since NMS #12 when she told us in no uncertain terms, ‘IDGAF’. Other songs of hers include ‘Smoke Weed Eat Pussy’, ‘Housewife Spliffin’, ‘Here for my Habits’, and ‘Dope’.
She’s nothing if not controversial and the press photo accompanying the PR on this one carried the message ‘Parental Advisory – Explicit Content’ but just high enough that it didn’t hide her shaven and tattooed pudendum. Of course we won’t show it as NMS is read by children before the 8pm watershed. But you’ll see it in the video. And she has her name tattooed backwards on her forehead presumably so she reminds herself who she is when she looks in a mirror.
‘Orgy Of Enemies’ features the Australian rapper Zheani (Sparkes) who has recently been involved in an online exchange with Die Antwoord, a South African hip hop group, over claims of abuse. By now I was wondering how bad this could be but then I read that the song addresses the mental health issues which plagued Ängie as a child. She says, “The song is a 13-14 year old little girl in her deepest depression, wanting to kill herself because no one cared, no one listened. Everyone was bullying her and the song is visualising her everyday panic attacks and her hate of humanity. That little girl was me.”
That puts another spin on it. On the other hand, there have been plenty of songs written about childhood bullying and associated mental issues and two Nordic ones immediately spring to mind. Nightwish’s (Finland) ‘Eva’, the first track sung by their then new singer, the Swede Anette Olzon, which was written for her specifically because she was badly bullied as a child herself and which was released as a charity record. Also, Johanna Brun’s (Sweden) ‘Bird’, which I understand is to be released as an international single in English this summer. But both are beautiful ballads. So how does ‘Orgy of Enemies’, which sounds more like the title of a novel or an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’, measure up?
To be honest it isn’t really in the same league but I don’t mean that in a put-down way. It starts off fine, with a nursery rhyme type tune quickly falling apart as if a mechanism has broken. Then it swiftly changes into an existential trap drone which pervades the rest of it. It takes her just 33 seconds to find the first “fuck” as in “fuck what people say, they don’t get me anyway”. Fair enough. Then there’s a long section where she repeats endlessly “I hate these places”, then the rap section kicks in with Zheani, which is nothing special, and just plays out to the end.
I suppose what I’m saying here is that you have to create empathy with songs of this nature and while the two examples I gave do that, this one doesn’t really do it for me. Is it a suitable subject matter for rap anyway? The lightweight rhyme-at-any-cost nature of that genre transpires against it, for me anyway.
But to be fair to Ängie you have to give her kudos for tackling the subject at all and getting away from ‘Smoke Weed Eat Pussy’. Moreover, she has become quite a big star in Sweden in just a couple of years, with a legion of fans and considerable critical praise. So:
But get some knickers on for your next photo-shoot, dear…
(Sweden) Ceci Noir – I Am What I Am
Relative newcomer Ceci Noir, who wrote songs for 10 years but only started to record them recently, featured in NMS #13 in which her very strong vocals were noted. Now she returns with ‘I Am What I Am’, a campfire chant in which she sings about herself and her love for music.
Giving a song the same title as a Gloria Gaynor classic which has become a gay anthem may seem a little risky. The line “I am what I am and I know what I know” also has shades, let’s be honest, of lines in Genesis’ ‘I know what I like (in your wardrobe)’ but she nails her own identity again here, aided by a comprehensive piece of guitar-plucking from (I assume) her boyfriend. He was the guitarist on the previous single. In fact, the guitar contribution plays as big a part in this song as her voice.
It isn’t quite as satisfying as the previous song, ‘Yes, I’m feeling it’, but there’s still plenty to suggest she’s on the right path.
She’s building a reputation for powerful live performances and in forthcoming weeks will perform live in both Berlin and Stockholm, as well as on her home ground in the heavily wooded and lake-strewn area of Dalarna in Sweden, where she will be on steady radio rotation as Artist of the Week. No sign of any UK performances as yet.
(Norway) Aurora – The River
When Aurora suddenly and unexpectedly released the ‘first part’ of her second album last year as an eight-track EP, ‘Infections of a Different Kind (Step 1)’, it was universally assumed that ‘Step 2’ would be the second part, probably this year.
However, it appears that the next album, due on June 7th and written like its predecessor very quickly, will be titled ‘A Different Kind of Human (Step 2)’.
The first single from it is ‘The River’, also the new album’s opening track. Technically, the last track she put down, as it was the final one on ‘Infections of a Different Kind’ was the title track there, a haunting ballad that she described as “the most important song I’ve ever written”.
With that self-endorsement you can’t blame Aurora fans for anticipating this new album and what is, essentially, the follow-up track.
It concerns male suicide, a “sad” subject as she describes it but “joyful” to her because while she believes the high rate is caused by institutional male inability to share pain as it is associated with weakness, “here in my world it’s not, so the song is inspired by something quite sad but it is also happy because crying can be such a positive experience, especially afterwards when you actually feel a bit lighter. It’s about that feeling to let off some steam as they say here in England.”
As is often the case with Aurora, you’re left with a choice. Are these words of profound wisdom from a 22-year old or is she speaking mumbo jumbo? I’m happy to give her the benefit of any doubt.
The style of the song isn’t one of ‘Infections of a Different Kind’ (the track) as I’d hoped it would be but rather of her generic output, with a big pop melody hung on heavy electronic backing (she typically has at least two synths in concert). While the lyrics are not her strongest, the use of the river as a metaphor for washing away one’s cares is a clever one (“And you let the river run wild”) as well as one used by top-class artists such as Peter Gabriel in ‘Don’t Give Up’ (“whatever may come, and whatever may go, that river’s flowing, that river’s flowing)”.
Aurora also announces a six-date UK tour in November, and this follows a summer of festival appearances including Glastonbury and Latitude.
(Finland) Swan/Koistinen EP (sample track Singing)
This could be a depressing one. The EP brings together two prodigious Finnish talents in Astrid Swan and Stina Koistinen. The subject matter is chronic and incurable illness and it gets the treatment through four tracks titled ‘Diagnosis’, ‘Hospital’, ‘Treatment’ and ‘Singing’. It “brings sick women’s experiences close to the listener through music.”
Astrid Swan had somehow passed me by but she released the first ever album on the label Soliti and her last album won the Teosto Prize, the biggest music prize in Finland, and was also nominated for the Nordic Music Prize in 2018. She just released her autobiography which has become a best seller in Finland. She has been treated for over five years for breast cancer.
Stina Koistinen has featured in an early edition of NMS, with her band Color Dolor, which was founded after Koistinen was diagnosed in 2013 with a brain tumour, which was successfully treated. I understand the band is still going and has started work on its fourth album after also winning the Teosto Prize (the year after Swan), last month for third album ‘Love’. In the land of metal it has brought a refreshing art-pop variance.
The project unites two artists’ voices for a moment celebrating the importance of co-survivors and the power of sharing with others in similar situations.
The songs, co-composed by Swan and Koistinen, recorded and produced by Swan, are made of “hospital atmosphere, human voice, electronics, piano and Canadian pop visionary Owen Pallett’s string arrangements.” Pallett is held in high regard of course having worked with Arcade Fire (initially as a songwriter, fan favourite ‘No Cars Go’ is his), Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Frank Ocean, and Charlotte Gainsbourg).
The most positive track, ‘Singing’ is left until last with Koistinen’s gorgeous soaring falsetto vocals set against riveting strings, which I swear blind are going to be synced left, right and centre into films, TV drama, adverts, you name it. What she/they are singing, and this will be the most-played track for sure by women in their predicament, is “I’m still here”. I couldn’t help but muse on how well it would fit into a reworked version of their compatriots’ Nightwish’s ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ which ends with one of the most powerful statements in rock, the repeated, anthemic “We were here”. Oh these clever Finns. Why they don’t figure higher on the world music stage beats me.
9/10 (based on this track).
(Sweden) Simon on the Moon – Milk
Swedish artist and producer Simon on the Moon, from the town of Kungsbacka, south of Gothenburg, released his new single, ‘Lied 2 U’ on February 15th and it featured in NMS #12. It was, and the ‘Milk’ EP of which it is one of five tracks is, work he put together sharing a studio with Frank Ocean producers Jarami between Sweden and Los Angeles.
Previous singles, including ‘Lied 2 U’ have earned him first place positions on US Viral and Global Spotify charts.
I’m not sure what I can add to my assessment of ‘Lied 2 U’. It is difficult for me because this variety of funky electro R&B isn’t my first choice listening and songs have to work harder to attract my attention. First and foremost I’m looking for a tune and this sort of music doesn’t often produce memorable ones.
With the first track, ‘Sleeping With You’ it is a heavily fuzzed guitar which did catch my attention, but that is all. The second one however, ‘Confide’ (video featured below), is different and original. Indeed the level of experimentation is what you’d expect to find on Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ with multiple instrumentation and voices apparently at cross purposes.
The title track is as groovy as it gets and would have Trevor Nelson and Craig Charles salivating while ‘Stromboli’ is so chilled, especially in its odd beat, that you could easily forget we’re almost in summer. Perfect cruising music.
The ‘Milk’ EP will be released on 28th June.
Zara Larsson – Manchester Albert Hall, 22nd May 2019
The young Swedish diva made a whistle-stop two-city tour of the UK with a set featuring old favourites, and some new songs that will probably feature on her forthcoming album.
“For a lady who tackles various genres (pop, house, dance, R&B etc) these three are simple, melodic, pop songs where she doesn’t need to have any concern about varying her pitch, tone, phrasing or anything else.”
“Then towards the end she did a genuine gymnast’s splits, the highlight of the night judging from the audience’s reaction but got it wrong, as she tottered to her feet, breaking one of her boots in the process. The smile on her little red face as she glanced over her shoulder at the audience was priceless.”
A full review of what was a lively show can be found here:
UK, U.S. artists in Norwegian ‘boutique’ festival Pipfest
Following big interest from the UK, PiPfest, or Pikinik i Parken (Picnic in the Park), a boutique Norwegian festival, has announced specially discounted festival tickets exclusively for British festival fans.
The line-up this year includes New Order, The Streets, The 1975, Kurt Vile & the Violators, The Charlatans, Nils Frahm, Jungle, Metronomy, Julia Holter and many more. The event takes place over three days in Oslo, 13-15 June.
Now in its sixth year, 2019 sees PiPfest relocate to a new venue, Sofienbergparken. Set in the north of Oslo, it has a capacity of just 8,000.
PiPFest founder Peer Osmundsvaag commented: “Our number one priority has always been to create something that goes back to the roots of what a festival should be; a unique experience in fantastic settings.”
Running until 11pm each day, PiPfest is a non-camping event but there are venues right across Oslo continuing the festivities into the night. The specially discounted PiPfest weekend festival ticket costs 1250 NOK which works out at GB£110, while discounted day tickets are 535 NOK or GB£47.00 (subject to exchange rates).
Festival goers will need to arrange their own flights and accommodation. Connections fly regularly from London Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted, and Manchester. Promoters recommend the Comfort Xpress Central Station for accommodation.
You can find out more information about Oslo here:
Discounted weekend tickets: