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, we’ve got Danish-Polish techno, Finnish operatic metal, melancholic Swedish pop and a sophisticated Norwegian Eurovision songwriter’s first album in her native tongue. And that’s just for starters.
In this rather eclectic edition: FELIN, Swedish musicians’ songs captured in art, Lydmor, Carl Louis, Tarja Turunen, Cure-a-Phobia, lodet, feels with caps, SKARR, Zikai, Cats of Transnistria, Pom Poko (link), Marshall Cecil, Peter Bjorn and John, The Factory, The Tarantula Waltz, Robin Cars ft. Gumo Wiedżma, Arthur Kay, Josefin Winther, Mike Granditsky, Highasakite, Sol Heilo, Iceland Airwaves.
Sections: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists/EPs/Albums/Live/News
Singles, EPs and albums are rated out of 10.
No sound-bites, no airy-fairy language, no English Literature dissertations, No B-S, just honest opinion.
(Sweden) Carl Louis – Something Better
An intriguing character and no relation to Jona Louis. He’s Swedish and better known as a producer, but many of the artists he’s worked with are Norwegian – Ary, Frøder, Ingrid Håvik from Highasakite for example.
Now he’s released a record of his own, ‘Silent Soldier’, described as “a celebration of the sheer joy of naiveté” and influenced inter alia by Swedish artists Peter, Bjorn and John and Massive Attack.
This is the lead track, ‘Something Better’. The press release builds it up as, “as perfect for the dance floor as it is for introspective solitude.”
Now that reads like a contradiction in terms to me and I’d certainly place it in the latter category. The only dancing I can imagine to it would be the uncoordinated shuffling I did as a kid or something you’d see at an old folks’ home.
There’s a problem right from the start as for the opening 35 seconds Carl intones repeatedly “something better” in a disengaged voice to a ponderous beat. Subliminally you’re already searching for something better. It actually gets better after that but not sufficiently convincingly.
If I was cruel I’d say stick to producing Carl, because the production isn’t bad, with some imaginative application of analogue synths. After all it didn’t do Tony Visconti any harm to make that choice, did it?
But I’m not cruel so I’ll leave a judgement to your own discretion.
‘Something Better’ was available on all platforms from October 4th. ‘Silent Soldier’ is also available, on Toothfairy (Norway).
(Sweden) lodet – Hagaduma
I have to be honest and say I don’t know much about lodet other than what I found on his Facebook page. He is Carl Joakim Björnberg (I think) but that’s about the measure of it. Lodet translates as ‘Solder’ (not soldier) and there’s no translation for ‘Hagaduma’ that I can find.
Neither do I know much about his background so it’s down to the song to do the business for him.
It’s a pretty laid back, middle of the road affair which springs into life around two-thirds of the way through in a way that’s sort of reminiscent of Oasis on some of their poppier tracks, with a higher vocal range. A previous song, released in June – ‘Calling’ – is in a similar vein.
I’d like to hear a little more of this artist before reaching any definitive conclusions but this isn’t bad at all.
(Finland) feels with caps – Coexist (from the album Absence Part 1)
The trouble with feels with caps is that they are lower case, which I don’t get unless it’s a variety of Finnish irony which has passed me by.
The band has been picked for Music Finland’s Fast Track Export Accelerator Programme that coaches talent which it believes is poised for international success. This year has already seen them releasing the singles ‘Drains’ and ‘Powder’ (a re-release by Kitsuné Musique) showcasing their bold new sound, which keyboardist Mikael Myrskog describes as “a combination of good pop melodies, and a space/fusion/house blast”.
I don’t normally associate synth-pop with Finland. Heavy Rock, Metal, and dour-but-uplifting balladry, yes – but not synth-pop. The underlying theme in the early part, when Sofi Meronen starts singing in an Amy Lee voice (and there are strong elements of Evanescence in the latter section) and before it explodes at the halfway mark drove me mad when I couldn’t nail it but I eventually got it – Peter Gabriel’s ‘San Jacinto’.
That’s high-flying indeed but they certainly whip up atmosphere, this should be exciting live. As far as the recording goes, perhaps it’s just a little too busy at times but a good, solid track all the same.
Their first album will be released in two parts. Thematically, a lot of the songs are about relationships and romance pain and struggling with the world when you’re growing up through your twenties. It’s a collection of songs that have been written over a long period of time, in Helsinki, New York and London. ‘Absence Part 1’ is out now.
(Norway) SKAAR – Five Times
She sounds like a Viking pillager but looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Unfortunately, she shares her artist name with a band from Bergen and a DJ which could cause some confusion (how about SKAR or Miss Skarr, something to differentiate her?)
Just 21, she was born on the small west coast island of Stord, and grew up experiencing total freedom and the feeling of belonging somewhere. In a place where you can experience all four seasons in one day, friction arises and often results in a flood of inspiration and creativity, which drives her urge to write music.
‘Five Times’ follows her previous releases ‘24’, ‘Wicked Rhythm’, released earlier this year, and her debut single ‘Higher Ground’, which has amassed over seven million streams and which was featured in the soundtrack for the motion picture, ‘Battle.’
There’s a feminist feel to it. She says, “This song is about how women have been treated unfairly within our society throughout history and to this day. It’s not about hating men, but about how stories and norms have made a culture that discriminates against women and teaches men to see them as objects.”
Well that’s a familiar theme as everyone from Cure-a-Phobia (featured this month) to Stella Donnelly to Fiona Apple will testify. As I’ve often said in these pages this variety of song is guaranteed to hit home with a female teenage audience and especially so when it is anthemic in nature, as this is. The problem I have is that as with so much music coming out of Norway just now from female singer-songwriters it is derivative and that derivation emanates from one source – Sigrid.
For that reason, and while it is a perfectly listenable track with an attractive melody, I can only give it 6/10. Hopefully, SKAAR will find her own voice soon.
(Denmark) Lydmor – LSD Heart
Strangely, Lydmor has never found her way into these pages previously despite a review of her dramatic live show in GIITTV late last year and subsequently being tipped as “one to watch” in 2019.
The trouble with Jenny Rossander, who describes herself as “Producer songwriter dancer singer writer and DJ”, is that she is so far under the radar in the UK that she’s below a stealth bomber. An autumn tour is underway right now, partly in her native Denmark and partly across Europe. She put in an appearance at the Reeperbahn Festival and she’ll be playing other events. For a special show in Copenhagen on 17th October she put together an interactive performance art piece with six performers/dancers she previously didn’t know in what she described as “…probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done!! I’m half super excited and half scared to death!” It could be repeated at other venues.
It’s a mouth watering concoction from an artist who is one of the most inventive I’ve ever seen but unfortunately it looks like she doesn’t particularly want to be seen in the UK. Let’s hope there’s a change of heart, soon.
Speaking of which, her most recent release is the single ‘LSD Heart’ which is an oh-so Lydmor title. Again for the video, which she directed herself, she recruited six actors, this time older ones who look like they might have come straight from ‘Off Their Rockers’. Her previous album, ‘I Told You I’d Tell them Our Story’ was electronic in nature and each song quite fast and punchy but she has reinvented herself (something I suspect she’ll do frequently) for this song, slowing right down while retaining some of the electronica. Having ‘transitioned’ into the Shanghai world she inhabited while writing that album she says she’s now “just fooling around in that world and having a lot of fun”.
But there’s a serious side. She adds, “I feel like I am saying a lot of things in this song that I wanted to say for a long time. The essential point of the song is about loving crazily, endlessly, like an LSD trip. And that there is a new generation on the way which sees the bullshit of the world and replaces it with love. What I love about this song is that it has that element of mystery, even to me, YET at the same time I know exactly what it wants; and what I want with it”. Hm.
She’s sharp, observant, articulate, witty and very much on-message but the one thing that concerns me about Jenny is that she might become a little too clever for her own good and thereby confine herself to the café bar cognoscenti at the expense of the wider world that is there to be won over with something a little more accessible.
(Sweden) Zikai – Liquor Kisses
Here’s a young lady who was signed to a major label at 15 but who held back for a while, preferring to write instead and her output includes ‘Hearts Will Bleed’ for the Swedish artist Janice, which features on the FIFA 2020 soundtrack. Now at 21, Zikai has stepped out as a solo artist.
‘Liquor Kisses’, a playfully suggestive title, was co-written by Zikai, Jacob Attwool and Nirob Islam. I’m not sure if the latter should be in the vicinity of liquor. It’s clocked up over 50K streams on Spotify in less than a week. Previous singles ‘Beach Day’ and ‘Mountain Peak’ have achieved millions of streams so by that reckoning she is a serious artist.
It’s tuneful and she has just the right voice for this sort of poppy R&B production. It’s not my preferred listening but her target audience, which is more of her own age, will certainly be up for it.
(Finland) Cats of Transnistria – Mountain High (from the album Aligning)
The new album from Cats of Transnistria – ‘Aligning’ – will be released on 29th November (Soliti Records), and this eight-minute slow burning epic, ‘Mountain High’, is the first single from it (4th October).
Their obscure name has a satisfyingly obscure origination, combining the well-known whiskered domestic mouser with the barely known Russian breakaway state within Moldova. I quite like it.
The album was recorded by Nick Triani and Tuomas Alatalo in the summer of 2019 at Pihastudio, Helsinki and mixed by Tuomas, whose experimental sound design is an essential part of the record. The recording sessions were brief, only a couple of days. Sanna Komi recorded the violins by herself afterwards on each track. The lyrics by Henna Hietamäki are “dancing around natural spirituality and seek healing in this apocalyptic age.”
They describe ‘Mountain High’ as “A one chord meditation, probably the most happy and laid-back song we’ve ever recorded,… a (Jack) Kerouac-inspired ode to independence, personal connection to nature and the healing power of horizons. It’s one of those songs that seem different every time we play it; it’s like half written and half natural elements. We have 50% control on this one.”
Broadly classified as ‘dream pop’ on Soundcloud I don’t hear much ‘pop’. While we’re talking percentages they’re about 50% Headless Heroes, 40% Anna von Hausswolff, with the other 10% indefinable, ethereal electronica.
If that sounds a mish-mash it isn’t. It all comes together very nicely thank you. At eight minutes it perhaps goes on a little longer than it might but still cool for cats.
(Denmark) Marshall Cecil – Soliloquy (Wouldn’t Feel Alone)
It’s certainly an impressive band name (not an individual). It suggests a Wild West Marshall, or a heavy duty politician. You could easily land at Marshall Cecil Airport somewhere in the Australian outback; or Wyoming.
‘Soliloquy (Wouldn’t Feel Alone)’ was released on 24th October. It’s like a Shakespearean soliloquy.
In the manner of ‘Being John Malkovic’ the listener is taken on a symbolic journey through front man Daniel Abraham’s mind. He says, “it’s a self-examining conversation with myself that spins out of control and ends in a cathartic rap. It’s a song open for interpretation but for me it’s about the relation between excessive self-examination and loneliness. When we wrote the song, I was in a place where music made me look within myself more than noticing the world around me. It made me feel lonely. Music can be a monster like that. It can treat you like a manipulative partner and end up playing you. The rap part in the end is me wrestling with that monster.”
Addressing social isolation, a phenomenon increasingly common in an era where the physical is being replaced by the digital, the visuals feature auto-fictional elements including iPhone clips, personal footage from the trio’s recording sessions and live shows, alongside more intimate images showing a glimpse of the lead singer’s daily life.
Marshall Cecil is described as being “unlike any other band out there.” That’s a phrase I’ve used several times myself recently about others so how does this trio match up to it?
It’s a serious piece of work for sure. It and the video divide into two halves, the first representing that self-created loneliness and the second being the fight back against it. The unfortunate thing for me is that I’ve never been able to take rap seriously and especially when it collapses into rhyming nonsense:
“We keep it real tight; real fright; real sight; Inside me like; let’s fly, ignite; let’s try to cry; well I saw the light; when you saw the might; sorry for all this benight; microphone spite; I’m actually nice; I’mma build passion; looking for a mansion; away from the people right in the spotlight; causing I’m feelin’ like…”
What? Did you get all that?
Now if they’d represented that fight back by way of something like ‘The Final Countdown’ or ‘November Rain’ or even ‘Jerusalem’ I might have bought it. As it stands I can only rate the first half although in fairness in the last 50 seconds or so a mildly anthemic ending kicks in.
(Norway) The Factory – Too Close to Get Closer
Norwegian pop four-piece The Factory make their return with a pop anthem, ‘Too Close to Get Closer’ out November 8th.
The Factory started out when the members were no more than ten years old, writing about boring teenage problems, eventually becoming a band that writes and produces modern pop with influences from Hip-Hop and RnB and taking inspiration from the likes of Maroon 5, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Bruno Mars.
The members have been living together in the same apartment with the same goal; to make world class songs, engaging in thousands of hours of song writing, jamming and producing.
The Factory say: “We wrote a feel-good song about a feel-bad theme; being desperately in love with your friend.”
Hm. That asks more questions than it answers. Is this friend male or female? (Female). Does she know about this unrequited love? (Yes, and she plays it). Is he/she already spoken for? (Unknown).
The song’s lyrical hook is a clever play on words in which she (maybe he) is “too close to get closer” and he’s “looking for closure”.
There’s a short section in the middle where the singer sounds like he’s underwater but overall it’s well produced, in an American style, which could be straight out of Nashville or Chicago. If you’ve got loose fillings, the bass will shake them out.
‘Too Close to Get Closer’ will be available to download on all streaming platforms November 8th.
(Sweden) The Tarantula Waltz – Fallin
The Stockholm-based artist Markus Svensson made his debut in 2007 and has released four albums to date, touring around the world with the likes of The War on Drugs and The Tallest Man on Earth. The next one is called ‘Kallocain’ and is released on November 8th via Sony Music Sweden, with the lead single ‘Fallin’ having been released on October 1st.
‘Kallocain’ is inspired by Swedish author and poet Karin Boye’s 1940 novel by the same name – a dystopian tale of the truth serum Kallocain and the dizzying idea of total sincerity. It is a deeply personal record, born out of a sudden change in life and the need to cope with it.
He says, “This song (‘Fallin’) came to me on a February morning when I tried to put on my kids their overalls. Suddenly I had the whole song in mind. It felt very obvious. It’s an ‘us against the world’ song. When I got home that day I sat down at the piano and then the whole song was there. I have a hard time talking about the lyric because I think it speaks better for itself.”
For some reason I was expecting something humdrum but this is anything but. An extraordinary song, it starts off with simple piano chords over distant drumming that could be in another studio. Then Dylan shows up, followed by Coldplay, then it ends in a triumphant electronic anthem.
I loved it. What a find. The best part of this job is unearthing these treasures.
(Denmark) Robin Cars ft. Gumo Wiedżma – Chche Romantyka
Sometimes I get the weird, wonderful and outlandish to review. This one is right on the margin in many ways. Firstly, because while Robin Cars (I doubt that’s his real name) is Danish, he’s very much Berlin-based. Secondly because this song features Polish ‘performance artist’ Gumo Wiedżma with whom he seems to work a lot – in Polish. The title here, ‘Chche Romantyka’ is Polish and translates as ‘I want (something) romantic.’
He describes his music as “attempting to read a Tom Robbins novel in a Berghain darkroom”. Let’s take that piece by piece. Tom Robbins is the occasional American comedy-drama novelist best known for ‘Even Cow Girls Get The Blues’ which was made into a film by Gus van Sant. Berghain is the infamous Berlin underground techno gay nightclub, claimed to be the most legendary in the world, converted out of a redundant power station and where the bouncers are employed to let the whacky in and to keep the normal folk out. Its darkrooms were said once to be Berlin’s equivalent of the 1980s’ San Francisco bath houses along Market Street although these days merely nudity and BDSM gear are the order of the day.
‘Chche Romantyka’ is exactly what I’d expect to hear being played inside once they’d let me in (ha!) In parts it could be an alternative soundtrack to Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Ready, Steady, Go’, the one used in the Korean club scene in ‘Collateral’, when hit man Tom Cruise goes after the oriental baddie on his own turf. In others it could be a Polish version of ‘Je t’aime, moi non plus’ or ‘Kocham cię, ja też nie’ to give it it’s Polski title.
Fascinating, even if it’s all a little bizarre.
Singles from previously featured artists
(Sweden) FELIN – LaLaLa
We’ve had FELIN on board several times in the past, an artist who always comes up with a memorable tune. Actually, she’s not a solo artist; it seems FELIN is a duo, trading as ‘The FELIN Collective’ and consisting of Elin Blom and John Strömberg, who is her producer.
Something I’ve remarked on in the past, in NMS #13 with her first single ‘Black Heart’ and then in NMS#15 with the follow-up ‘Woman with a Knife’ is that she’s influenced by Quentin Tarantino, especially the dude’s dark humour, and that was evident in those two tracks.
In anticipation of her forthcoming debut album she released the third single from it, ‘LaLaLa’ on 6th September. Unfortunately it slipped through the net last month but then we did have a bumper edition.
She says, “’LaLaLa’ is about being mistreated and hurt by someone and while you’re destroyed, they just go on with their life as if nothing has happened. That can make anyone go a little psycho, right? And even if you would never act on it, the villain in you secretly wishes for karma to bite back when they least expect it. The lyrics on the upcoming album are all pretty twisted, but in a playful way. Movies are a big inspiration of mine, so I wanted to create my own movie in the form of an album with a story about a dark and wild romance that ends in chaos”.
Apart from the fact “la la la” appears frequently in the lyrics, and that she sings it like you’d expect one of those weird Tarantino characters to, I’m not sure why it’s the title, rather than, say ‘Going psycho over you’ or something like that.
But what matters is that she’s put together another dark, brooding, yet snappy and melodic track in a style which she is making indelibly her own. I’m looking forward to the album. Also, to seeing her perform live. She’s undertaking a short tour of Sweden as this is written; hopefully she’ll head to the UK before long.
(Sweden) Peter Bjorn and John – Rusty Nail
I never understood why Peter Bjorn and John don’t separate their names with commas; I always think I’ve made a mistake. But there’s no mistaking their sound and here they are celebrating their 20-year anniversary in 2020 in advance with the release of the first single, ‘Rusty Nail’, from their ninth full-length studio album, ‘Endless Dream’, due out March 13th via INGRID.
Their previous LP was 2018’s ‘Darker Days’, an album that found the trio taking it back to where it all began, just the three of them stripping away the outside noise. They started working on the new LP almost immediately afterwards, describing it as “the light to the darkness; the day to the night.””
It seems the creative process for ‘Endless Dream’ has been different as well with the band rehearsing songs in the same room and recording together then reverting to their traditional isolation for post -production. The result is more of the catchy indie-pop songs that they have become famous for throughout their career.
When I saw PB&J earlier this year I recall noting how many of their songs, while upbeat, have just a hint of melancholy about them, in the way some 1960’s UK bands did; I’m thinking particularly of The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and Peter and Gordon. If that’s your thing then ‘Rusty Nail’ is right up your street.
‘Rusty Nail’ was released on 18th October on all digital platforms.
(Norway) Arthur Kay – Say it Out Loud (from his eponymous LP)
Veteran Norwegian musician Arthur Kay showed up in NMS a few editions ago and in his new persona as a solo artist “on a mission to spread the gospel of Moog across Norway and eventually the world” and attracted a cult following at the Øya Festival shortly thereafter. He’s been associated with indie rockers The Switch and Orions Belte, both of which have appeared in NMS and his styles embrace everything from jazz to funk to rap to Latin American psychedelia, which I didn’t even know existed.
When he was previously featured it was with a novelty song about the merits of holiday pay, which was apparently invented in Norway, and very much in the style of The Divine Comedy.
Having recently released a house single – ‘Higher Ground’ – ‘Say it out loud’ is pure funk. Craig Charles please note.
(Sweden/Norway) Cure-a-Phobia – Highly Offensive
The Swedish/Norwegian remix queens are back but with a different twist. Cure-a-Phobia, a band which formed so its members could learn how to do just that, featured in an earlier NMS with an interesting cover of Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ which made waves in Sweden and then later with their third album, ‘Regeneration’, in NMS#11.
‘Highly Offensive’ was included on that album as the opening track and at the time I wrote, “A feminist statement par excellence… (it) pulls no punches. It is partly a song about the prevalent subject of male abuse of females, partly a ‘Male etiquette for Dummies’ guide and partly a ‘we sisters are doing it for ourselves and we don’t need no help” statement. It is clear straight away that Cure-a-Phobia are clever wordsmiths (“Some of them will when/you hold the door for them/be so confused that they won’t know how to get in/And some of them will when/you perform better than them/be so offended they won’t know where to, know where to begin”).”
What they’ve been and gone and done here is to invite five different producers to come up with new versions of the track.
They say, “‘Highly Offensive’ is our protest against patriarchal oppression. It reminds us of both the small nuances and the profound structures that keep us women down yet today. As icing on the cake, we have let five amazing gentlemen create their own remix of the song.”
Oh, the irony. You kill me, ladies.
The five chosen Swedish remix producers involved in the project are Kent Olofsson, Simon Rose, monsøvic (a.k.a. Måns Persson), Orange Crate Art (a.k.a. Tobias Bernsand) and Tomas Westling.
The result is an EP filled with some imaginative new perspectives. The trouble with these original plus x remixes EPs is that you can tire of hearing the same song over again but there is sufficient variety here to retain attention. Olofsson’s take for example infuses even more Kate Bush into the vocals than there was already while offering up an ambient outro. Rose’s is an IDM slow burner with a hint of house and no lyrics while monsøvic introduces an eastern flavour. Orange Crate shifts so far from the original that it is almost unrecognisable and could be GoGo Penguin tuning up, while Westling’s sticks closest to that original concept, while somehow managing to turn it into an outright dance track in the manner of Iceland’s Sykur.
All-in-all, an interesting experiment. I’m not quite sure how the remixes add anything to the philosophy behind the original, especially the lyric-less one, but they are certainly entertaining.
(Norway) Sol Heilo – Unplugged Playground
Just over two years after she released her debut album ‘Skinhorse Playground’ ex-Katzenjammer star Sol Heilo has issued independently an EP, ‘Unplugged Playground’, which as the title hints at, is a collection of stripped back versions of many of the songs on that album, six of them in all, together with a new one.
There is an argument that reissuing tracks so soon after the original version is perhaps something an artist should stay away from and that the focus should be on new recorded material. On the other hand there may be a good reason to do it and in this case there appears to be.
After a sluggish start to her solo career, Sol Heilo’s popularity has soared this year, courtesy partly of an appearance in a popular Norwegian TV show early on and subsequently to a series of sold-out concerts and festival appearances across the country.
During those shows she has consistently refined her live performances (one of which I witnessed back in August) and was at pains to stress when advertising this EP that “this is the closest you get to my live sound – and my heart.”
So the EP serves a dual purpose, one of promoting what her live performances are like to new fans while also permitting existing foreign fans, who may not get to see her until 2021 unless they can afford to travel to Norway, not the world’s cheapest country, a glimpse into the nature of those live, almost acoustic shows.
The EP opens, as did the album, with ‘America’, a loose examination of the state of that nation by a foreigner touring it in search of new experiences, and written early one morning in a New Orleans motel. Sounding initially here like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ I’m not sure this version, while it has even more feeling and emotion, has quite the same impact as the exuberant original, which contains a wonderful harp contribution.
‘I Can’t Sleep’, an expression of pain for a lost love, actually benefits from being slowed down to a metronomic crawl and the additional emotion is almost overwhelming at times. Sol also manages to replicate the pleading, almost child-like voice of the UK’s Polly Scattergood on this track, especially the latter’s ‘I Hate The Way’, itself a huge bonus for me.
‘Pieces To Play’ is a new song which wasn’t on ‘Skinhorse Playground’ but which has been reviewed as a ‘Video of the Week’ in GIITTV. Not so ‘London is Trouble’, a popular live show song, and one which doesn’t sound radically different from the album version here, at least until the last minute or so, where it gets a little breathy.
I’m not sure about ‘Killing Karma’, the most dynamic track on the album despite its dark subject matter. On this EP it acquires a Latin American, almost Caribbean beat and guitar part at times and I could even envisage Beyonce singing it. What it hasn’t lost is the gospel ‘choir’ at the end, albeit a diminished one. Praise the Lord.
I was both looking forward to, and apprehensive of, the last two tracks, ‘When my Country died’ and ‘Walk a little further’ as they are my favourite ones from the album.
The first one possibly references Anders Breivik’s bombing and shooting spree in and around Oslo in 2011, I can’t think of what else “I wake, I wake from my sleeping/And I am free but I still hide/’cause when the prophets stopped speaking/That was when my country died” could mean.
This version, in which that final verse is partially spoken, preceded by a doom-laden vibraphone part, if you can imagine such a thing, tugs on the heart strings even more.
In the case of ‘Walk a little further’, while it loses the album’s big multi-instrumental ending it gains in personalisation, enhanced by the guitar work of one of Norway’s unsung musical heroes, Ronny Yttrehus. It really does sound as if she’s singing it to, and for, you. I can imagine this one being synced right across Hollywood for handkerchiefs-at-the-ready romantic films.
When, last August, I interviewed Marianne Sveen, another ex-Katzenjammer about to embark on her own solo career, she said without any prompting that Sol Heilo was the most talented person she had ever met (and she knows many), one able to do just about anything. What Sol Heilo has done here is unequivocal. Once she starts international touring again, hopefully in 2020, we now know exactly what to expect.
‘Unplugged Playground’ was released on 25th October on the main streaming platforms, to be followed by a physical CD and vinyl versions.
Walk a little further
(Norway) Josefin Winther – Uendelig lys. Uendelig mørke (Infinite light. Endless darkness)
Josefin Winther is a Norwegian artist and songwriter born and raised in Bergen with four albums under her belt along with hundreds of shows in Northern Europe. She is often compared to the likes of PJ Harvey and Patti Smith. She has achieved the #1 position in the Norwegian album charts, with her third studio album.
In autumn 2017 she released Righteously Wrong, which was named her best album yet by critics. Her songs have been play listed on Norwegian national radio channels, and she has participated in several popular TV shows. She has also made her mark as a songwriter for other artists on Eurovision. In 2014 ‘Silent Storm’ performed by her cousin Carl Espen won the Norwegian final, and came 8th in the international Eurovision final.
Josefin Winther plays both as a solo act and with backing musicians.
Her latest album, Uendelig lys; Uendelig mørke is in Norwegian in what appears to be a break in tradition for her.
Never daunted (we reviewed a single sung in Finnish last month), the review went ahead, focusing on the quality of the music and the emotion it generates while Josefin kindly translated the lyrics.
It isn’t an album of great variety in that it consists mainly of ballads, book-ended by two more strident tracks, the powerful multi-instrumental title track which opens it and the last one, ‘Endelig’ of which I’ll say more in a moment. None of them are what you’d expect from a Eurovision song writer.
‘Uendelig lys; Uendelig mørke’ is a doom-laden dystopian effort, opening with an ominous fast-tolling bell, and ending with heavy breathing. Underlying synths suddenly surface like the Loch Ness Monster and submerge the occasional indefinable noises. It’s all a bit busy, perhaps a shade too busy.
Many of the following ballads, which tend to grow towards a big finish, are hung around guitar (usually acoustic)/synths/and a struck instrument which I think is a vibraphone. There’s quite a lot of subtle syncopation, this isn’t wallpaper music and it commands your attention. As such she has her own distinctive sound.
There are variations, such as a slight Caribbean rhythm on ‘Jeg fulgte bare hjertet’ and on ‘Sønn’ it sounds like World War 3 broke out at the end. The eighth track, ‘Tilgitt’ is reminiscent, particularly by way of the guitar part, of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Blood of Eden’ with Josefin playing both roles (Gabriel and Sinead O’Connor/Paula Cole). Then on the ninth track, ‘Løper uten vinger’, a short, abstract, experimental piece builds to a big outro scream.
The following three songs are ballads again before the album climaxes with the aforementioned ‘Endelig’ by way of which it goes out with a bang, sounding like it could be something by Suicide.
Perhaps this album was written with a Norwegian audience in mind. An international one in English might have been different in some ways.
Vocally, while I didn’t hear the Dorset girl or Patti, Josefin sounds surprisingly French on some tracks, a little of Christine & the Queens with a hint occasionally of Vanessa Paradis. She has a great voice and some interesting tricks, unless my own ears are playing tricks. On track 2, ‘Dette er ikke meg’ she sounds slightly off-key in parts, which is probably intended, if I heard it correctly.
Lyrically, the album is deep and the words are written like poetry. Three of the songs, ‘Sønn’, ‘Tilgitt’ and ‘Jeg glemte meg’ were all originally written in English, and then translated to Norwegian.
Affairs of the heart, the difficulties of relationships, breakdowns, partings and reconciliations loom large in the stories and they are replete with imagery. In ‘Tillgit’ she sings, “Words like come at me they’re bullets/Tears come at you like they’re dry/Oh, my love we’ve been foolish/To think that this can’t die.”
In the title track: “It turned infinite dark here/But that’s okay/It’s going to teach me what life is”.
Then in ‘Endelig’: “Finally they cut my wing off/Now I’m standing here without clothes/I can’t believe I gave away my wing”
In ‘Den Igden’ (You again’) the storyteller appears to be reliving a recurring dream in which a dead (?) partner’s faults are reassessed and recriminations arise as to how they might have been better dealt with. “Why have I gotten you/Ghost in my life/Why have I gotten you/Balancing on a knife”.
Meanwhile reconciliation again appears to be the theme of the ultimate track, Sønn’, in a reversal of the sentiments of Genesis’ ‘No Son of Mine’.
‘Uendelig lys. Uendelig mørke’ isn’t an easy listen in any language but it rewards you for your perseverance.
- Title track
- Dette er ikke meg (This is not me)
- Født på ny (Born again)
- Jeg fulgte bare hjertet (I just followed my heart)
- Sønn (Son)
- Skjebnens Ironi (The irony of fate)
- Deg igjen (You again)
- Tilgitt (Forgiven)
- Løper uten vinger (Running without wings).
- Jeg glemte meg. (I forgot)
- Innsiden (Inside)
- Regnet og jeg. (The rain and I)
- Endelig (Finally)
(Sweden) Mike Granditsky – Post European Music
‘Esg’ one of the tracks from this, Mike Granditsky’s third album, was reviewed last month. It is perfectly representative of his work, which paints in music crumbling, decaying suburbs, High Streets, tenements, people, ways of life and, on this album, entire regimes; this one being Europe. It’s as dark as dark can be. As if Bowie’s last album was ‘Whitestar.’
On ‘PostEuropeanMusic’ (released on 4th October 2019 through 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 employs a variety of styles yet you can’t easily pin him down other than by saying they’re Mike Granditsky.
On ‘Sunset Finks’ the opening vocal could be the Righteous Brothers, slightly out of tune. A military beat fights haunting sax and screeching guitars for pre-eminence.
‘Exits’ changes tack completely. Opening with a synth/guitar combination that would do justice to Torres (think ‘Concrete Ganesha’) it offers up a wonderful line, “Memories, what the f**k are they, something to suckle when you’ve had your day” before lurching into a St Vincent-like chorus with that sax intervening again.
The moody, ambient, and complex ‘Black Museum’ slows the pace right down before ‘Pig Container’ hauls it back on its feet, a track which is a clear nod to Bowie.
You can’t get a more dramatic title than ‘Europe is Dead’ which soundtracks like a Dracula movie against some interesting percussion and then a stonking sax break.
I’m not sure if ‘Ponzie’ refers to the notorious scams of Charles Ponzi and others such as Bernie Madoff or whether I’m barking up the wrong tree altogether. It opens with a powerful instrumental underscored by a thumping bass and could have stayed that way for me.
‘Plastic Terrace’ takes another direction again in the early bars especially, reminding me of the melancholic electronic pop of another Swedish band, Baron Bane. By the time it reaches the end it’s more in the way of Pink Floyd.
‘Painted Face’ is an outright rocker.
I assume the final track, ‘Templehof’ references the West Berlin airport which hosted the Berlin Airlift, one that is symbolic of that country’s pre-war decadence (some of which has returned) while also since finding itself abandoned and used as an immigration centre and refugee camp. A brilliant metaphor for the fall of an empire. The most menacing track, again there is a strong flavour of Bowie.
The only (slight) concerns I have with Mike is that tunes sometimes aren’t as strong as they might be, some of his songs just stop dead, something I find a tad irritating whoever the artist is although I concede there might be a good reason for it, of which I’m unaware; also that his voice doesn’t seem quite powerful enough to carry one or two of the heftier tracks.
But as a studied flaneur, wandering the back streets of Eurasia as Orwell called it (and of course Britain was part of Oceania, along with the U.S.), and quietly observing the collapse of empires he has few equals. I’m sure he could get some work from The Brexit Party.
(Norway) Highasakite – The Bare Romantic Part 1
While listed as a full album, this is really an EP, Highasakite having decided to follow their brooding February 2019 album ‘Uranium Heart’ quickly with another one, ‘The Bare Romantic’, but in two parts, the first in October and the second next year.
Part 1 consists of just four tracks of which the first one, ‘Can I Be Forgiven’, was reviewed in NMS #19, where I said, “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 the album ‘Silent Treatment.’” I added that it was possibly the best track they’ve laid down since becoming a duo again.
It isn’t only the addition of a violin in ‘Through Tunnels and Towns’ (a road trip through Norway?) which signifies a move away from their typically heavily synth-based work. If it wasn’t for Ingrid Håvik’s unique voice, which you can spot 1,000 miles away – and which is on great form here – I wouldn’t have recognised this slow ballad as one of theirs.
‘Just a small quake’ which Ingrid opens ominously with “I have deleted him from my life/all of the letters all gone” reminds me of the single they released a few years back – ‘Keep that letter safe’ – except that the latter day big synth production is back, and big style. Unfortunately, it is a little overdone, in fact it falls somewhere between Mussorgsky’s ‘Great Gates of Kiev’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ in its intensity when something a little gentler might have been in order.
The final track, ‘Too much to handle’ is a fairly middle of the road affair until the last minute or so where they employ effectively multiple voices over haunting synths in a similar way to a previous song, ‘God don’t leave me’ after which it plays out mournfully by way of piano.
The sleeve photo is of a rough and ready Ingrid, cigarette hanging insouciantly out of her mouth, like a sort of Alberta Camus, waiting existentially on an Oran beach for Meursault to arrive (see main picture). If it is intended to underline a change of direction it works because this album/EP is at least an attempt at one, and, thankfully, it is in the opposite direction to ‘5 Million Miles,’ the Stargate-inspired track from 2016 with which the previous band split up.
I’m not throwing in the towel yet. I still prefer the three albums that original band produced and keep my fingers crossed they can all one day kiss and make up but the remnants are at least starting to win me back.
(Norway) Pom Poko – Deaf Institute, Manchester, 17th October 2019
Follow this link to read the review. Short extract:
“Occasionally, I’ll stick my neck out and make a statement that puts me in the firing line with my peers and here’s one to mull over. I’m not talking about ageing arena bands here but at this level, there is no better live band in the world right now than Pom Poko.”
Swedish musicians’ songs captured in art
An exhibition by local artist Anders Thyr at the Galleri Brynästorget in Gävle in central Sweden between 5th and 20th October was unusual and notable for a series of improvised interpretations of songs and album tracks generated simply by listening to them on Spotify.
Anders Thyr explains,
“The art took the front seat. Music has been the primary passion, but for some reason, I never became a musician. Sonic landscapes and music have always accompanied me in the art studio, a driving force for the work that’s been accomplished there. Artists and concerts have passed through the years; many stuck and have remained in my conscience. Some of them are old acquaintances by now, sometimes both musically and personally.
Improvised storyboards, with spontaneous images, as an abstract flowing story, a plot driven by the music, series of shapes and movements. I have no memory of making these improvisations, but found them being quite interesting. So, I decided to walk that path for a while, to see where I might end up.
Music that has inspired me to work has now become the origin of the artwork I make. I listen to songs on Spotify, and spontaneously draw what comes up in my mind, allowing the music to run the show and lines and surfaces to take whichever direction they want, without too much polish. The digital works in the exhibition have been created directly on my smart phone, while it sent the music to the earphones. The black and white storyboards, however, are plain analogue ink.”
Local musicians from Gävle who featured in the exhibition and who have also featured in Nordic Music Scene include The Deer Tracks, d’arc and SoLBLoMMa. The image below was inspired by SoLBLoMMa’s ‘Monday Morning’ from the 2016 album ‘Zombic Bombs & Dr Pouts (Compiles).’
(Finland) Operatic metal diva Tarja Turunen to make small UK tour
It isn’t that often she comes this way, and she has said recently that touring can tire her out nowadays, so it’s worth noting that Tarja Turunen’s (or just Tarja as she bills herself) ‘Raw’ tour, currently in Latin America, will arrive in the UK for three dates in March next year, a small part of a 23 date one around Europe which surprisingly includes none in Scandinavia.
Married to an Argentinean businessman, having lived in Latin America, and now resident in southern Spain, many of her tour dates are in Latin America or the Iberian peninsula, though she has recently been on a lengthy tour of Russia. Anyone with even the faintest interest in symphonic or operatic metal should make an effort to see the Finnish soprano who single-handedly invented the genre.
There will be many who take issue with me over that statement on the basis that she was merely a (founding) band member of Nightwish and they aren’t the only symphonic metal band by any means but it was her vocal contribution – possibly the first time a classically-trained female operatic voice had been used consistently in contemporary rock music – that defined that band and which, as a result, contributed to her dismissal from it in 2005.
Since then both Nightwish and Turunen herself have gone on to greater things and she’s been far more prolific than her ex-band with a total of 18 rock, classical, Christmas, Live and video albums, four EPs and 26 singles. The most recent was her fifth studio rock album, ‘In the Raw’ (August 2019).
A quick perusal of set lists reveals she is playing at least one Nightwish cover in each performance (the most frequent are ‘Wishmaster’ and ‘Nemo’ both of which figured in her last ever Nightwish show) but 14 years after the night of the brutal parting of the ways in Helsinki, most people attend her shows now to see Tarja Turunen, not the past.
For those not familiar with Turunen, after the tour schedule below there are two videos, the first being one of her own songs, ‘Into the Sun’ from the album ‘Act 1: Live in Rosario’ and recorded in that Argentinean city in March 2012.
The second, and if you’ve never seen it before you need to prepare yourself for it, is the breathtaking performance of Nightwish’s interpretation of the theme from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ in October 2005 at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, the final one of the worldwide ‘End of an Era tour’. It was exactly that, the end of an era. Moments later, in one of the most dramatically unanticipated events in rock history, Turunen was sacked by way of an openly published letter, an action which has polarised Nightwish fans ever since.
Briefly, for Nightwish fans, I have learned that the world tour that will accompany their next album, currently being recorded and to be released early next year, is already fully booked (four Latin American dates and one in Europe are already revealed for 2020) but the remainder is being kept under wraps for now.
Turunen played a short set with Nightwish bassist and vocalist Marco Hietala in December 2017, causing excitement amongst fans but she has said recently that any ‘reconciliation’ that might lead to her recording even one song with them, let alone an album or appearing live, is still some way in the future. “I’ve forgiven”, she said, “but I can’t forget”. And of course Nightwish now have a new fan vocalist ‘heroine’ in the form of Floor Jansen.
Then again, earlier this year, in a GIITTV article on Shakespears Sister I said a reunion there was unlikely to happen. A week later, one was announced, after 27 years.
It isn’t over until the slim dark-haired lady sings.
Tarja Turunen tour dates 2020:
March 17th – London, Electric Ballroom
March 19th – Manchester, Academy 2
March 20th – Glasgow, Garage
Iceland Airwaves 2019’s focus is on local artists
2019 marks the 21st anniversary of Iceland Airwaves, which started in a hangar at Reykjavik Airport and which now embraces a small cluster of mostly centrally-located venues in downtown Reykjavik, also featuring a growing conference section.
Over the years it has hosted a panoply of up-and-coming artists and bands, supplemented by big-name Icelandic ones such as Björk, Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men and international stars. 2019 seems to be a little different in that while there are some well-known Icelandic bands, OMAM and Mammύt for example, there appears to be more emphasis on lesser-known indie artists from Iceland and throughout the Nordic countries, with a contribution from the UK and U.S. amongst other countries.
A quick glance at the line-up tells me that numbered amongst the artists are many that have appeared in NMS, including Amanda Tenfjord, Alex Flovent, Briet, Pétur Ben, Alexandra Stréliski, Auður, Hildur, Lydmor, OMAM, Siv Jakobsen, and Sykur.
In addition, Reykjavik offers dozens of on- and off-venue shows during the four days of the event, and one in particular that I’m looking forward to Soffia Björg.
Iceland Airwaves runs from 6th to 10th November inclusive.