Nordic Music Scene #16 – News and Reviews from across Scandinavia and the Nordic Countries

Nordic Music Scene #16 – News and Reviews from across Scandinavia and the Nordic Countries

Welcome to the 16th edition of Nordic Music Scene, a monthly section within God is in the TV that is dedicated to reviews and news of artists from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and their associated territories, focusing on indie artists and labels.

This month, The Icelandic ‘Monsters’ are back after a five year hibernation, as are Norwegian pop-punkers Sløtface, a new Norwegian ‘super group’ emerges, there’s a new homemade animation video from Sol Heilo, as well as a video exclusive from one of Sweden’s leading punk bands and a video representation of a panic attack that will quite possibly give you one. So many YouTubes we should call it Nordic Video Scene!

In this edition: Lxandra, Janice Prix, Sløtface, SoLBLoMMa, Aztek, Vola Tila, Jonas Brøg, Sarah Klang, Of Monsters and Men, Lennixx, EA KAYA, Sol Heilo, PBSM, Löv, Bjørn Tomren, Comminor, Dark Times, AMBAGE, Royal Prospect, Arthur Kay, Klara.

Sections this month: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists/News

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

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

Expect honest reviews – we don’t do ‘soundbites’.

If you like it, please tell your friends about it. If you don’t, tell me!

Singles

(Finland) Lxandra – Swimming Pools

My heart sank when I saw the title of Lxandra’s (say ‘El-exandra’) latest single because there have been so many others with the same or very similar one over the last few years. But then again a swimming pool is an ideal way of conveying imagery of several different varieties, and especially of wealth as here, which is probably why it is so popular.

I saw Lxandra a couple of times at last year’s Reeperbahn Festival and while positioning her as Finland’s answer to Sigrid but more modest in her outlook found some of her songs to be ‘half-formed’ and occasionally ‘soppy’ but that she sings ‘with a great passion’. She’s evidently doing the rounds of the big European B2B events because she showed up at The Great Escape recently, and prior to that at Eurosonic.

‘Swimming Pools’ is taken from her upcoming EP ‘Another Lesson Learned’, due later this year. The new track will be released in two versions, with the piano version having come first on May 31st. A produced version “with swelling strings and skittering beats” will follow along with the official music video.

“Swimming pools is about being happy with what you have and showing a middle finger to the expectations of society, and a world that runs on money“, Lxandra says. ”It’s about remembering who you are and where you come from and always holding onto that. Be grateful for what you have, you have everything you need.”

“The EP is about coming of age and realising things,” she adds. “Every song is about a lesson learned.”

Refreshing stuff from someone so young.

While Lxandra is Finnish she relocated to Berlin a few years ago, a place that runs on power and money.  She considers herself “a storyteller as well as a singer and artist” and that’s what I remember from Reeperbahn as she introduced most songs in some detail. Another thing I remember about her is that she was better with this sort of power ballad than with some other styles.

‘Swimming Pools’ has an attention-grabbing piano riff and poignant lyrics which fit well with her voice, which sounds more refined than I remember it. (I also notice a slight similarity to the vocal delivery of Of Monsters and Men’s Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir, which is no bad thing). An excellent package though I’m not convinced the occasionally rapid-fire rap-like vocals are really necessary; I reckon they detract from the overall quality of the song. It will be interesting to compare this with the ‘produced’ version and to see what strings and beats can add to it.

8/10

(Sweden) Janice Prix – Waking

Sweden is going through a period of turmoil over its immigration policy so it is hardly surprising that songs are being written on the subject.

‘Waking’ is partly written from a fictional refugee’s point of view, attempting to capture the darkness and turmoil a refugee experiences fleeing to Europe. The public debate regarding this topic is polarised so the song also addresses the tone of this debate and the political movements that are striving to illuminate the issue. “Grandiose language” is mirrored sonically by using big string and brass arrangements.

Serious subjects like this sometimes fail to secure the gravitas they require either sonically or lyrically but Janice Prix, a band that has suffered for its art, manages to strike the right balance with thoughtful lyrics and a big and growing anthemic chorus.

‘Waking’ was released on all platforms on 29th May.

They’ve since released another single, ‘Glitch’, and with another intriguing subject. It is an impassioned elegy for victims of violence from the perspective of a brutal murderer and was inspired by the 2015 school massacre in their hometown of Trollhättan. Looking at the events from another angle, the lyrics revolve around the thought process within the mind of an assailant right after an attack.

Actually he didn’t have much time to think about it as he was quickly shot dead but all credit to Janice Prix for turning a story on its head in both these songs.

7/10

(Norway) Sløtface – Telepathetic

I do believe this is the first time that Stavanger’s Sløtface has appeared in Nordic Music Scene. Their debut album was released two years ago, to considerable acclaim, but since then they’ve done little, while bassist Lasse Lokøy has appeared in NMS (as ‘Lokoy’), with a couple of songs he wrote while on tour with them and has another two new singles out right now.

I think it would be fair to say they’ve lost their crown as Norway’s most dynamic band act to Pom Poko during that time but they are back now with what I guess is the first single from a forthcoming second album and a typical 100mph effort. Game on, as the soccer pundits say.

‘Telepathetic’ seems to be concerned with someone who is looking to get more out of life than they are doing, but who lacks the gumption actually to do it and just daydreams as if they can conjure up greener grass in their head instead. It’s very much in the same driving, bass-led, strongly melodic, pop-punk (with the accent on ‘pop’) format as on debut album ‘Try not to freak out’. It’s a successful format for them so why not?

There are a couple of fuzzy guitar breaks and it’s actually got two bridges, a vocal one followed by a better instrumental one, a trick I think they’ve used before, and it builds like just about all their songs to a big ending. The way Texan vocalist Haley Shea sneers “telepathetic” in that sexy drawl, working herself up into a lather, and a state of total rejection of the object of the song, is choice.

Welcome back. Where’ve you been? Stuck up a fjord? An igloo in Svalbard? On an oil rig?

8/10

(Denmark) Aztek – Darkest Hour

Aztek, a band out of the cities of Aalborg and Aarhus, released their new single ‘Darkest Hour’ on June 5th.

They have been present on the scene since 2015 and to date have released two LPs, which led to the band playing some festivals in Denmark, including Way up North and Spot.

‘Darkest Hour’ is the first single taken from Aztek’s forthcoming EP, to be released later in 2019. The song is about experiencing a loved one’s life crisis and all the feelings that come with it.

Despite the tragic elements of reality that come with this single, ‘Darkest Hour’ can be seen as anything but an anthem for sadness or destruction. In the end, the song’s message is: even when everything seems hopeless, there is in fact hope. And in good literary tradition, “the darkest hour is just before dawn”.

It’s an upbeat track, with a catchy, fuzzy and simple riff and a penetrating bass line, in fact there’s nothing too demanding about it generally, either lyrically or musically, and it is in a British style, meaning I would not have been surprised to learn it came from a British band.

To be honest I think there’s something missing from it though, a bit of va-va voom as Thierry Henry would have it (don’t those Renault adverts seem like ancient history now?). Perhaps a more differentiated bridge. And while they describe themselves as “an experimental rock band” there’s nothing too experimental here. But it’s a game effort which does sound better with each successive play. For example I missed that M83-like opening the first time.

7/10

(Sweden) Vola Tila – Take back time

Formed in 2018, the Vola Tila project became the Swedish producers’ (Johannes Henriksson and Richard Andersson) main focus, allowing them to create the music they craved to make as well as being an escape from the algorithm-driven pop music they’ve been involved in writing and producing for several years. Their new track ‘Turn Back Time’ arrives as the second instalment of Vola Tila’s debut EP ‘Personality Apocalypse’ following the first single ‘New Behaviour’ which was released on April 12, 2019.

The EP was recorded in collaboration with Sonic Boom and Stockholm producer Charlie Storm and will follow in early autumn 2019 with additional singles to be released before the summer is out.

They say, “Although it can be fun to work with other artists and help them find what they’re looking for, with Vola Tila we can truly be ourselves, and express something completely different. Something much closer to our own hearts. Vola Tila is a cure to our burnt out souls. It works better than any barbiturates we’ve tried, which is quite a few.” The Michael Gove/Rory Stewart era of honesty over one’s past misdemeanours has evidently spread to Sweden.

The pair takes influence from a crossover of genres, each having a background in production and composing for other artists.

It is rare that I agree wholeheartedly with the contents of a press release but in likening this duo to both The Smiths and Pink Floyd they got it spot on. There’s something of the anthemic majesty of the Floyd here, produced out of synths, guitars and both live and programmed drums, while the vocals are as dispiritingly delivered as one might expect from Davyhulme’s Charming Man.

The only reservation I have is that towards the end in particular it gets perhaps just a little too busy with multiple synths playing the central riff drowning out just about everything else except a loud bass and snare drum. For that reason alone it’s seven rather than eight.

7/10

(Denmark) Jonas Brøg – Not Because Of You

We seem to host plenty of songs about depression and retreating from society, perhaps it’s something to do with the long winter nights out there. Here’s another. In this one Copenhagen-born Jonas Brøg, in his most personal release to date, writes a song for his family.

He says, “My family has been hit the hardest when depression became part of our world. When I struggle mentally I don’t love, and I can’t be loved. On these days it’s best I’m in solitude, but thankfully I can write songs when I’m alone, and this one I wrote for my family, the ones I know I love the most. I feel the importance for them to know, it’s not because of you!”

I was hunkering down for three or four minutes of blackness here but the song is surprisingly upbeat and almost danceable in the middle, which augurs well, I suppose. The accompanying video shown here was filmed and edited by Jonas’ wife Kim, during a road trip through the south of Italy.

7/10

(Sweden) Sarah Klang – New Day Coming

In contrast to Jonas Brøg , Gothenburg’s Sarah Klang, a well-known name around Scandinavia who has supported First Aid Kit and performed  a sell-out tour of her own, and the writer of a Swedish Grammy-winning debut album which went to number one in Sweden, presents a slow ballad that could be from a different era altogether.

The 26-year old has been releasing what she describes as pop songs laced with country and Americana influences, since, while working as a waitress, she made the decision to start writing her own songs, using the long history of classic love songs as her starting point.

This spring has seen two single releases, ‘Call Me’ and ‘Endless Sadness’, with a third addition – ‘New Day Coming’ released on 31st May.

Her vocal style – and the song – falls somewhere between Stevie Nicks and The SeekersJudith Durham, and is one that isn’t common just now. Allied to the Americana it could be a big hit just for the novelty value, let alone her undoubted quality.

8/10

(Sweden) Lennixx – Split By

Lennixx featured last month as the supporting duo for two live shows by Zara Larsson in the UK. This track is the first single, and title track, from their new EP.

They are Hanna Larsson – sister of Zara – and Andrea Kallström and as I said in the live review they’ve made their mark already in Sweden by shying away from Scandi-Pop and venturing into an R&B, jazz and electronic fusion, which few others will tackle there.

This track also blurs soulful R&B with peripheral pop and with some keen harmonies. It’s syrupy smooth and chilled out in a way you don’t expect to arise out of the pop maelstrom of Stockholm. It’s what James Bond would be listening to as the barman at fancy Stockholm club Riche prepared his vodka martini, shaken not stirred. And as it progressed I was reminded of Natasha Bedingfield’s ‘These Words’ in the chorus, while its construction isn’t that complex.

They say about the track “’Split By’ is about when you’re in a certain situation with a person you can’t seem to get out of. Like, when you are with this person you change and become someone you’re not, because you go back and forth for so long not knowing exactly what you are. You’re basically stuck in limbo with this person.”

R&B has to work hard to convince me – I tend to find one song sounds much like another – but these two ladies make a pretty good shot at doing that.

‘Split By’ and the ‘Split By’ EP are available on all platforms now via TEN Music Group.

7/10

(Denmark) PBSM – Rainbow Girl

‘Rainbow Girl’ is the first single from the EP of the same name which was released on June 7th on the Danish label Møs Møs.

The video for ‘Rainbow Girl’ has already been featured online arising out of collaboration with Korean longboarder and Instagram superstar C Jiny on that social medium. The band has now unveiled a full length version on Youtube although it’s a little disappointing, comprising a small number of shots, some of them in reverse, on a loop.

The song was written during the peak of the 2018 heatwave in Copenhagen and came about as a slow-jam in a very hot studio, which might be the reason it is the slowest track to date by PBSM. The idea about this girl, ‘Rainbow Girl’, playing on sexual identities, roles and gender norms evolved during a cooling off break, swimming at the nearby Copenhagen harbour waterfront. How such norms are changing and how boundaries are being pushed and explored “in a way that nods to The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway” (a novel of the exploration of male-female relationships, and the reversal of gender roles) is the focus of the song.

PBSM bill themselves as pop-punk, though on the strength of this song alone I wouldn’t put them in the same category as say, Norway’s Sløtface, also featured this month. As a one-off, slowed down and chilled example of their work with more of a psych influence it is one that is waiting for a repeat of that heatwave.

7/10

(Norway) Löv – All of the Lights

This one threw me at first because I didn’t know there was a letter ö in the Norwegian alphabet. What I do knöw is that two very talented musicians make up two-thirds of the line-up of Löv (not to be confused with Lov, an alt-rock band from t’Leeds). One of them, Marte Eberson, featured in NMS #9 last December with a track from the album ‘Eberson’, which she recorded with her father, the renowned jazz guitarist Jon Eberson. The other one is Øystein Skar.

The common denominator is that both were not only in, but in my view an integral part of, Highasakite, which sadly split up last year; Eberson as synth(s) keyboardist and backing vocalist and Skar also as synth(s) player and Head Coach, the man with the laptop.

Now they are joined by the winner of Norway’s version of ‘The Voice’, Martin Halla, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Timmy Mallett, and they are being spoken of in terms of a ‘super group’, and not unreasonably in my opinion. Another plus comes in the form of their producer, Odd Martin Skålnes, who also works with Sigrid and Aurora. You can’t have a better pedigree than that right now in Norway.

Having already released a couple of songs, including the excellent ‘Superhuman’ in both full instrumentation and acoustic versions, their third song was released on 21st June, midsummer’s day and appropriately called ‘All Of The Lights’ as there is more of it than on any other day.

The song is, however, about a broken relationship and miscommunication. As they say, “Someone is trying to call out for a reaction to a person who’s already gone.”

The PR talks about “dark, catchy pop music”. Well I certainly hear catchy, but not dark, not in this song anyway which is quite upbeat, though Martin Halla’s almost choirboy vocals ensure that, on their own. ‘Sophisticated pop’ is nearer the mark.

When Skar and Eberson are together you can be sure that you’ll hear some pretty impressive synth-generated sounds and this track is replete with them. One is like a mandolin and is just ‘so’.

It will take a couple of hearings to get into this song, as every time you listen you’ll hear something you haven’t heard before. It will almost certainly grow on you.

Could Löv ultimately “do a Highasakite” and become as popular? On the strength of this track and ‘Superhuman’ I wouldn’t bet against it. They have talented multi-instrumentalists who know how to construct and fashion a song, and a ‘voice’ to deliver it.  It might help if the other displaced member, Kristoffer Lo, was also part of this set-up (for live performances they have a guitarist and drummer) but it seems he is doing his own thing.

Löv have played three Norwegian festivals so far this summer, with another two to come but there is no sign yet of any foreign dates. It is probably too early for that yet.

8/10

(Norway) Bjørn Tomren – Black Freighter

Describing himself as a musician, vocalist, throat-singer, yodeller and singer-songwriter, Bjørn Tomren will release his first LP, ‘Bad Science Fiction, “a dystopian sci-fi country album for hangovers”, in September 2019 on Propeller Recordings. ‘Black Freighter’ is the first single from it.

For the past decade he has worked as a musician, performing around the globe either by himself or as one half of the Andy Kaufman-like comical duo, Polkabjørn & Kleine Heine. The duo rose to fame in their home country through the documentary ‘The art of yodelling’, which followed them from being A-ha’s opening act back in 2010, to them travelling and performing around the world, exploring the phenomena of yodelling. Hmm, well that’s different.

He explains the single title thus: “In Fensfjorden, Hordaland, I waited for a black freighter to pass, so I could cross the fjord” a journey he made whilst rowing from North to South Norway, one of the many odd challenges the adventurer has set himself. The song was originally conceived for his throat-singing band.

The album appears largely to be concerned with ‘climate change’, with an occasional swipe at modern technology.

On this track he teams up with Åse Britt Jakobsen who performs the backing vocals. The harmonies are spot on and Tomren captures the moment perfectly with his smooth delivery and intense acoustic guitar plucking.

He reminds me a little of Simon Lynge, the Danish/Greenland singer-songwriter who also specialises in protest songs. I’m not sure that the rest of the album won’t be more hard-hitting than this gentle ballad though, with titles like ‘Last Girl in the World’, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ and ‘Flying Robots Killing People’.

7/10

(Sweden) Comminor – Radioface (Exclusive World video premiere)

I caught Comminor briefly at a Swedish festival a couple of years ago as they went out of their way to bring 1970’s punk into the 21st Century.

The Västerås-based band, whose slogan is “the greatest band of all time to be named Comminor” have figured indirectly in NMS previously. Readers who recall articles earlier this year concerning the recording of a protest song against Swedish immigration policies and in favour of the application made by two members of Pussy Riot, by 45 independent artists, may be interested to learn that Comminor provided much of the musical background to that recording.

They will release their second album on the COMEDIA label, ‘Answering Machine for Broken Dreams’ in September and then tour Europe (they have previously toured Germany, Croatia, Italy, Sweden, California/Arizona and spent a week in China).

The first track, ‘Radioface’, which channels The B52s, has been released but this is an exclusive preview of the video for it, which, they say, is a song about being a weirdo and loving every minute of it.”

Comminor are led vocally by the effervescent Johanna Berndtsson, who is quite restrained here. It won’t be like this on a stage, believe me.

7/10

(Norway) Dark Times – Give

This isn’t a new track but I’m happy to include it as it features in a Tapetown Sessions video which was released on 24th June. Tapetown Studio in Aarhus, Denmark, hosted an event with three international acts performing at the facility during the Spot Festival. Dark Times was one of them.

Dark Times originates from Oslo. The all-female punk trio is signed to Sheep Chase Records, and are well known in the Oslo underground scene since 2010 when they started performing their blend of aggressive punk, noise rock and fuzz-loaded pop. The band became the first Norwegian one to be profiled in the American punk-rock bible Maximum Rocknroll.

In 2014 they released their first full-length, ‘Give’, which was nominated for the Spellemannprisen (Norwegian Grammy). Dark Times was selected for the official program at the SXSW festival in 2017 and released their second album in April 2018.

In the sessions they played a 10-song noise punk set during their 30 minute live session.  They’re tight, they work up a strong beat and they can play. The only problem I have is with the vocals. That Pop Filter, the thing that looks like what you’d muzzle a rabid dog with, doesn’t exactly improve them. Otherwise, pretty impressive.

7/10

(Sweden) AMBAGE – Blank Vision

We’ve hosted Known as Tymm, aka Tommy Blixt, in NMS#1 and NMS#8.  He’s now part of AMBAGE, described as a mix of prog rock, emo and psychedelia. Blixt, who previously focused on religiously-themed songs (‘Heavenly Realm’ and ‘Serpent, Holy Serpent’ for example) has changed direction somewhat with AMBAGE’s latest effort.

It’s a strange one. Blank Vision’ is a song about experiencing a panic attack. The story takes place in the mind of the character played in the video by Katrin Berndt. Berndt is an interesting character in her own right. She’s a serial YouTuber, one of the best known in Sweden and beyond with over 400,000 subscribers, who is recognised for her various varieties of vlog on her eponymous channel. She often posts about makeup, tattoos (she seems to be covered in them), and her own personal life. It isn’t known if that personal life includes panic attacks but her most infamous video is called ‘REVIEW: Manic Panic Virgin Snow’, so there is a fair chance it does.

The message is that you as a person can experience terrible things in your mind to the point that it feels as if you’re killing yourself.

Having been subjected to a few such unpleasant attacks myself, I can’t recall ever feeling like I was being drowned, tortured, or pulled apart, or like hanging myself, and I certainly didn’t dismember my teddy bear.

But the black and white minimalism of the video, allied to the almost subliminal snatches of blood red, intense lyrical content and a manic, pulsating beat really can convince you that such outcomes are conceivable.

The video was recorded and edited by Hannes Hollender but having seen Blixt’s videos before and having commented on his ability to build atmosphere, both aurally and visually, I reckon he had more than a hand in this one as well.

Before you watch it, there is a warning that the content could be disturbing, recommending viewer discretion. It isn’t explicit but it does make you feel uncomfortable.

9/10

‘Blank Vision’ is from the band’s forthcoming EP ‘Stethoscopes On Silent Mode’, which will be released on their own label, Whistelcourt Records.

(Norway) Arthur Kay – Holiday Pay

Yes, I could do with some of that. And Arthur Kay sounds like a made-up British name, a sort of amalgam of comedians Arthur Lowe and Peter Kay. In fact he is and has been a prominent figure on the Oslo music scene for a decade, working with the likes of acclaimed Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave, and instrumental psychedelics Orions Belte (who have featured in an early NMS).

By all accounts he was also a keyboard wizz kid, mastering complex work by Ray Manzarek and Rick Wakeman at a ridiculously early age.

But there’s little of that on ‘Holiday Pay’ in which he funks up Norway better than James Brown or Sly ever could, apart from a very brief (like three seconds) solo part-way through.

Apparently, and I didn’t know this, holiday pay is a Norwegian invention; specifically a requirement on employers by law to pay you a certain percentage of last year’s wages in the summer.

Arthur explains that the concept “is a great example of how socialist ideas work really well in the Norwegian society. Forced savings, basically, but without any banks or cash stuffed under mattresses. I consider ‘Holiday Pay’ (to be) a modern day workers anthem, a song anybody with a steady job in Norway can relate to. A song that you can shove in your freelancing friends’ faces. They may travel the world on a regular Wednesday, and work from a laptop at a bar in Tokyo in the middle of the night. But if you have a steady job in Norway, you get the holiday pay in June.”

It’s that sort of Schadenfreude that prompted me to think that this was a track by The Divine Comedy when I first heard it, as I know they’ve got a new album out and this summery, feel good song would fit ‘Office Politics’ very well. And with all that holiday pay you could frequently clamber on board the ‘National Express’.

‘Holiday Pay’ is from Arthurs’ self-titled debut EP which be released on October 11th on Jansen Records.

7/10

Singles from previously featured artists

(Sweden) SoLBLoMMa – Dårarna

After a lengthy break our favourite Swedish crackpot returns with ‘Dårarna’ (‘The Demons’) which she explains as:

“Ingmar Bergman says that the demons do not like fresh air; that the demons like it best when lying in bed with cold feet. My demons usually come in wolf hours. My song is about what is present but not visible. It is about what exists but cannot be not heard. It can be Love that is lost or Demons that you fight in silence. The story is only in the tears.”

No, I don’t get it either but her mystique is half the attraction.

This song is in Swedish and allows her to engage in a folk song for a change. (More often than not, she sings in English and with a heavier electronic feel). We have plenty of Swedish readers so this one’s for you.

What I like about SoLBLoMMa is the way she creates atmosphere, partly with that almost childlike voice, for which she has been criticised but it suits perfectly her songs, which could be recreating events in some weird parallel universe that she inhabits, accessible down a wormhole from Stockholm Central Station.

“The world belongs to us/All the trains have left the track/There is a wind blowing over the city/You said the world belongs to us” (the writer’s own translation into English). Then,

“Tears/Why come the tears/Demons/Why do the Demons come?/And the rain falls down.”

Nope, still none the wiser. But then again I’m not one of the top Swedish artists queuing up to work with this fascinating lady, who’s done everything from death metal to scoring a Portuguese television series while enjoying chart success in Sweden, who has been likened to a stoned Björk, dresses in Victorian children’s clothing, is a train anorak, designs high-level IQ games as a sideline and who has eyes the size of tea cup saucers. And that unexpected smile-cum-laugh at 1:52 in the video would melt the heart of a Chechen Mafia boss.

7/10

(Denmark) EA KAYA – Cruel To Be Kind

Following her recent debut EP ‘Fragile but Strong as Hell’, EA KAYA (a.k.a Danish singer Christine Kiberg) – who was in NMS #7 – now unleashes a video for her first offering of the year with ‘Cruel to Be Kind.’

The 23-year old likes to define herself with her frank, outspoken views on sex, love and relationships. Well she’s in good company, we’ve had quite a few of those in NMS recently though most have been from across the Kattegat in Sweden.

The ‘Cruel to be Kind’ song and video – not remotely like Nick Lowe‘s song with the same title – depicts young lives in Copenhagen from EA’s point of view. This seems to involve hanging out in breakers’ yards, doing some breaking and some play fighting.

The song’s fine. There’s a fairly strong if repetitive melody and she has a good clear voice. The trouble is that in her pitch, intonation and phrasing, and the repeated chorus, she’s Sigrid. Again.

By which I mean that if I hadn’t identified her and you simplyu listened to the song you would think it was Sigrid.

We need more variety, not legions of Sigrid clones! Hopefully, she’ll pull herself away from the magnetic field of the Norwegian for her next song, and do her voice justice.

7/10

(Norway) Sol Heilo – Pieces to Play

The resting Katzenjammer vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sol Heilo released her debut album, ‘Skinhorse Playground’ almost two years ago now, along with three singles from it. While it did well in Norway and Germany where she has a huge fan base it did not fare quite so well in the UK, picking up little supporting airplay.

She opted to place this new single, the precursor to a second album, on a new label, one owned by Petter Katastrofe (Petter Bjørklund Kristiansen) and partner Stian ‘Staysman’ Thorbjørnsen. She met Mr Katastrofe (which translates as ‘disaster’) a Norwegian singer and songwriter, earlier this year on a TV show, Hver gang vi møtes, (‘Every time we meet’) and on which participants had to sing each other’s songs. Apparently it was during that show that he decided to quit as an artist and move into label management and production, taking Sol Heilo along as his first client. The only condition was that he did not interfere in her writing.

On the face of it this could have been a disaster. Mr Katastrofe is known in Norway for his gritty songs about prostitutes in Pattaya and sausages (I’ll leave that one to your imagination). While Sol may not be the little innocent that many people believe she is (as a recent probing interview revealed) she does move in much classier musical circles than that as the cultured ‘Skinhorse Playground’ proved.

In any case this song was written, along with many that appeared on ‘Skinhorse Playground’ while Sol Heilo was on the road with Katzenjammer and as ‘diary notes’ as she wasn’t aware then that the band would break up. Towards the end of that 12-year touring period was a difficult time and she entered into a depression so severe that she vomited at the end of every live performance.

So ‘Pieces to Play’ is very personal to her, but then again so was much of ‘Skinhorse Playground’ and it is something we have got used to now.

She says the song “is about feeling trapped in a situation or constellation, where you have been assigned a role that you may not want to have. But then this is your gang, and you won’t get out of that role. Maybe a bit like being a minor in a family.”

That quote is translated directly from the Norwegian and may have lost something in that translation but if not it might throw new light on the situation that existed in Katzenjammer at that time and how a break up (though technically they haven’t, they are only ‘on hiatus’) might have been the best thing for her, at least for a few years.

“Wake up it’s your call when the situation’s looking like this/ I know it’s your choice but how come you never told me?” are the opening lines.

It is also similar to the last track on ‘Skinhorse Playground’, the playful ‘Happy Song’ which again deals with a ‘trapped’ situation.

It’s more of a standard pop song than most of the content of ‘Skinhorse Playground’, lighter and fluffier, and it lacks some of the gravitas of tracks like ‘When my country died’, ‘Closer to the sky’ and ‘Walk a little further’. What it does have though is a slightly better production quality than some of those tracks on ‘Skinhorse Playground’ and that, I reckon, is possibly down to there being less instrumentation with just an expertly plucked acoustic guitar underpinning it. Or it could be that Mr Katastrofe is a mixing specialist.

The other observation I would make is that you can’t keep on churning out songs about past band relationships forever (or those that could be interpreted that way even if they aren’t), any more than you can keep on performing Katzenjammer songs at your solo gigs ad infinitum. There comes a time to move on and make your individual mark, and that time is now.

As I’ve said previously, Sol Heilo is one of the most talented musicians you will find anywhere (how many others can play 17 instruments?), as well as being a polymath who can write about any subject. As she shapes her second album she is poised to become the independent force she can be and deserves to be in the musical firmament, but that will more likely happen if she gives herself free rein to her talents and instincts. That means composing (which we know she does) and recording new songs – new ‘pieces to play’ if you like – and putting the past behind her.

When I describe her as a polymath, her ability to make animation videos like this is very much part of that assertion, and she does it all on her iPhone. The latest one takes over from where she left off with a previous video for the song ‘Killing Karma’ from the ‘Skinhorse Playground’ album. It features the Sol doll again, stripped for action as usual, and the same unidentified figure in black who tormented her in that earlier video.

But it leaves many unanswered questions, as to his identity for example (she’s previously declined to name him), about the Babushka doll who eats him, the hanging dog in the wood, and just who the band members are (they are obviously females in disguise). Could it be..? And why are they in Guy Fawkes masks? What did they plot?

The video also features examples of her art. All in all, quite a package.                

8/10

(Sweden) Royal Prospect – Miracles

Considering their Facebook page says the artists they like are Coldplay, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Mumford & Sons, U2, and Bruce Springsteen and that they “play and perform music in the genre ‘arena rock’ inspired by U2 and Coldplay,” Royal Prospect don’t sound much like any of them. Well, not on this track at least. On second thoughts, perhaps Coldplay.

My impression is that they are more in the way of a boy band, and we haven’t featured many of those.

The new single ‘Miracles’ was released on June 14th and is from a forthcoming EP, due out in September or October through Rehn Music.

Royal Prospect is an international rock band formed in Sweden by brothers Oscar and Gustav and their childhood friends Hannes and Hannes. They are living proof that there is a way into the business that isn’t (a) through loud TV talent shows, (b) by slogging away through thousands of gigs while hoping against hope to get onto a critical Spotify playlist or (c) luck.

Their route was by way of winning the Swedish competition of Emergenza, the Italian-based organisation that is the world’s leading festival for unsigned bands. Then they did have a bit of luck, landing a spot at their first festival, in Croatia, between Of Monsters and Men and Placebo (I’m hard pressed to think of any two bands that could be more different). But their big breakthrough came at Sweden’s biggest festival, Live at Heart, where they were signed. This year they play the world’s biggest festival, Summerfest in Milwaukee.

‘Miracles’ makes me think of early ‘Take That’. Take that as you will.

7/10

(Sweden) Klara – I can’t speak for you

Klara appeared in Nordic Music Scene long ago (NMS #4 in June 2018) with a track, ‘Broken’, which was recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios outside Bath. She had some success with that song as she did with a previous one, These Woods (Human Made)’, which sound-tracked a Volvo television and cinema campaign and hit number 1 in the iTunes UK Singer/Songwriter chart.

A year on comes another single from the chanteuse who has been championed by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). ‘I can’t speak for you’ is another splendid, languidly-delivered and beautifully voiced ballad. She’s Sweden’s answer to Freya Ridings except her voice is an octave lower and doesn’t sound as forced.

I’m not sure why they decided to lug a piano into a field in the middle of winter to film the video though (it seems they needed a tractor), the poor dear’s hands must have got frostbite. In any case the song speaks for itself.

Apparently, an album is in the making.

8/10

News

(Iceland) Of Monsters and Men to release third album in July, UK tour later in the year

This got squeezed out last month but we’ll run it anyway as this is Iceland’s biggest band after all. It is five years since Of Monsters and Men released their second album, ‘Beneath the Skin’. A new one was even identified as ‘an album to watch out for in 2018’ in GIITTV and many of their fans had given up hope there would be a third album at all.

But there will be and it is called ‘Fever Dream’. It will be released on 26th July and of course will be reviewed in God is in the TV and NMS.

There was considerable public debate between the first album, ‘My Head is an animal’ and ‘Beneath the Skin’ as to what sort of style they would adopt. The first one was a wistful, almost fairytale affair, with many references to Icelandic folklore, while the latter was darker, more pragmatic and more complex, at least in its instrumental arrangements, and more “personal” according to front woman Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir. 

Though it was technically better it lacked the huge hit that was ‘Little Talks’ from ‘My Head is an animal’.

So far we only have one song to help form a judgement on ‘Fever Dream’ and that is ‘Alligator’, which was performed on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show in the U.S., in May. Unfortunately that video has been removed but the band has posted one instead.

On the Fallon video it appeared there had been some big changes over the last five years. There were no keyboards, although since Árni Guðjónsson departed seven years ago to go to university (and hasn’t come back) they’ve only used a touring keyboardist. (Neither was trumpet player Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir visible in the video, but the same applies to her). Essentially it seemed to have become a guitar band on the strength of this track and the Fallon video and the guitars were all electric, not acoustic. Not quite ‘Judas’ but a statement all the same.

In this video the keyboard duties are being shared by Nanna and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson. It will be interesting to see how they line up on stage and with which instruments.

There’s a much harder, rockier sound than anywhere on the first two albums and the catchy song is in a standard rock format (verse-chorus-break-verse-chorus-break) rather than winding and culminating in a big climax. Nanna, who has slimmed down a bit (as has drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson – assuming it is him, it doesn’t look like him – but not front man Ragnar Þórhallsson) has adopted the punky appearance of Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde. Nanna wrote the song solely but it is hardly standard OMAM fare let alone a throwback to her pre-OMAM Songbird days.

The changes were completed (on the Fallon performance) by the use of distortion on the mic (also on the recorded version) on top of what appears to be a shift in her vocal style as well, away from the hushed croaky voice she’s used previously. Whether or not she retains that effect (she doesn’t use it here) it looks like this is going to be a different OMAM altogether. Just what their early fans will make of it (and there are over two million on Facebook) remains to be seen.

Alligator rating:

8/10

Main image of Of Monsters and Men by Meredith Truax

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