Nordic Music Scene #9 – News and Reviews from across Scandinavia and the Nordic countries

Nordic Music Scene #9 – News and Reviews from across Scandinavia and the Nordic countries

Welcome to the ninth edition of Nordic Music Scene, a monthly section within God is in the TV that is dedicated to reviews and news of artists from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and their associated territories, focusing on indie artists and labels.

In this edition: Oxen, Of Monsters and Men, Simon Lynge, Das Body, Júníus Meyvant, Cure-a-Phobia, Lydmor, Postiljonen, LULA, Eberson, Vera Hotsauce, Highasakite, Paria, Louise Lemón, Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Slide, Elliot, Hilma Nikolaisen, Gud Jon, Peter Bjorn and Jon, YOHIO

Sections this month: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists/EPs/Live Shows/Albums/News/Down Memory Lane

Singles, EPs and albums are now rated out of 10.

All the editions of Nordic Music Scene are stored under ‘Features’ on the GIITTV website or can be located by searching the website for ‘Nordic Music Scene’.

Singles

(Sweden/Norway) Postiljonen – Chasing Stars

Postiljonen is a ‘cross-border’ Scandinavian dream-pop band which is about to drop its third album in 2019, following their 2013 debut Skyer and 2016’s Reverie.  ‘Chasing Stars’ is the first single from it.

They’ve attracted some celebrity support. The opening track on Reverie – ‘The Open Road’ – was nominated by the band’s personal hero Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) as the best song of the year.

Postiljonen (it translates as Postman) is a trio consisting of Norwegian-born Mia Brox Bøe, and Swedes, Daniel Sjörs and Joel Nyström Holm. They take their inspiration from grainy old black-and-white films and they major on heartache and nostalgia.

In this track though unbridled optimism seems to be the key as Mia sings “It won’t feel the same / We might lose our way / Sometime soon we’ll sway / We’re looking for a moment / Put your head back in the game / Get up, lose the chain / We got stars to claim”, to a backdrop of swirling synths.

The band says, “‘Chasing Stars’ is about the longing for that someone who you used to be very close to. While the lyrics might come across (as) very heartbreaking – there’s still a sense of underlying hope that someday somewhere you’ll be together again, chasing stars. It’s nostalgic as always. It’s the chasing that is the magic and essence, forget about the reaching.”

As is often the case (and not only with them) they recorded the track (and the album) locked away in a cabin in a Swedish forest in order to create their own personal word, away from all distractions.

There are two ways to look at this song from my position as a neutral observer. It is fairly formulaic Scandi dream-pop. On the other hand, you have to have the knack of getting that sound just right, or you’re nowhere in that market. They do.

‘Chasing Stars’ was released by Hybris on November 9th.

7/10

(Norway) Eberson – Something New

Brother and sister and boy(friend)/girl(friend) duos are fairly common. But father and daughter? Not so often. When it is Norway’s most famous jazz guitarist, Jon Eberson, and his daughter, the ex-Highasakite keyboardist and backing vocalist Marte, it’s worth waiting for.

Winner of both the Spellemannprisen and Buddyprisen during a long career that dates back to 1972, Jon Eberson has latterly performed with his band Eberson Funk Ensemble, which includes Marte, who also has a jazz upbringing, having studied at the Grieg Academy in Bergen.

Marte, also a multiple award winner, has been involved with several other Norwegian bands including Machine Birds, Morning Has Occurred, and, recently, LØV, which features another ex-Highasakiter, Øystein Skar, and also performs as a solo artist, having developed a style of her own.

So their album, ‘Empathy’ ,which was released on November 16th,  is not their first collaboration by any means but it is the first time that they have attempted something that falls between ‘pop’ and the improvisation that is expected from jazz musicians. ‘Something New’ is the first single to have been released from it.

‘Something New’ is highly reminiscent in its opening bars and sporadically thereafter of Highasakite’s ‘Keep that letter safe’, a single which was never released on an album and perhaps didn’t get the exposure it deserved. But unlike that track it then veers off into a sumptuous, soaring (and yes, empathetic), vocal, synth and piano melange.

I haven’t had the time to review the full album yet – it demands two or three hearings at least –  but just one tells me it is of the very high quality you would expect, occasionally jazz-oriented but mainly lush electronica, beautifully voiced (especially a track called ‘Bye Bye Little Bird’), complex arrangements smoothly handled and with some riveting guitar interjections.

Their boutique label, Jazzland, specialises both in jazz and improvised music and is a perfect vehicle for this cross-generational experimentation, of which hopefully we will hear more in the future.

8/10

https://open.spotify.com/album/6OVoQeCya93d5tyryvlPgD

‘Empathy’ was released on November 16th but will not be available as a physical album in the UK until February 2019.

(Sweden) Vera Hotsauce – daddy

When I received the PR on this artist, and song, I thought it was a joke, and especially when I read that Vera’s debut single earlier this year was called ‘Bottoms Up’. American Pie meets Coronation Street.  It isn’t. It’s a lovely song, performed with real passion and an enchanting voice.

Only 18, the Stockholm-based singer-songwriter and Zara Larsson sound-alike has previously been classified as a “cocky pop” artist and ‘Bottoms Up’ with its mildly suggestive video established her as an upcoming starlet in the Trap beat-led R&B arena.

This song is quite different as the centrepiece of a four track self-penned mixtape, ‘let me show you what love is’ which was released on November 16th. The tape deals with themes of exposure and abandonment and ‘daddy’, reputedly based on a true story, is a message to the one that was my biggest hero and my biggest love when I was a kid.”

Her writing and vocal style is reminiscent in some parts of the song of Emmy the Great in her more recent, post-‘anti-folk’ incarnation.  

8/10

(Norway) Paria – Tragic

Originally from Iran, Paria moved to Oslo to escape from the hindrance she experienced when trying to express herself musically there. R&B doesn’t always go down too well in Tehran.

She’s had some success in the UK already, her 2017 single ‘91’, a tuneful rap effort, was selected as Record of the Week on BBC Introducing. And yes it is an age reference, she ventures to frontiers that Adele couldn’t imagine. She writes and produces all her own material.

Her work has been interpreted as a backlash to the creative obstruction in her homeland and she has developed a style of her own which isn’t easy to pigeonhole within standard western parameters. It’s a melange of West Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and western urban influences, complemented by original Iranian  instrument samples and multi-tracked vocals.

Her full story of how ‘Tragic’ (released on November 9th) came about is worth repeating.

“When I still had hope in Tinder, I went on a date with this guy, who was nothing like I’d imagined; he came to pick me up in this super ugly Austin Allegro, and took me on a little road trip. He started driving and the car began making weird noises, the heater didn’t work – not what you want in Oslo – and on top of that, he literally would not stop talking about himself and how great he was – ironically making up for the lack of hot air. At this point, I thought I was either going to get kidnapped or die in a crap-car crash. Luckily, I managed to think up an excuse and he drove me back… needless to say, I didn’t see him again.

When writing, I always try to make music that matches a picture in my mind. When I thought about this story it made me wanna make a beat that sounded like an arcade game. I think the story behind ‘Tragic’ is the kind of story that could be part of a pop-art comic book… you know, with the classic car and the couple with the speech bubbles where the girl’s telling the story… So I imagined the lyrics inside those speech bubbles and I wanted to make a beat that matched the picture.”

As a one-time owner of an Austin Allegro, square steering wheel and all, with a heater that didn’t work (they never did) I wish to make clear I have never been on a date with Paria, even though I do blow a lot of hot air.

Paria is currently working towards her debut EP – ‘Popsicle.

7/10

(Sweden) Louise Lemón – Not Enough

Louise Lemón is a proponent of ‘Death gospel’ a new-to-me genre. She released her debut album ‘Purge’ last year and follows it with ‘A Broken Heart Is An Open Heart’ in March 2019, from which this single is taken. With all that purging and open heart surgery it could be hospital gospel.  

‘Not Enough’ was released on November 16th via Icons Creating Evil Art.

Louise says, “Not Enough is a song about staying in a relationship that you know already ended. When you’re in something so destructive but still just can’t let go.”

Not an unfamiliar theme but the treatment is different to the norm with a fairly plodding and unvarying beat building up by way of fuzzy guitars and thumping drums in search of a big climax which doesn’t quite arrive.

Her influences are 1960s and 1970s psych-rock and you can just about hear them in this song.

I see her regular collaborator Randall Dunn (Sunn O)))/Myrkur/Chelsea Wolfe) produced and mixed the song (I wonder how loud it will be, live?) and the record was exclusively recorded using vintage microphones and amplifiers to create an organic sound, and a darker one, with each track recorded live in the studio.

Louise Lemón will showcase the new material live with shows lined up at the Eurosonic and Roadburn Festivals, along with a European tour with Sólstafir.

7/10

(Sweden) Slide – Laugh some more 

Swedish indie-rock duo Slide released their debut single ‘Laugh Some More’ this month. A much heavier sound than any other single featured this month and ever so slightly reminiscent of Nirvana in parts. The track is taken from their debut EP ‘Into Happiness which is set for release in Spring 2019.

Albin Skeppholm and Simon Werner say, “It’s about having an unhealthy relationship to everything that makes you happy and turning everything into a drug. It’s finding yourself not being able to have a healthy relationship with anything”.  

Art mirrors life then. It appears that the formation of Slide wasn’t exactly love at first sight. The two didn’t even like each other but their relationship improved after they met and bonded at unhappy moments in their lives.

Their influences include Nirvana (I’d guessed), also Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck and Oasis, or at least their penchant for anthemic choruses.

‘Laugh Some More’ was released on November 16th through If Music Could Talk /AWAL.

7/10

(Sweden) Elliot – Am I in love or just hungry?  

You can write a song about anything but this is the first time I’ve heard one on the subject of a love for fast, junk food.

Stockholm-based Elliot has been doing just that for the last few years, and now returns with ‘Am I In Love Or Just Hungry’, out on November 16th via Icons Creating Evil Art.

A previous effort was called, honestly, ‘Trade Burgers 4 Love’.  

Both are on the album Fast Food Musik, scheduled for release on November 30th, just before NMS #9 was published. Well, if the League of Gentlemen could call a junk food outlet in Royston Vasey’s High Street Burger Me, why not?

The song was inspired by the experimental LA pop scene, including figures like Ariel Pink and John Maus, and plays around with ideas of what true devotion means to all of us, taking that strong surge in our gut and reimagining it as a hunger for something more. It was written after a break up and “the ’fast food’ subject matter was a guarded metaphor for toxic aspects of my personality, my vices and generally it’s some self-loathing stuff”.

OK, I can go along with that but I have to draw the line at PR-speak like “blends haunting synths with an ethereal vocal presence”. Come on now. That isn’t really to my taste.

6/10

(Norway) Hilma Nikolaisen – Election Day Blues

‘Election Day Blues’ is the first single to be released from Hilma Nikolaisen’s album Mjusik, Itself a follow-up to her debut album Puzzler (2016) and with a release date of November 30th on underground specialist label Fysisk Format, which is in the basement of Oslo’s Tiger Records. Fysisk even has a comprehensive catalogue system just like Factory Records.

Mjusik was recorded in, inter alia, a recording studio, a church and Oslo’s most notorious punk venue. The album takes its name from a childhood punk band she started at the age of five with her brother in 1987, and he appears on several of the songs, together with various other siblings.

According to her label, “Hilma Nikolaisen’s sound and lyrics set out to honour and celebrate the diversity and complexity of what it means to be human”.

She played in several underground bands before playing bass in another brother’s (Emil) shoegaze band. Guess what? Emil is the drummer on a couple of Mjusik tracks. Keeping it in the family.

The first album was a long time in the making but this second one was more impulsive, spontaneous, slightly psychedelic at times, prog-like too, and has more attitude. Indeed, on the thumping opening track, ‘Missionary’, to which we unfortunately have no public access at the time of writing, she declares in the opening line, “I am on a mission.”

It’s quite a varied album, too. ‘You’ for example is a slowly delivered ballad of the sort one would typically associate with compatriot Frøkedal, while ‘Into the Music’ is a nine-minute rollercoaster replete with Rolling Stones-like riffs.

‘Election Day Blues’ gives a pretty good feel for what the album is about.

8/10

(Iceland) Gud Jon – You remind me

Christmas songs come early on NMS. This one is from Gud Jon, a product of what is described as “the leftfield musical project” of Icelandic native Gudjon Bodvarsson, Henry Counsell and Richard Jahn.

On Friday December 7th they release their debut single ‘You Remind Me’ featuring Gudjon’s distinctive vocals, a multi-layered ‘choir’ and a brass section, straight out o’th Saddleworth Whit Friday Band contest. Ah, lad, tha knows.

Recorded in part in the legendary Studio 1 at Abbey Road, it’s not your usual Christmas song. For example, one of the components of the track is a sound Henry Counsell recorded from a preacher in a church in Ghana, where they don’t get much snow. However, sleigh bells do make their traditional appearance.

Gudjon has an intriguing musical background encompassing choral singing, rock (the first album he bought was Ramstein’s Mutter in 2000), and exposure to hip hop, his father often playing Snoop Dogg’s ‘The Last Meal’ to him frequently as a seven-year old. As he says, perhaps not the best parental advice pop could have given him. However, his biggest influence is Freddie Mercury. 

None of the above make an appearance in ‘You Remind Me’ but it isn’t your average Christmas song either, it’s quite uplifting and a worthy successor to, say, Greg Lake’s ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ (it sounds a little like it in parts) though not as deep.

7/10

(Sweden/Japan) YOHIO – Merry go round  

Having almost run out of space I wasn’t going to feature this track this time out, and especially when I saw the word ‘Eurovision’ in the PR email. I’m glad I relented.

Yes, YOHIO has partaken twice in that illustrious event, or at least the Melodifestivalen from which Swedish entrants are selected, as well as recording gold-and platinum selling records, with #1 chart hits in 2013 and 2014. On the side, since his solo debut in 2012 as a 16-year old, he started his own record label, acted in an international award winning TV Drama series (Jordskott), and voice acted for Disney, as well as writing for other artists.

He has a particular interest in Japanese culture since the age of nine and learned the language on his own.

In Sweden, YOHIO has become something of an icon for youth, expressing his thoughts on individuality and the importance of believing in yourself to a wide audience. He was the first visual kei (genderless boy) artist in Sweden and has inspired many young people to take an interest in Japan.

Now, after all that, the particular reason I was attracted to this song is that as a fan of Katzenjammer this is what I’d like to think they would be doing if they ever produced a fourth album. It is very much in their style.

8/10

Singles from previously featured artists

(Sweden) Oxen – Postpone

Oxen is a duo from Stockholm, consisting of Erik Hases and Stefan Söderqvist which appeared in the very first NMS with the single ‘Limbo’.

In anticipation of their debut album, Postpone and Forget, which was released on the 23rd of November, they put out three singles, of which this is one.

Whatever the subject Oxen always offer up an up-tempo affair and this is no different, with a Caribbean or Hawaiian feel to it and is contagious, although I’d argue not quite so much as was ‘Limbo’.  They find melodies easily, incorporate a tuneful bass line in them, and this is the poppiest I’ve heard from them but it isn’t quite as strong.

There is some irony in the song title and the lyrics. Their output over the three years of their existence hasn’t exactly been prolific; an EP and the odd single. The song is about failing to follow through on intentions to keep in touch, after schoolboy years. “We’re not those teenagers no more” they sing.

Quite, and the same applies to getting on with a career. You can’t afford to be in limbo, if you’ll pardon the pun and the album should at least offer some pointers to future direction.

Oxen just finished a tour of Germany. No UK dates are yet known.

7/10

(Iceland) – Júníus Meyvant – Let it Pass

Northern Soul is alive and well and living in a glacier in Iceland, courtesy of Júníus Meyvant, who has recently been playing Iceland Airwaves and who has recorded a vinyl EP with his fellow Icelander, Asgeir.  This single is the latest from Meyvant’s forthcoming second album, entitled Across the Borders. which is scheduled for release on January 25th on Record Records/Glassnote.

A melodic feel-good song through and through.

7/10

(Sweden) Cure-a-Phobia – Barbie Girl

Is it possible to make something “dark” out of Aqua’s 1997 global hit? Swedish all-female band Cure-a-Phobia give it their best shot in this remake, having been given permission by Aqua to do it.

You can scarcely forget the original. Unbelievably, the official YouTube video has recorded over 560 million hits.

Aqua’s initial version enjoyed worldwide success. It topped the charts in 17 countries around the world and was a top 10 hit in the U.S, Barbie and Ken’s homeland. It also topped both the Eurochart Hot 100 and European Hot 100 Singles charts. It went four times platinum in the UK and Belgium, three times in Australia and Sweden, diamond in France and platinum in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands and New Zealand.

But my original question answers itself. It always was a little dark. It pre-dated Weinstein, #MeToo and the rest of it by a couple of decades, with its suggestive lyrics, “You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere”, “Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky”, and “Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly” amongst others. Then the coup de grace, Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please/I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees”.

I am not normally a great fan of covers but it didn’t take long for this song to convince me. They’ve slowed it right down, changed the dynamic, captured (buzzword alert) the zeitgeist and turned it into a waltz. You can imagine it being played in some seedy lounge bar at the wrong end of Sunset Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon, Steve Buscemi asleep, drunk, in a corner.

Cure-a-Phobia is singer Jenny Nilsson, Elina Nygren (viola), Fanny Gunnarsson (Wurlitzer, piano) and Anne Marte Eggen (bass). The single has an additional horn section featuring Rasmus Nyvall (tenor sax) and Göran Abelli (trombone); also guest appearances by the singer Max Tellving as Ken and Johnny Essing, guitar player with the Swedish cult band bob hund.

There is some talk already of this version being adopted for a new U.S. TV drama.

‘Barbie Girl’ was released on November 9th by Comedia. Cure-a-Phobia’s new album ‘Regeneration’ will be released on January 11th, 2019.

8/10

(Sweden) LULA – Under the Sun

Anarchical Swedish band LULA, which already this year has invaded and staged demonstrations at the Swedish National Radio HQ and the Parliament building, have released their latest single, ‘Under the Sun’, a typically light one which is at odds with their strongly expressed political views, including those expressed recently and directed at the Swedish general election and its result.

There are Australian members of LULA and you can tell straight away from the facetious way in which they tackle the video. I can’t help but think of Men at Work or for that matter any amount of more recent Aussie bands which bring a similar philosophy to their product.

The problem I have is that I find it a little hard to reconcile the jokey, upbeat, fun tunes and the videos they make with the serious nature of their view of the world. Their EP, to be released in January, is called ‘Pop Terror’ and again, I’m not sure whether that is entirely appropriate in the present climate. Hopefully, it won’t try to make light of social or political dread.

On the other hand, they’re having fun here, and I’ve heard they are a great live band.

7/10

EPs

(Norway) Das Body – The Das Body EP

The rather unimaginatively-named first EP from Oslo’s Das Body hides the fact that they are surprisingly varied in their output, even on a four-track issue. They certainly mix it up.

Two of the tracks, ‘Boys’ and ‘Graceland’ have previously been reviewed in NMS. The former (NMS #5), which is about, well, picking up boys, is a funky disco number with a distinct Lionel Richie feel to it in the early bars. The second, (NMS #8) is considerably more sophisticated, colder, almost brooding in its gradually building intensity to a big finish.

The other two tracks have also been available since September and October, respectively. ‘Know my Name’ kicks off with a similar beat to Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’. I’m certain Das Body would be thrilled with the 378 million YouTube views that has amassed. Or, if you prefer, exactly the same beat as Rilo Kiley’s, ‘Silver Lining’. A slower, less frenetic song, more of a ballad until again it builds to a synthy climax. Ellie Linden’s breathy vocals are particularly evident here as she yearns for recognition from her fleeting beau.

‘The Trap’ is slower still, again enhanced by some imaginative and appropriate synth work. The downside to it is that Linden’s childlike voice, which works well with the other songs, doesn’t really cut it on this one. She might perhaps consider varying her style from time to time.

You can’t easily pigeonhole Das Body. There are bits of 80s and 90s in there, mixed with a contemporary new wave revisited sound. On the strength of three of these tracks but not quite the last one I’d take a punt on the band that they have what it takes to become considerably better known both in Norway and abroad.

The Das Body EP was released by Luminelle Records.

8/10

(Know my Name)

Live Shows

(Denmark) Lydmor at the Castle Hotel, Manchester, 28th November

Danish electronic producer, songwriter and performer Lydmor made her first ever visit to Manchester this month and performed an extraordinary set that prompted comparisons with the likes of Sia and even Madonna.

Follow this link for the review. https://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2018/11/30/lydmor-the-castle-manchester-28-11-2018/

Albums

(Greenland) Simon Lynge – Deep Snow (featured track Paper Thin)

Nordic Music Scene has twice featured artists from the Faroe Islands recently and in this month’s edition we turn our attention towards the other Danish autonomous territory, Greenland, a country of 55,000 people and many more puffins. Oh, and, believe it or not, an annual music festival (indoors, of course).

Simon Overgaard Lynge is part Danish, part Inuit (Eskimo) and spent his early years as a shepherd boy in the tundra around his Qaqortoq home before moving to Denmark as a teenager to study music. Accordingly, nature features heavily in his songs. His early inspirations were Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

No longer actually living in Greenland and dividing his time now between the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., Scandinavia and the UK, he recorded his new album with a friend and musical collaborator, Richard Lobb, in a secluded house owned by a travelling circus clown, in Wales. (You couldn’t make this up, could you? It sounds like something out of The League of Gentlemen).

He’s been getting a lot of airplay, especially on the BBC, following debut album The Future.

The second one, Deep Snow, was released on November 23rd on Integrity Records. He managed to record it despite an accident which resulted in surgery to his hand. In the main it is Simon Lynge on an acoustic guitar (occasionally piano), a little percussion and with the odd indefinable instrument thrown in. The tracks are nearly all folk ballads, slightly hippie-ish at times (but not psych), with the tempo really only speeding up on the seventh track, ‘Tiny Ironing Board’, and the following title track.

He finds a melody in every song but rarely a really memorable one. You could class him as ‘easy listening’ except that he sings thoughtfully about pressing matters for the world, its destruction by humans and the plight of the underprivileged, like a glacial Novo Amor, adding some political comment along the way. His real strength is in his observation and clever, unpretentious, use of words and the way he rhymes them, such as in the slightly tongue-in-cheek “You were born at the perfect time/ for the shift of the paradigm”. (Though I’m unsure about “I wanna believe in a luminous universe” and “learn aikido in Tokyo”!

And I like the way he throws in casual references to his homeland (e.g. Disko Bay) – he is after all one of very few international musical ambassadors for his country of birth – while not being afraid to delve into much deeper territory, as in the closing track, the ominous ‘Babylon Lies in Ruins’, for me the most impressive one, and which sounds like it could be an early St Vincent song.

He can be sentimental at times but even in the most blatant example, ‘Twenty Nine Years’, it would be a grave mistake to tempted to think of anything as sugary as his Danish compatriot Lukas Graham’s ‘Seven Years Old’.

All in all it’s that sort of album which you know the first time you hear it will grow more meaningful each time you play it in the future. I was going to award it seven, but for that reason, it’s eight.

8/10

Sample track: ‘Paper Thin’, which is one of two singles released from the album. The other is ‘Age of Distraction’.

Simon Lynge plays three UK dates at the end of November and the beginning of December:

30 November: Penpont, Brecon, Wales
01 December: The Arts House Café, Bristol
03 December: The Hospital Club, London

A more extensive tour is anticipated for early in 2019.

(Sweden) Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – Friendship

Swedish Progmeister Rikard Sjöblom returns with his Gungfly solo project after his veteran band Beardfish broke up two years ago, though he also remains attached to British prog band Big Big Train as a touring keyboardist/guitarist. Solo means solo where Rikard Sjöblom is concerned, he plays most of the instruments himself as well as providing the vocals though he has the cream of Central Sweden’s musicians to call on if and when he needs them.

As is usually the case the album exposes Sjöblom’s multiple talents; instrumental, vocal and lyrical with tracks lasting from four minutes to 14.

While Beardfish tended to be associated with the sound of the likes of YES and Genesis, Gungfly has the distinct flavour perhaps more of Emerson, Lake and Palmer in some of its tracks. At the same time the full panoply of 1970s prog is on show here but this isn’t merely a matter of replication, there is startling creativity on show across the album.

‘Ghost of Vanity’ opens the album, a track concerning both vanity and unrealistic expectations, and the need to “be yourself”. There is a lot of piano, sometimes in Keith Emerson honky tonk-style. The track really rocks.

The two longest tracks need to be considered in unison. Together they amount to over 25 minutes of complex and diverse instrumentation.

The title track ‘Friendship’ is a 13-minute epic instrumental with the unusual addition of synths along with the interplay between keys and guitar. It could be taken from one of many concept prog albums of the 1970s, revisited. Then it slows right down into jazz-blues club territory. Thereafter there are echoes of YesSteve Howe in full flow before the first vocals, eight minutes in.  Indeed, the entire track would find a home on a Yes album. There is perhaps a little lacking in the vocal department on this one but you notice it only because the musicianship is so good.

‘If You Fall’ Part 2’, a 13-minute rollercoaster epic, starts with what sounds like the opening lines of ELP’s concept album ‘Tarkus’ and they are reprised thereafter, together with Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan-like screams. It seems as if just about every hard and prog rock style is embraced in this tour de force. That in itself could be an issue, that there’s simply too much going on and that Sjöblom’s individuality and persona suffer as a result of it. I recall thinking the same about Kiran Leonard’s 16-minute ‘Pink Fruit’ when I first heard it. You can’t deny that this is stimulating stuff though.

In contrast to all this, ‘They Fade’ is a folk ballad with C&W overtones which starts with a huge world-weary sigh from Sjöblom. Just as Greg Lake could surprise you with the gentlest of ballads when ELP weren’t trying to blast the Great Gates of Kiev down, so does Sjöblom. It’s a sentimental song/love letter that introduces the album’s theme of the treehouse, possibly a metaphor for something from which childhood life and friendship can be observed dispassionately. It’s the sort of thing that would suit Toy Story perfectly.

‘A Treehouse in a Glade’ starts off with a voiceover that could come from a horror movie before shifting into some math rock algebra that might be King Crimson, while ‘Stone Cold’ is more of a traditional heavy rock track.

 ‘Crown of Leaves’ slows the pace back down as ‘They Fade’ did earlier and lyrically returns him again to the ‘Treehouse in the Glade’ and with it a jazzy instrumental excursion.

‘Slow Dancer’ is the first of three bonus tracks and goes off in a different direction again, melodic soft rock while ‘Past Generation’ somehow manages to marry classic hard rock with punk political angst, while throwing in a stonking guitar solo. It’s a sort of latter-day ‘My Generation,’ which ends with a tinny recording of the same song, one that could have been made in someone’s garage in 1965. Clever.

The album ends with what is described as a “utopian radio edit” of ‘Friendship’, meaning the most melodic and vocal bits.

There are only 10 songs including the three bonus tracks but they amount to 1 hour 13 minutes worth of value from what I can best describe as the thinking man’s musician. Prog certainly is not a spent force while practitioners like Rikard Sjöblom are still making music and if anything I’d say what he is doing here actually adds value to what has gone before.

8/10

Friendship was released on November 9th, 2018 by Inside Out Music.

There is no indication at this time of any tour involving the UK.

News

(Norway) Highasakite to release new album in February 2019

As predicted previously (because they had announced a short three-date UK and Ireland tour at the end of February and beginning of March, 2019) Highasakite will release their third international album, Uranium Heart on February 1st. The previous one, Camp Echo was also released in tandem with a UK tour which preceded a Norwegian one, in May 2016. On that occasion CDs were not available on that night and this four week interval should ensure that doesn’t happen this time around. The Norwegian tour is a seven-arena one so plenty will be needed.

The duo describe ‘Uranium Heart’ as “the most Highasakite record yet”, though it isn’t quite clear what is meant by that!  The writing process started soon after the touring cycle for ‘Camp Echo’ came to an end and recording commenced early in 2017. The album will seemingly contain some “old” songs and some brand new ones.

Ingrid Helene Håvik says, “It has been a long process of trying to find songs I am truly happy with, and to write them without trying to fulfil every criterion on how to make a good pop record. The aim was to be able to write without other people’s wishes in the back of my mind and daring to follow your own vision and taste. It’s a hard process when so many people are relating to music as some sort of a commission.”

I may be wrong but I take that comment to refer to the three departed members of the band, who went their own ways when the ‘Camp Echo’ tour ended. (One of them, Marte Eberson, also features in this edition).

Highasakite have already released three singles from the album, all of them chronicled in Nordic Music Scene – ‘Out of Order’, ‘Elastic State of Mind’, and ‘I Call Bullshit’. My personal preference is for the first one as it is the nearest to the ‘old’ Highasakite, but it is ‘Elastic State of Mind’ which had the greatest success in Norway, occupying the top spot in the Norwegian radio charts for three weeks.

Simultaneously with the new album announcement, the band has released a fourth single, ‘Mexico’ (in two parts). It follows a similar format to the previous three, perhaps slightly more of a gentle ballad, at least in the early part, with Ingrid’s soaring vocals (she sounds a little like Susanne Sundfør in places on this one) overlaid with complex synths and Trond Bersu’s booming percussion, and rising to a climax except that on this occasion it tails off back to the original sedate melody.

It’s a good song, and one which has the knack of growing on you. If it were the first release by an unknown artist I’d be awarding it 9/10. But this is Highasakite, beloved of Bon Iver, a band with a collective catalogue streaming tally of over 100 million and one whose first international album broke the record for the longest period spent in the Norwegian charts. I have a huge soft spot for them. I have never been won over so quickly by any artist(s) previously unknown to me as when they opened for Of Monsters and Men (who coincidentally also feature here this month) in November 2015, Ingrid’s voice floating off a darkened stage like something supernatural as she pleaded to learn the whereabouts of her dead lover and instantly silencing 2,000 chattering voices.

Like this.

And, every song quite different to the others. I know there will be people reading this who also remember that performance. I believed I was watching what was going to become one of the most popular bands in the world.

And while Camp Echo, a heavy, morose recording at times, didn’t perform as well by way of sales it contained some spectacularly good songs while again offering great variety.

So it is with a heavy heart that I concede to myself that, so far, the new material lacks something, a spark, maybe even the passion that was evident beforehand and without that level of diversity. Perhaps those “other people’s wishes” had more value than they were given credit for. The truth will be out when the full album is released. The better songs from Camp Echo were hidden until that album came out.

Highasakite’s short UK & Ireland tour following the album release is as follows:

Thu 28th Feb – Heaven, London
Fri 1st Mar – Band on the Wall, Manchester
Sat 2nd Mar – Whelans, Dublin

8/10

(Sweden) Peter Bjorn and Jon to tour UK in March 2019

Following the recent release of their new album Darker Days, Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John have announced a European Tour for March 2019, including dates in London and Manchester.

For Darker Days Peter Bjorn and John stripped things back to a simpler time where it was just the three of them, playing music together and releasing albums every other year. The 11 songs on the album reflect this move, showcasing each member’s unique song writing style while sounding resolutely like a band that has played together for nearly 20 years. If you don’t know them I suppose if you think of the American trio Peter Paul and Mary from the 1960s you won’t go far wrong.

Formed in Stockholm in 1999, Peter Bjorn and Jon are perhaps best known for their timeless 2006 hit ‘Young Folks’. The track was recently included in Rolling Stone‘s ‘100 Greatest Songs of the Century So Far’ and has racked up over 130 million Spotify streams. Alongside fellow Swedish musicians including Lykke Li and Miike Snow, in 2012 they launched the artist collective and record label INGRID, which has a studio and office in Stockholm.

Tickets are on sale now. www.peterbjornandjohn.com

Tue 5 March London, The Garage
Wed 6 March Manchester, Academy 3
Thurs 7 March Dublin IE, Whelans

Down Memory Lane

(Iceland) Of Monsters and Men – Six Weeks

You might argue that this month’s track isn’t old enough to merit a ‘Memory Lane’ mention yet. It was the seventh track on the original Icelandic version of OMAM’s first album, My Head is an Animal, released in September 2011. It was written by joint lead vocalist Ragnar Þórhallsson and the drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson, who actually contributes a great deal to their songs. You would know that even if you didn’t know, owing to Hilmarsson’s pounding, tribal, yet innovative percussion here and in the video below you can see him singing along passionately despite not being mic’d up.

My Head is an Animal spawned four singles, including OMAM’s debut one, ‘Little Talks’ which has more statistics than Marilyn Monroe. Famously played incessantly by the USA’s little-known Radio 104/5 (WRFF) in Philadelphia, it was picked up by others across the country and beyond and the rest is history. Amongst its many accolades it is the most listened-to track of any Icelandic artist or band, ever, while its YouTube video is approaching 258 million views, again a record for Iceland, and by a huge margin.

Yet as good as ‘Little Talks’ is (despite its jolliness, it is a serious song, about loneliness, growing old and depression) my favourite track from that album is ‘Six Weeks’. As usual, there are several reasons. Firstly, it is OMAM’s most dynamic song performed live which is why they typically finish their sets with it. You have to see and hear the final 30 seconds, which denotes an immense, titanic human/beast battle, in the raw to appreciate it. The volume is doubled and it seems the speakers are going to explode.

Secondly, because of its history. The ‘Six Weeks’ of the title is the amount of time it took for the ripped-to-shreds legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass to crawl on his hands, knees and belly – stuffing maggots into his gaping open wounds to kill infections – the 200 miles to his fort in South Dakota, having been mauled by a bear and left for dead by his fellow explorers in 1823.

Recognise the story? Of course, it is, broadly speaking, that of the 2015 film The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass. While that film was at least partly based on a 2002 novel and an earlier film had been made in 1971, I have a theory that the final push to make it (which came at the same time as ‘My Head is an Animal’s’ release) was influenced by the song, such was the impact that OMAM made in the U.S. in the final quarter of 2011. Of course, it could be the other way around of course, with OMAM being influenced by hearing about the film being made of the book, but I doubt that somehow.

The lyrics, like the tune, are simple, frequently repeated, but effective: Slow, slow me down, Her blood, on my bones / Alone, I fight these animals, Alone, until I get home / We ride, we ride, we ride, We ride it all out / Coming back, I’m coming back, she follows me into the woods, takes me home, with Þórhallsson, then Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, both playing the role of Glass, alternating between singular and plural both to emphasise Glass’s total isolation and to drag the listener in to the adapted story.

The video below, from The Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York, had been taken down but seems to have been resurrected by a Japanese site (OMAM are huge there, as well), which is why you may see silly Japanese adverts before it. It does not really capture the flavour and volume of being at a live performance but is the best I can find. (Tip: the video volume may be set at 50% when it starts, see control slide, bottom left).

8/10

https://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm17803056

The keyboard player, Árni Guðjónsson, left the band shortly after this early tour ended to study at University and has so far not returned though the door was left open for him. A third album is anticipated shortly.

 Main photo of Eberson courtesy of the band’s Facebook page

2 thoughts on “Nordic Music Scene #9 – News and Reviews from across Scandinavia and the Nordic countries

  1. I agree that something is missing in this incarnation of Highasakite. At their prime they had that genuine and interesting bandidentity which is rare today . Every member being talented. Interestingly they haven’t been able to turn the success of ‘Elastic State of Mind’ on the Norwegian radio charts into high streaming counts. Norwegians didn’t take to it.

    I have also been thinking about Ingrid Håvik. On paper she has everything in spades, the songs, the voice, the beauty. Yet she lacks certain something to make you curious and interested. She can be perceived as boring, selfcentered and also unatural and posing in photos and videos

  2. As always (w/ DJB): A great coverage of Nordic Indie!! As usual: I read the whole piece – and later returned to it, checking out some of tje tracks on Spotify. Keep up the good work! All ze best Claes / Stockholm

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