Das Body True Vulture

REVIEW: Das Body – True Vulture (Brilliance / Warner Music)

Das Body has a thing about rare birds. Last time it was a ‘Peregrine’ which titled their debut album, a falcon that is a well-respected bird in its ownership community owing to its strong hunting ability. This time a vulture takes pride of place, a somewhat more sinister bird of prey that feasts on carrion – and a ‘true’ one to boot.

Is there anything significant in those titles? Is there any connection in True Vulture’’s case with the previous, similarly titled collaboration between the animator Galen Pehrson and hip hop group Death Grips? Probably not, but with Das Body you simply never know. 

It is this very air of mystery, in song titles and lyrics, together with a tantalising dark underbelly suggestive of the more sleazy side of Oslo life, its dirty washing hung out for all to see, which has helped establish them as Norway’s musical equivalent of Twin Peaks. You have to be on your toes just to keep up with them.

True Vulture is short and to the point, 10 tracks at an average of three minutes and 14 seconds each. Size doesn’t matter to Das Body’s erudite, well-read singer Ellie Linden, who will know full well that some of the world’s most significant novels – L’Étranger springs quickly to mind – can be read in an afternoon. And their songs are full of characters that could be in it, or in any existentialist work for that matter.

I’m not going to attempt to decipher the lyrics line by line; you’d need a Doctorate in Linguistics even to attempt that. And they did say in an interview that “We’re not really into song lyrics that try to tell a coherent story or a logical argument”. The best I can do is to offer you a flavour of what to expect and leave you to your own interpretation when you listen to the album. 

Opener ‘Ain’t got nothing for you’ starts off at a funereal pace that belies the direction of the album. With highly atmospheric keys it sounds like an Amy Winehouse interpretation in one of her slower numbers. A sense of hopelessness in love prevails but is relieved by the tiniest light at the end of the tunnel.

Ellie pronounces ‘Ordah’ like the old fuddy-duddy Speaker barks it in the House of Commons to get the political rabble under control but with the tantalising hint of the sexy sleaze of the libertine in the intonation.

It rattles along at breakneck pace with powerful synth tones and chord progressions hanging in the background and the occasional musical surprises as out of leftfield as those dreamt up by Carter USM as Ellie apologies to her former lovers for her indiscretions but you can’t be sure if there isn’t some hidden motive behind it. Meanwhile, she’s “staying true to the aesthetic, get it”.

I love the way she throws in personal observations nonchalantly; “And when I look down I’m pretty sure that my legs are longer than others”. (I can vouch for that, they should be in the Guinness Book of Records).

‘Baby, you know I’m a stranger’, which could be about bipolar disorder (“I can’t speak for myself/my talk is somebody else…/And baby, you know I’m a stranger”) manages both to be tantalisingly ethereal and the catchiest tune on the album, set in a vague, disturbing environment in which one can easily imagine the ‘last exit’ sign is constantly being sought out by a victim.

When various voices harmonise to sing ‘I could die young’, to haunting instrumentation, I hope they don’t have 27 in mind, l’année fatale of so many of their ilk and a year which I suspect most of them are approaching. “Now my head’s above the water, it’s the lord’s way”, they concludeHallelujah, let’s hope it stays that way. Praise the Lord. And call the coastguard.

In the rocky, experimental ‘You look so pretty when you’re on your knees’ Ms. Linden chants a mantra to the children as if she’s the Pied Piper of Økern (their Oslo suburb), delivering a lecture on “the imminent collapse”, and urging them not to get “caught up in the facts”.

She harangues them in a voice that could be one of their own while offering to “sell you everything you need to slip through the cracks”, which could be interpreted in a variety of ways.

A song that at one stage looks like it might concern BDSM degenerates (I chose the word deliberately) into a Pink Floyd – like mantra that is somewhere over and beyond ‘The Wall.’

‘No love will shine one me’ is altogether the heaviest track on the album replete with urgency and a sense of impending doom, with what sounds like a symphony orchestra of gothic synthesisers providing the compelling main theme while Ellie Linden is at her most pleading, and she could plead for Norway in the Supplication Olympics.

Is it about a ménage a trois that’s gone wrong with her the loser? “She turns everything inside out and tonight/No love will shine on me”. Your guess is as good as mine and I love the way they keep us guessing.

The song plays out almost as if it is paying homage to Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion Lies’:

“Come on, how’s your lover? /Come on, how’s your lover? /Come on, how’re our friends? /underneath the colors”. 

No complaints from me there. None at all.

They said well before the album launch that there would be an acoustic track on it and they have remained true to their word. But I wasn’t expecting anything quite like ‘You leave no traces’, which is served up as a live acoustic rehearsal, in the raw so to speak.

Hand on heart, for the duration of the opening verse and chorus if someone had told me that I was listening to a Fiona Apple track that had mysteriously failed to make the cut on ‘Extraordinary Machine’ or ‘The Idler Wheel…’ and that this is a live recording made in some dark cabaret club on Sunset Boulevard, I would have fallen for it hook, line and sinker, especially when Ellie starts singing “I exposed your brain and you went under.”

But as it progresses it becomes a Das Body song. They own a balladic style the like of which I haven’t heard before now.

That’s when you know that a band has indelibly laid down its mark.

The song of the album.

‘God won’t listen to bad prayers’ returns to the manic levels of some of their earlier work, and in a Kate Bush style. It always amazes me how they manage to produce such an enveloping sound and it is in full flow here with a groove to die for. And it’s always satisfying to hear that simple two note melody that they successfully employed on several songs since the original version on ‘Graceland’ some five years ago now. The Oslo police siren as I call it.

‘Culture’ is possibly the poppiest song on the album with a beefy melody line and one that ascends into a memorable anthem as Ellie Linden, singing in a different tone again, equates culture with a sexual feeling. Discuss.

The album ends with ‘Harmfully’, which unusually for Das Body appears, on the surface at least, to be a break-up song and one which for the most part, before the big ending, is in the style of someone like compatriot Moyka. But I don’t think that young lady, as smart as she is, could come up with a line like “You look just like how you said and never how you did”; one that speaks volumes about the human condition and could even feature somewhere in L’Étranger.

Technically this band is right on the mark while Ellie Linden, whose vocal is sultrier than ever throughout the album, has the charisma of a Madonna, a Lady Gaga, a Debbie Harry, an Amy Winehouse; all of them rolled up into one (you have to see her mesmerising live performance to appreciate that remark) and channeled through a musical mode that is at once darker and more enlightening even than they could manage.

Many bands start off in the underground and become more mainstream. Das Body is going the other way, sinking ever deeper into the Twilight Zone with each successive release. Thank God someone is.

The composition of the band is rather unusual to say the least. A music teacher and three of his recent pupils. But that’s Norway for you; the new Iceland.

They are Norway’s most innovative band despite some tough competition in that department and that’s why I’ll stick my neck out and predict they will make a big breakthrough this year, both domestically and internationally.

A version of this review was first published in Nordic Music Central – the dedicated go-to site for artists and bands from the burgeoning Nordic music scene. www.nordicmusiccentral.com


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.