Welcome to Nordic Music Scene, which 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, in an edition that is all singles – and there are plenty of them, 30 in all – a wide variety of new music for all tastes from established artists and newcomers alike and including the return of a Swedish heartthrob of yesteryear with a dark, X-Files inspired pop song about encounters with the ‘Men in Black’.
In this edition: The Switch, Konradsen, SA Zeiner, Amanda Tenfjord, Ida Wenøe, The Ghost of Helags, Di Leva, Sofia Härdig, OK OK, Ellen Kraus, Lokoy & Stefanos Yowhannes, Lehnberg ft. ‘Slim Vic’ Zeidner, Leprous, Memoria, Mike Granditsky, HunBjørn, Afenginn, Andreas Kleerup ft. AlunaGeorge, The Beautiful Swedes, Ceci Noir, Helga, Violet Days, Emilia Martensson, Nima, Lights of Skadi, Hollywood, Anorakk, Lake Jons, STINAKO, Highasakite.
Sections: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists
Singles, EPs and albums are rated out of 10.
No sound-bites, no airy-fairy language, No B-S, just honest opinion.
(Norway) Konradsen – Television Land
A new name to me until recently, I wish I’d discovered Konradsen sooner. They’re from Troms county way up north in Norway though they are Oslo-based now after attending university there. They are Jenny Marie Sabel and Eirik Vildgren, the former a daughter of a religious hippy family, the latter from a traditional fishing background.
‘Television Land’ is their third single and is from the album Saints and Sebastian Stories which will be released on 25th October (Su Tissue Records/Cascine) and which was apparently mixed in Margate. Hope they enjoyed the jellied eels.
I’m always interested to learn what influences there are on a band and whether you can hear them. In Konradsen’s case they include Nina Simone, Sufjan Stevens and Justin Vernon. Well you can certainly hear Simone in Jenny Marie Sabel’s vocals. The song is a slow burner with all sorts of little voices off and noises drifting over the piano into the bargain, before it evolves into a sort of blues/rock track. Some of them are provided by the artists, others being samples from commentary by family and other people involved in the recording. I’m not sure about the professionalism of that. I recall an excellent Manchester band called Biederbeck which used to do the same though it didn’t do them any good. But it seems to work here.
I can see plenty of potential in Konradsen and look forward to their album.
(Norway) SA Zeiner – Could you be good to me
SA Zeiner is an unusual artist name and it is partly down to that I checked her out. It sounds more like a politician from Johannesburg. In reality she is a female producer/artist who has worked with Amanda Tenjford (also in this edition), Jowst, Asbjorn and many others, and she has now released her first artist project, the track having been premiered on NRK P13 which is the Norwegian equivalent of BBC 6Music.
Perhaps the ‘SA’ bit arises from the fact that her name is Sigrid and there are enough Norwegian artists by that name right now. She’s a trained classical singer and theatre performer, currently based in London, and who left the suburbs in her native Oslo to study Arts Management in New York and has spent most of her life away from Norway ever since.
Inspired by a mix of Norwegian classical music (including Edvard Grieg) and her father’s jazz collection, Sigrid started singing when she was four years old, enrolling in private singing lessons aged 11 and forming a band with friends from her music school by the time she reached her mid-teens. Sigrid began producing her own music in her grandmother’s basement, experimenting with software and laying the foundations for her production endeavours.
In between her activities on stage and in the studio Sigrid has become one of very few female members of the studio collective Tanken in Sandvika, Norway – a creative hub for artists, producers, bands, photographers, architects, designers and record labels.
Speaking about the single, SA Zeiner says: “‘Could you be good to me’ is about trying to find your place in the world. It’s about being drawn to people who are similar but different than you at the same time and then trying to figure out if you could meet on common ground. The book ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain was quite inspirational because she writes about the world of introverts and how her extroverted friends make her come out of her shell more and in return how she calms them down. It’s an ode to relationships of any kind that make you feel balanced and complete.”
On social media she says “It’s one of the quickest, clearest songs I’ve ever done from writing it in about 1.5 hours… to producing it up with @synthomania who helped me find the right sound for it. The song has shaped me and my direction and been a guide to the rest of the tracks I’ll be releasing soon.”
Before I listened to it I mused on how similar the title and the tenet of the song are to EBERSON’s ‘Someone Who Cares’ which we featured last month. Indeed it is a comparable song in several ways, especially in the vulnerability department, and really only differs in the fact it has more of an RnB feel to it.
And for that reason alone I’m happy to give it 8/10.
‘Could you be good to me’ was released on 30th August via Microheart Records.
(Sweden) Di Leva – Men in Black
Ask 100 people, ‘Pointless’ style, to name a Swedish popular music artist and it’s unlikely anyone would come up with the name (Thomas) Di Leva. In his own country though, this guy is a legend.
Since the late 1980s he’s had numerous hits, won the Swedish Grammy as Artist of the Year and his most popular songs have for the last 30 years been regularly on rotation on Swedish radio. In 2018 Di Leva created and performed a bestselling show based on the life of David Bowie, one of his most important sources of artistic inspiration as a teenager, firstly in 29 stage shows in Stockholm and then touring it all over Sweden. In his long successful career Di Leva has made many TV-show appearances, concert tours and theatre plays, including a highly acclaimed performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’
So how does he top that? By releasing his new single ‘Men in Black’ to celebrate the festival ‘Area 51 Basecamp’, as a music video. The festival was held at the Alien Research Center at 100 Extraterrestrial Highway, close to the off-limits United State Airforce facility Area 51 in Nevada, on 20-21 September. It seems it was a flop.
Area 51 is of course the secret facility whose activities The United States government provides minimal information about. The objective of the festival was to bring global attention to this lack of information and to ask, publicly and loudly, ‘what the hell is going on in there?’ A quick glance at the speaker list told me that many of them – film makers, UFOlogists, retired Navy Seals and USAF veterans – might have been found halfway up Devil’s Tower with Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
That might prompt a cynic to ask how Thomas Di Leva got caught up in all this. Part of the reason appears to be that after writing, composing and performing mainly in Swedish for the last few decades, he now felt the urge to reach out globally with his unique music. And you can’t get more global than the fear of little green men.
‘Men in Black’ is a sort of 1950’s song (the era of Roswell and goddamned Commies hiding behind every tree) but boogied up sci-fi style. It could easily chart, perhaps more so in the U.S. than the UK, and I can imagine Henge taking up the challenge of a cover.
The song is taken from his forthcoming concept album The Hybrids, which focuses on our multidimensional reality, UFOs and the alien hybridisation agenda. The lyrics of the song are inspired by real witness reports of encounters with the ”real” men in black, one of the classic enigmas of Ufology. It is the first international release through Di Leva’s own company Spaceflower and released on all major digital platforms worldwide.
(Denmark) OK OK – Flightmode
“Do you like the sound of Danish trap?” asked the PR communication about this artist. To be honest, I hadn’t a clue as I hadn’t heard any, but I was dubious. As it turns out I did like it.
OK OK is the solo project of producer Oliver Kincaid, initially a producer who has developed his own sound. He worked as songwriter and producer with the management company behind Lukas Graham which decided to put their focus on his career as a solo artist, working with two in-demand Danish musicians on the live scene: his brother Nicholas Kincaid on bass and Felix Ewert on drums, alongside an old friend from art school, the DJ and performer Victor Nuno.
There’s a strong melody in this song that I wasn’t expecting, along with the barking dog, though it becomes more evident towards the end of the track and is then quickly extinguished; it could have gone on for another 10-15 seconds at least. The trap beats are there but you don’t notice them so much as other aspects of the song attract you including the use of that much-maligned instrument, the banjo.
According to the PR, “The lyrics, meanwhile are infused with the agitated energy of self-awareness, in expression of what Oliver refers to as ‘the battle to transcend psychological stagnation and chaos’”, but I’m not getting involved in that discussion, thank you.
Just one thing I don’t quite understand. In his own words, Oliver says, “Both self-produced and self-penned, ‘Flightmode’ is about self-determination….the urge to choose your own path…to ride your own wave. A tribute to (and dream of) pure confidence, and riffing on the theme of ‘ignorance is bliss’, it’s about soaring above self-doubt as I transition from producer to solo artist.”
But flight mode is what you put your ‘phone into, in the aircraft cabin so it doesn’t screw up the avionics. Didn’t he really mean ‘flightpath?’
(Norway) Leprous – Below
A bit of Norwegian prog for you here. Leprous is known in Norway as a rock band – the name suggests death metal to me – but here incorporate more electronic sounds.
‘Below’ is from a new album, ‘Pitfalls’, which will be out on 25th October (InsideOut Music).
They describe ‘Below’ as the first song written for the album and one that was composed “in a period of denial of what was to come,” spontaneously and made first with only piano and vocals. Vocalist and keyboardist Einar Solberg says it “is a very emotional and melancholic track, and it means a lot to me personally – both musically and lyrically. Large cinematic string arrangements, electronic elements, very acoustic and organic parts – all combined. Very epic, but at the same time very fragile!”
A beaten-up Solberg, who sounds unnervingly like Morten Harket at times, steps in and out of his Tardis in the video to survive a snowstorm and a case of spontaneous combustion before pulling what I at first thought was a beard trimmer out of the ground and then the Tardis catches fire, too. There’s a lot going on here and it seems they went all the way to Wroclaw to film it. The band scene towards the end reminds me of Ambage’s effort for ‘Blank Vision’ (NMS #16 and GIITTV Video of the Week #123), and for that reason alone scores brownie points with me. The members are better co-ordinated than some professional dancers I’ve seen.
It is definitely epic and promises a spectacular stage performance if they can replicate the string arrangements, live. They embark on a European tour on 1st November which brings them to the UK for just two dates – London ULU (University of London Union), which apparently has recently reopened (8th November) and Academy 2, Manchester (9th November).
Breaking: Leprous have since launched second single, ‘Alleviate’, also taken from ‘Pitfalls’.
(Sweden) Memoria – Cravings
Memoria is the solo darkwave/postpunk project of Tess de la Cour. She also plays drums in the Stockholm punk band Snake and was instrumental in putting the Swedish Riot Grrrl Sessions together in 2017, but this year she has focused fully on Memoria and her debut album ‘Cravings’ will be released on 4th October 2019.
This is the title track. It’s a song about bad desires and people’s ease and ability to succumb to them. This is also manifested in the video where a forest ‘entity’ lures people down into a lake. But the entity could easily be seen as our own inability to withstand the desires presented to us, as she sings, ”Feed the need – Trust your lust” The video was directed by Per Norman and the track was released on 20th September.
We get a lot of Scandi-pop on NMS and while I have no objection at all to that it came as a pleasant surprise when this punky, Goth-like track was served up as a variation.
Both the music and the video grabbed my attention right from the start. The video references ‘The Blair Witch Project’ with a tree with strange writing on it, another on which the image of a young boy or girl is imprinted by shadows, and the imagery when Tess appears to be a spider is cleverly filmed. There’s something of Anna von Hausswolff’s ‘Evocation’ video in it is well. It fascinates me that with this make-up (and I hope she’ll take this comment in the right spirit) in profile she does take on the likeness of an eagle. Hopefully that was the intention because it works very well. The levitation scenes and the sudden arm spasm are eerie.
The music is solidly anthemic from start to finish without ever even verging on bombastic.
All round an excellent piece of work, which promises much for the album. With song titles like ‘Black coats/Whitefear’; ‘Lights Out’; and ‘The Void’, you can tell it’s in the same vein.
(Sweden) Mike Granditsky – EsG
Surprisingly, Mike Granditsky has never appeared in these pages before. He’s one of the Swedish music industry’s more interesting characters, a reinvented punk-rocker who has released two albums (‘MG1’  and ‘MG2’ ) while working a day job as a social worker with disabled children.
Along the way he’s come to specialise in a sort of slightly debauched sound, one of seedy backstreets in unwelcoming suburbs where visitors are viewed with suspicion. One of his better-known videos, for the track ‘Speed Street’ was shot partly in the Wandsworth, South London underpass where an unfortunate tramp was kicked to death by Alex and his Droogs in the opening scenes of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Another video, for ‘Blackout’, has him patrolling dingy London streets – it could be Soho – at what appears to be early on a Sunday morning. On his Facebook page he sits alone on an Underground train in an otherwise empty carriage, or stands – again alone – in a public urinal.
His sound has been reinvented from punk to encompass the likes of Bowie, Roxy Music and LCD Soundsystem while remaining unequivocally his.
For his third album, ‘PostEuropeanMusic’ (4th October 2019, S.T.I.Y.R Records) he and his music collaborator David Lindh “take you by the hand and lead you through the dusty city streets but this time it’s not New York or London, its Europe.”
Granditsky adds, “Following in the footsteps of Lou Reed and Scott Walker, he paints an aural soundscape that depicts 21st century Europe in all its decadence, debauchery and glory.”
Musicians like Mike Granditsky are fast becoming a rarity in Europe although not so much perhaps in the U.S. (The other pre-released track is a cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘West Coast’).
It could be argued that Granditsky is making music for the end of an era, and of an Empire.
(Denmark) HunBjørn – Keep Breathing
Good advice. HunBjørn released her third single, ‘Keep Breathing’ on 20th September, in advance of the release of her forthcoming EP ‘Next Summer’. (That’s the title, not the date).
‘Keep Breathing’ is encouragement to stand by who you are. It’s inspired by the current tendency to display perfect lives on social media platforms and the direct negative impact it has, especially on young girls and boys’ self image and self esteem. It’s a call to pause for a minute, to reflect and, well, just breathe.
She says, “Personally, I love meeting people that have the guts to show who they really are and be vulnerable. I remind myself of that when I’m on stage, or in the process of releasing music. It can be scary to put yourself out there, but it’s also rewarding. To me it’s cool to be courageous enough to share real thoughts and real emotions and not just the glossy picture.”
I get the impression a few musicians are picking up on this ‘power out of vulnerability’ theme right now – Anna Calvi’s ‘Don’t beat the girl out of my boy’ for example – although manufactured perfection has always been around. We’ve had ‘perfect lives’ in films and TV dramas for decades. Good that they should do though.
The song has a fairly routine electro-pop melody line, stronger in the chorus, until just after the bridge, when a synth orchestra takes over. Her voice intrigues me; she’s ever-so-slightly Lady Gaga at times. Give it a few spins, it will grow on you.
(Denmark) Afenginn – Skapanin
I’m always keen to feature more classical work in these pages, and especially when there’s a Faroese connection. That place fascinates me.
Afenginn, (“intoxication and strength” in Old Norse), is Danish composer and musician, Kim Rafael Nyberg, a leading neo-folk, post-classical voice in Scandinavia. Nyberg’s ambitious, orchestrated compositions are based on his creative impulses with a strong DIY underpinning, with each of his previous bodies of work being a clear departure from the last.
On his new album ‘Klingra’, released 11th October, Nyberg has crafted a post-classical exploration into the temperament of intertwined cycles. Both the music and poetry (in Faroese) are composed by using interlocked cyclical patterns. He also uses minimalistic patterning, something like the techniques of Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt).
The Faroes connection comes by way of the musicians on the track and album, including Teitur and Dánjal á Neystabø on pianos, Mikael Blak (Eivør) on bass, and Ólavur Jákupsson (Yann Tiersen) singing in Faroese.
One of the notable things about this track, ‘Skapanin’ (‘The Creation’) is the use of dual drummers, a string quartet and pedal steel guitar at the same time. If you’d asked me if that was likely to work before I’d heard this I’d surely have said no. It does.
How to classify it? Music for a Faroese scandi-noir TV drama?
(Sweden) Andreas Kleerup ft. AlunaGeorge – Lovers Table
For over a decade Kleerup has been at the centre of the Scandinavian music scene, beginning with production duties for Roxette, Cardigans and Shout Out Louds, later collaborating with the likes of Lyyke Li and Neneh Cherry. He also wrote ‘With Every Heartbeat’ for Robyn.
On September 18th, Kleerup released his new single ‘Lovers Table’ featuring UK dance-pop act AlunaGeorge through Norwegian label U OK? It is the first single to be released from Kleerup’s new album, due for release at the end of 2019. ‘Lovers Table’ was written with fellow Swede Joacim Persson, another producer and song writer, whose credits include Kelly Clarkson, John Legend and Lady Gaga.
According to AlunaGeorge, the song concerns “a career woman giving up on love because she just felt she wasn’t invited to the table. The cliché of the lonely female boss that is familiar, yet comfortable, because you don’t have to risk your heart – in many ways it was personal experience. Until someone comes along to challenge that paradigm and you realise you have to jump in even though you feel like you can’t.”
It’s described as dance-pop but I didn’t get the urge to dance. On the contrary I’m quite happy just to sit and listen to it. There’s a pleasant, imposing melody and Aluna Francis’ childlike voice surprised me; I didn’t realise it was that mesmeric. Perhaps it’s been tinkered with, but the end result is all that matters.
(Sweden) The Beautiful Swedes – Leave on a Sunday
And I thought they all were. The Beautiful Swedes is a retro-pop duo influenced by Abba, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, First Aid Kit, Mumford & Sons and, er, Ed Sheeran. You almost lost me at the end there, lads, perhaps you might want to rethink that PR.
The duo, Simon and Kalle, wrote their first song together at the age of 10 and they have been playing music together since then, with an extensive list of venues under their belt with various bands including Bonnaroo, SXSW, the Swedish Grammy Awards, Eurosonic, and the O2 Arena in London. Now they’ve decided to share their own music with the world.
This song is a short love story that ends on Sunday and begins again on Friday, and the first of three singles to be released during the autumn. It’s certainly catchy. And retro. Their influences apart I hear the likes of The Monkees and Herman’s Hermits in there.
It won’t get reviewed in The Guardian but so what? It’s in here.
‘Leave on a Sunday’ has been available on all platforms since 20th September.
(Sweden) Violet Days – Ink
Violet Days is the nom de plume of singer-songwriter Lina Hansson. The Stockholm local released her debut EP ‘Made In My Head’ last year, produced by her long-term collaborator and producer Kris Eriksson. Violet Days has since gone on to achieve over 20 million streams on Spotify. She released the new single ‘Ink’ through Virgin EMI, on all streaming platforms.
The song is a reflection on the effects of a toxic relationship and breaking from their damaging restraints. She says, “It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that the hardships and toxicity are normal and that all relationships are like that.”
The subject matter alone will strike a chord with many people of course, especially younger ones. It’s a classy song with strong melodies. The lyrics are quite clever:
“Why when you say something could (good?) I feel nothing/then bite the bullet when you trigger something/I seem unbreakable I understand/but I have built this castle out of sand”
Then she spoils it all with “I wish I did/give a shit about it”, which, to be honest, jars.
Violet Days has been announced as main support for The Midnight on their UK and European tour, which starts in November. Full UK/Ireland tour dates can be found below:
7th – Manchester, Albert Hall
8th – Dublin, Button Factory
10th – Glasgow, SWG3 Studio Warehouse
11th – Bristol, SWX
12th – London, The Roundhouse
(Sweden/UK) Emilia Martensson – Loredana
The opportunity to review a jazz track comes infrequently so I was more than happy to listen to this one by Emilia Martensson, a London-based Swede who seemingly is well established in the UK jazz scene.
She was awarded ‘Vocalist of the Year-2016′ at The Parliamentary Jazz Awards (I didn’t even know there was such a thing) and was recognised in 2012 by The Observer as “the new face of British jazz”. Emilia is a regular performer at some of Europe’s leading venues and festivals and has appeared at The London Jazz Festival and Ronnie Scott’s.
She’s released two solo albums, ‘And so it goes’ (2012) and ‘Ana’ (2014) and in 2016 ‘Elda Trio’ with two other musicians.
‘Loredana’ is the title track from her forthcoming LP and is her mother’s name. It is inspired by the novel ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
This project explores the adversity and the wilderness of the term mother, celebrating the infinite observations about the ‘mother – child relationship’, and how this can shape us throughout our lives. It was initially inspired through four specific questions that Emilia asked her audience about their relationship to their mothers.
The ‘jazz’ appellation isn’t really accurate. There are strong elements of folk music in here as well, and some Caribbean rhythms to boot. And the opening bars are reminiscent of something regular readers of this column may have encountered previously, namely the Swedish tradition of kulning, a variety of singing by which farm animal are called back from their pasture.
‘Loredana‘ has been released (27th September) on the BABEL label.
(Denmark) Nima – Feeling like a blur
Nima is a start-up band from Denmark, I’m not sure just where, information on them is scant. I suspect they are members of previous bands who have come to together and they embrace guitar, keyboards, trumpet, drums and saxophone. Markus Nyberg Jensen seems to be the main man, as songwriter and lead vocalist.
I’m not yet sure what to make of ‘Feeling like a blur’. I want to like it mainly because today has been a blur for me dealing with the Thomas Cook fallout. It’s gentle, almost soporific, sightly hippy-ish, just what the doctor ordered.
But it’s also frustrating because while between 2:10 and 2:40 it sounds like it’s building into a big climax it never really arrives in the way you’re expecting it to.
Not at all bad for a first song though.
(Sweden) Lights of Skadi – Time
This one came out of the blue. If anyone doubts that progressive rock isn’t still alive and kicking in Sweden (and we’ve featured numerous prog bands from that country in NMS) this is the ultimate proof.
Lights of Skadi are from Borlänge in central Sweden and are Jörgen André (drums, synthesizers, guitar, bass) Jesper Jansson (guitar) and Martin Ragnarsson (drums, guitar and orchestrations); all multi-instrumentalists and they share song writing credits on all tracks on their forthcoming debut album ‘Shimmer’, to be released on October 25th (Comedia). The album is 60 minutes of powerful instrumental progressive rock, but only features three tracks: ‘Norse Code’,’ White Eyed Raven’ and this, their new single. ‘Time’
Their social media advises they follow bands such as Haken, Opeth, Dream Theater, and Meshuggah, which suggests a metal influence and indeed they bill themselves as ‘progressive metal/rock’. But they mention Pink Floyd and King Crimson as influences and contained within this 25-minute track you’ll certainly here some old-fashioned 1970s prog, particularly the math rock of King Crimson, along with a flavour of more recent symphonic metal.
It’s quite a ride; the only thing bothering me is that they might be trying too hard to cram as much in as they can, in a similar fashion to what black midi do. Impressive as it is, it doesn’t really flow, or peak. As if it might have been called ‘Fragments of time’. But set aside 25 minutes if you can and let it wash over you.
(Norway) Hollywood – Parachute (from the album Close to you)
I don’t know what the significance of 20th September is but many artists have released new work on that date. Included among them are Hollywood, a Norwegian three-piece comprising until recently solo artists: Billie Van, Jonas Alaska and Mikhael Paskalev. They released debut album ‘Close to you’ on that date.
This project arises out of a trio of close friends who have contributed to each other’s solo successes for the last decade, before deciding the time had finally come to begin blurring their boundaries and discover a bolder, more playful approach to their song writing. They also have their own studio and record label, Braveheart, in Oslo.
‘Parachute’ is the focus track here. I’m tempted to say that like its title it lets you down gently. Except it doesn’t. From the surprise harpsichord opening to the equally surprising up-tempo shift and multiple almost choral voices towards the end it keeps you in free fall.
(Norway) Anorakk – Adrenaline
Anorakk are doing a WU LYF, if you remember them, a band that hid their identities and then imploded before anyone could unmask them. Hopefully the same fate won’t befall these ‘mysterious’ Norwegians from the far north of the country whom, some suspect, are time-served musicians on the local scene. If this was happening in Canada it would be Arcade Fire I suppose, they’re prone to doing this sort of thing but under some clever title which half gives the game away.
Anorakk is a dance band and this song is about “the nerves that sign up the minutes before it really applies; the adrenaline in ‘now or never’.”
The PR makes reference to both Phil Collins and Beach House and to be sure there is the beat of ‘In the air tonight’ with the arrangement of Alex Scally and the vocal of Victoria Legrand. It’s a slow burner for a dream pop dance track but by the time it gets within sight of the finishing tape that adrenaline is coursing.
(Finland) Lake Jons – It’s too bright
In a similar dream pop mould, (or psych pop as they call it) the new single from Finnish duo Lake Jons – ‘It’s too bright’ – comes along with the announcement of their second album ‘The Coast’ (29th November, Playground Music).
Hailing from Helsinki, the duo treads a fine line between producer and full-on band. Since their formation they’ve been developing delicate folktronica-tinged dream-pop and have performed at Ja Ja Ja shows in London, Berlin and Hamburg.
On their forthcoming album they attempt to reconnect with their roots, leaving the city and delving into the greenery of their moniker’s birthplace; the Towars forest.
On ‘It’s Too Bright’ they toy with the concept that life moves on and you have to move with it. The bass line is an attempt to define how time and life move. It jumps here and there but holds no regard to whether anyone cares or not. “It’s pretty simple instrumentation” they say, “but almost everything is pretty spontaneously played and recorded and it was done in one take.”
As Lieutenant Colombo might say, “that bass line, it’s been bothering me; what’s it doing there?” It’s heavy and plodding and does lead you to believe you’re being dragged into some avant-garde jazz track. But as the song progresses you come to accept its value and especially how it melds some pretty disparate sounds including synths and honky-tonk piano. Unfortunately it fizzles out and expires at the end but then so does life.
(Finland) STINAKO – Kun Viimein Saavuit (When you finally arrive)
I had to think seriously about including this track because it’s in Finnish which means that very few readers will have a clue what it is about. But I rarely let an opportunity go by to feature the fabulous voice of Stina Koistinen.
She’s been in NMS previously, in two guises; in her regular band Color Dolor and more recently twice with fellow countrywoman Astrid Swan as Swan/Koistinen.
STINAKO is her new (and first) solo project and her debut album ‘Ikuisuus’ (again all in Finnish) arrives on the 1st November (Soliti). ‘Ikuisuus’ is said to bring out a new, bold and private side of the artist.
This, the first song she composed for the album, is quite morose with only bare, stripped back piano accompanying that voice as she sings about waiting, and breaking promises, and vulnerability. But when she hits the high notes towards the end the rawness and richness together are emotionally overwhelming. She simply has the knack of doing that.
‘Kun Viimein Saavuit’ was released on Friday 27th September.
So with a Swan/Koistinen EP and now this so far this year all we need is a new Color Dolor album and that shouldn’t be too long either.
Singles from previously featured artists
(Norway) The Switch – Spring in the Forest of Time
The Switch were in here a couple of months ago and since then I saw them performing live in Oslo and was impressed. They are regarded as a ‘sophist-pop’ septet but what I saw on the night was fundamentally a guitar/keyboards psych band that can really rock when they want to.
In advance of their fifth album release, on 27th September – ‘Birds of Paradise’ they have released another single (5th September) with the title ‘Spring in the Forest of Time’.
Thomas Sagbråten, the lead vocalist, says of the album, “We tried to make a musical universe with slightly different laws of nature than real life. A bit less gravitation. The air is thicker. It’s hyper realistic, but also unreal.”
To be honest Thomas, I don’t know what that means. Neither do I really get lyrics like “The forest of time is budding now, tiny moments on every branch, they’re waiting to have their moment in the sunshine of your mind.” It sounds like something from Genesis’ ‘Firth of Fifth’.
Here’s my own spin on it. They blend jazz and electronica in a similar way to GoGo Penguin, with a little less of the panache, but plus vocals. There are similar time signature variations and plenty of syncopation. Like GGP, the sound is pleasantly relaxing. As John Thompson would have said at the end of ‘Jazz Club’, “Nice.” ‘Nuff said.
(Norway) Amanda Tenfjord – Kill the Lonely
Amanda Tenfjord has been tipped as ‘the next pop sensation’ for a long time now and I often get the feeling she should be making that breakthrough soon. Perhaps she will do it with the unusually titled ‘Kill the Lonely’, which isn’t a call to eliminate Billy No Mates but rather to abolish feelings of loneliness, including those that persist within the mind even in the company of people. It’s also a call to arms for dumping the cell phone and talking to each other face-to-face. It should really be called ‘Kill the Loneliness’ but that doesn’t scan, I suppose.
One of the reasons why I think it could succeed is that there is no obvious reference point to Sigrid in this song, as there has been in the past. At the same time she hasn’t lost sight of the need for a tune – there’s a strong one – or a beat (ditto), although that beat does have a distinctive generic Norwegian flavour to it.
The half-Greek, half-Norwegian artist based in Trondheim, Norway has certainly been putting in some shifts, appearing at this year’s Great Escape, also Eurosonic, JaJaJa, by:Larm and Reeperbahn, with Iceland Airwaves coming up.
(Denmark) Ida Wenøe – Change Me a Little
Ida Wenøe unusually pairs ‘Nordic Noir’ with Americana. She says of this new single, “I wrote this song because we seem to be living in a world where we focus a lot on the individual, which sometimes makes us forget how much we can be moved by others – by people, by communities, by art, by love, by each other … If we are open to change, we are open to growth.”
Speaking of Nordic Noir the surreal black and white video that goes with this could be straight out of a Danish crime thriller. I was half expecting the ‘perp’ to jump out from behind one of those overpass pillars.
She’s a complete artist, with the voice and style of better known ones. Often compared with Julia Jacklin my preferred analogy is with Jenny Lewis on her folk-gospel ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’ album.
Ida’s been busy, picking up support from BBC 6 Music, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Ulster (where she had ‘album of the week’ status), also US radio including a feature on Seattle’s KEXP.
Her hectic autumn includes a short Danish tour in September, a showcase gig in Madrid and then a return to the USA, recording vocals in Portland on the new album by Matt the Electrician. No UK dates but she was here earlier in the year playing some out of the way places like Cardigan and Sudbury in Suffolk.
‘Change Me a Little’ (Single Version) was released on 13th September on Integrity Records.
(Sweden) The Ghost of Helags – The Santa Rosa Song
Helax, one half of The Ghost of Helags, showed up in the previous edition, now it’s the turn again of the duo, this time with a song they wrote during a road trip in Northern California, to acknowledge the grandeur of their surroundings, only to lose track of where it was on a hard drive when they got home.
Sometime later they dug it out and refreshed it with the aid of friends, to give it a group collective feel, also adding a cello.
Unusually for Helags I’m a little undecided about this one. It isn’t that I don’t like it; rather that it is markedly different from what I’ve been used to hearing from them over the last few months. It gets off on the right foot with opening bars that could be those from that seminal 1980’s electro-pop classic and old favourite of mine, ‘Together in Electric Dreams’. (And, of course, Virginia Madsen was a cellist in the film).
The nature and structure of the track thereafter isn’t dissimilar from that of their previous single, ‘Autobahn Lullaby’ but I’m not convinced the cello (an instrument I like) actually adds much here, except in the outro. And the use of the cello means there isn’t as much synth; and synth is what they excel at.
Then there’s the ‘collective’ vocal. My opinion is that collective voices should be powerful, but these aren’t, really. And when you have a voice like Teresa Woischiski’s you don’t need assistance. In fact it can detract from your own voice and to a degree I think that happens here.
It will grow on me though; Ghost of Helags’ songs always do.
Now the good news. It is possible that not only Helags’ sound but their innovative stage act may be gracing at least one or two UK venues before the year is out. These guys sell out top venues in places like Berlin, where they are based some of the time. UK promoters, come on.
‘The Santa Rosa Song’ will be released on 11th October 2019.
(Sweden) Sofia Härdig – Infatuation
While we aren’t quite infatuated with Sofia Härdig we’ve been looking forward to this second single from her forthcoming album, ‘This big hush’ since featuring ‘Silence’ in NMS #14. There’s no doubt about it, this lady, compared to the likes of Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sue, knows how to rock.
The police wouldn’t need tasers if they could carry this track around with them on a ghetto blaster. The bass line alone would quell the most argumentative drunkard while the guitars would elicit a confession nine times out of 10 if played through a headset. What she’s conjured up here lies somewhere between Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Stranglers and early 1979-80 The Go-Go’s in their punk incarnation. And to that I’d add The Limiñanas because of its driving relentlessness. Apparently, much of the percussion is derived from implements found in the kitchen.
The only reservation I have, as in the case of ‘Silence’, is that the song is invariable. It starts and finishes with the same beat, the one that carries it through the middle as well, while the riffs are equally constant. There’s no bridge, no break at all and to the casual listener it could become monotonous. On the other hand you could say that about The Limiñanas too, but it never did them any harm.
More singles will follow before the album is released.
(Sweden) Ellen Krauss – Criminal to Love
In NMS#17 the sassy Ellen Krauss was ‘On the Bus’ badmouthing her ex in what was really a Scandi-pop teen’s song. This is quite different.
Whenever I see the word ‘Criminal’ in a song title, and especially if the artist is female, my attention wanders immediately to Fiona Apple and her groundbreaking track (and video) with that title from her debut album ‘Tidal’. The theme of Ellen’s song is very similar, criminality as a metaphor for illicit love and guess what? – the outro is the same riff and beat as ‘Criminal’.
Now I don’t know whether that’s just coincidental or whether Ellen meant to sample Apple’s song but I don’t care either. It works for me and that’s all that matters. And it’s a master stroke anyway. It might be a different artist altogether from the one who recorded ‘On the Bus’ as, to the sound of wailing police sirens, Krauss effortlessly positions herself in the same bus lane as progressive contemporary ‘indie-country’ pioneers like Kacey Musgraves and Courtney Marie Andrews.
If this doesn’t get Radio 2 airplay I’ll eat my Stetson.
(Norway) Lokoy & Stefanos Yowhannes – Play
Even though his band Sløtface is back in circulation (it was featured in the previous NMS with a new single after a recording break of a couple of years) its bassist Lasse Lokøy (to give him his real name, he drops that irritating letter ø in his artist name) continues to plough his own furrow, in tandem. Last year’s debut EP included one song, ‘Malibu’, which was a collaboration with fast-rising countrywoman girl in red.
Much of his own material was written while out on the road with Sløtface and this song, ‘Play’ was, too. If I recall, one of his previous songs was about his telephone calls to and from his girlfriend while on the road. This one concerns ‘modern dating’ – fast, casual, and very much like a game. Hope he wasn’t cheating on her.
Here he revives a working partnership with Stefanos Yowhannes, from his home city of Stavanger. I suppose they hit the nail on the head with this fast-paced song, from what I’ve seen of dating programmes on TV (rarely) that’s what most young people do now – talk as fast as they can, often over each other.
It’s catchy but this rap-lite effort to a Caribbean beat comes across as lightweight, verging on novelty. It’s light years from Sløtface’s product. If Lasse is happy with that all well and good but I reckon his future lies with his band.
(Sweden) Lehnberg ft. ‘Slim Vic’ Zeidner – Havet/DnB
Both David Lehnberg and Viktor Zeidner (no connection to S A Zeiner, above) have appeared, separately, or together, in Nordic Music Scene and/or GIITTV on previous occasions. Lehnberg, since his last work with The Deer Tracks has, while working in other bands such as dÁrc with Ida Long (also featured in NMS) and Leiah, gravitated increasingly towards the ambient electronic spectrum while ‘Slim Vic’ heads up one of Sweden’s leading electronic labels, Lamour Records, where he is regarded as “the ambient mastermind.”
Here they appear together on ‘Havet’, which was originally written for Folkteatern Gävleborg’s (a theatre in a county in central Sweden) play; ‘Som du. Som dom. Som jag’ (‘Like you, like them, like me’) to accompany the scene where the main character finds her best friend dead in an abandoned apartment. Sounds like something out of Trainspotting 3.
But, according to Lehnberg “it’s just as much a slow sad piece to accompany the incoming darkness of the fall.” Previously it was only released on the strictly limited edition vinyl called ‘Vid Fronten’. It’s the sort of music I’d associate with a Brontë novel if that helps you get a feel for it.
‘DnB’ (drum and bass I guess) is different again but at just 1:17 is merely a taster of Lehnberg’s better-known mode.
(Sweden) Ceci Noir – No Blame
Ceci Noir presents her new single ‘No Blame’, taken from her forthcoming debut album (1st November, on Comedia). I’m reminded that when I reviewed her second single, ‘Yes I’m feeling it’ in NMS #13 I described her as “a full-blooded rock singer that makes a lasting impression – it’s her voice that really catches your attention”. There was a grittiness which put me in mind of Elkie Brooks.
As with her third single, ‘I am what I am’ (NMS #15) this one isn’t quite as powerful as ‘Yes I’m feeling it’. But it retains a smoky, sultry, almost cabaret artist vocal, set against a bass heavy hi-hat molesting, jazzy backing and with a neat little guitar break.
Ceci Noir has performed live in both Berlin and Stockholm this year, as well as on her home ground in the heavily wooded and lake-strewn area of Dalarna in Sweden. In November Ceci Noir and her band kickstart their ‘Out of Borlänge Tour’ with a release concert in Borlänge, in the Dalarna region.
‘No Blame’ will be featured in a longer version on Ceci Noir’s forthcoming album. The single is a special 3.32 minute, emotionally charged radio edit.
(Sweden) Helga – Mörker (from the EP Autumn Lament)
Spotify identifies Helga, who like Ceci Noir is also from the Dalarna woods of east-central Sweden, as being a ‘metal’ artist and we’ve seen that in previous tracks that have been featured here, predominantly concerning the environment. But there’s more to her than that. She employs a wide range of styles, often in the same song and including metal, heavy rock, dark pop, prog and even the electronic drone one would associate with Anna von Hausswolff.
On this track, the previously released pop-goth ‘Mörker’ (Darkness) we are transported into a sinister landscape of tribal drums, the throat singing of Mongolian band The Hu or more locally Ingrid Håvik and ominous strings, then to churning bass and razor edged metal, to the accompaniment of Helga’s haunting vocal.
The track is arranged symphonically too, although perhaps a little too precisely for a rock song.
Her second EP ‘The Autumn Lament’ was released on September 20th via Icons Creating Evil Art
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.”
A quick scan of the other four tracks on ‘The Autumn Lament’ tells me this is the heaviest track and all the others are lighter to various degrees, even introducing folk elements into the music.
(Norway) Highasakite – Can I be forgiven
What is now back to a duo, Highasakite, is certainly keeping busy. They only released their third international album ‘Uranium Heart’ in February and then had a heavy touring schedule. But they somehow found time to write a fourth album, ‘The Bare Romantic’, which will be issued in two parts, the first on 18th October, with Part II scheduled for release in 2020. This track is the first to be released from it (4th October).
Regular readers will know of my position on Highasakite. I once counted them as my favourite band but they took a backward step when they split two years ago, leaving this rump duo. ‘Uranium Heart’ is quite a good album but it lacks something and I don’t listen to it anything like as much as the others, especially ‘Silent Treatment’.
I wasn’t expecting to hear from them for a long time so this track blindsided me some. It seems they had additional material that they wanted to record, and worked on it between summer festivals, bringing in the new touring members Øystein Moen and Kristoffer Bonsaksen, who ironically have the same first names as two of the three band members who left, along with former Jaga Jazzist and Puma guitarist Stian Westerhus, and traditional and fiddle composer Sarah-Jane Summers. Moen and Bonsaken also shared production duties with full-time member and drummer Trond Bersu.
I’ve said previously that I felt a lot was riding on ‘Uranium Heart’ and while it didn’t chart in Australia, where they are popular, it did make #4 in the Norwegian charts (the previous two albums both reached #1 and ‘Silent Treatment’ stayed in the chart for over two years).
There are constants in ‘Can I be forgiven’, which appears to be a statement rather than a question as there is no question mark. The most notable is Ingrid Helene Håvik’s voice, which is invariable, as ever. But there are subtle differences from previous work, for example there is more overt guitar than I think I’ve ever heard from what is fundamentally a synth band.
And the song comes in two parts just like the album that spawned it. The first section is folky in tone, with a campfire feel to it as there was on some ‘Uranium Heart’ tracks, while the guitar contribution is basically the riff from ‘The Man on the Ferry’ from ‘Silent Treatment.’
Then, exactly half way through the synths and booming drums of early Highasakite arrive like a division of Panzer tanks and Stormtroopers. The one thing it doesn’t do though is end in a blaze of glory as is often their wont, and you sense a greater emphasis being placed on Ingrid’s lyrics and vocals.
Now I’ve got over the shock of the split I’m perhaps more inclined to give them the benefit of any doubt and this is possibly the best track they’ve laid down since that separation.
The band will be back in the UK to play an intimate show at The Garage in London on 16th April 2020. Hopefully other shows will be added.
Photo of STINAKO (Stina Koistinen) courtesy of Soliti Records