mon 17/05/2021

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 11 | reviews, news & interviews

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 11

Just in From Scandinavia: Nordic Music Round-Up 11

Chill winds from Denmark, Iceland and Sweden are swept aside by deluge from Norway

Denmark's Broken Twin aka Majke Voss Romme: looking as distant as her voiceEmilie Kjaer

Denmark’s Broken Twin take the lead in the latest of theartsdesk’s regular round-ups of the new music coming in from Scandinavia. Debut album May is melancholy. Minimally arranged, with lyrics addressing the pain brought by the passing of time, bleakness in the form of metaphorical references to weather and what happens after death, this is an affecting album.

Denmark’s Broken Twin take the lead in the latest of theartsdesk’s regular round-ups of the new music coming in from Scandinavia. Debut album May is melancholy. Minimally arranged, with lyrics addressing the pain brought by the passing of time, bleakness in the form of metaphorical references to weather and what happens after death, this is an affecting album.

The sense of a lonely despair is reinforced by the defeated, distant voice of Majke Voss Romme – who is Broken Twin. May might fit clichés about Nordic chill, but the album draws from and sits proudly alongside landmark works of the similarly inclined Cowboy Junkies, Galaxie 500, Lanterns on the Lake, Mazzy Star, Spiritualized and also Angelo Badalamenti’s music for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

But May really makes a mark with its tunes. The album’s atmosphere is remarkable, but what lingers after it finishes are the melodies of the hymnal “Sun has Gone”, the soaring “In Dreams” and the gradually ascending “No Darkness”.

Listen to “Sun has Gone” from Broken Twin’s May

Sweden’s Anna von Hausswolff also draws from the dark side. Her last album, Ceremony, claimed her place as a distinctively powerful performer and songwrirer. Its organ-driven musical dramas were Gothic yet not goth and had the force of snail’s-pace black metal. Instead of a conventional follow up to Ceremony, she has instead issued two albums which further stress the winding unpredictably of her path. The fantastic Källan (Swedish for prototype) is a limited-edition, vinyl-only recording of a solo performance she gave at Lincoln Cathedral last October. A single instrumental organ piece, it is as if one keyboard player from the early Philip Glass Ensemble had struck out on their own with a church organ to create the saddest music possible.

von Hausswolff’s other album is The Little Match Girl, made with the Swedish composer and pianist Matti Bye under the joint name Hydras Dream. A mostly instrumental soundtrack to the Hans Christian Anderson story it’s, in turns, fractured, insistent and intense. The feeling it leaves is as disquieting as that of the story which inspired von Hausswolff and Bye.

Watch the video for "Last Evening of the Year" from Hydras Dream’s The Little Match Girl

More barrenness comes with the first album proper (their first collected EPs) from Iceland’s Samaris. The electronica-based trio colour their sound with Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir’s clarinet and the rolling, precise Icelandic-language vocals of Jófríður Ákadóttir. The frosty Sikidranger surmounts any language barrier as it is about mood as much as glitchy beats and drifting clouds of keyboard. Back in prehistory, this might have been called chill-out music but now sounds as timeless as any ancient artefact disinterred from the depths of a cave.

Watch the video for "Ég Vildi Fegin Verda" from Samaris's Sikidranger

Arriving to palliate such heavy moods are Iceland’s chipper FM Belfast with Brighter Days, their third album. Unashamedly leaning towards the anthemic side of rave, their electro-dance-pop has gradually assumed more light and shade as the years pass. Brighter Days is, indeed, bright, upbeat and sunny – the pulsing “DeLorean” is the album’s key cut, setting them up as the techno-pop counterpart to Norway’s Casiokids.

After that and with no Finnish entrants this time round, on to a musical deluge from Norway.

Behind the Sun is the 15th album from Norway’s Motorpsycho. The band has been going for 25 years and the album is yet another landmark. How they keep it fresh is unfathomable. With Reine Fiske from Sweden’s Dungen integrated into the line-up, Behind the Sun is dreamily soft-edged and psychedelic (a Mellotron helps) yet has the rhythmic heft of Led Zeppelin and ethereal vocal touches of Crosby, Stills & Nash. This melodic, organic rock draws explicitly from the past but remains stunningly crisp (the same trick Jonathan Wilson pulled off with Fanfare). Without a foot placed wrong, Motorpsycho once again restate their role as one of the planet’s most vital bands.

Watch the video for “Hell, Part 7:Victim of Rock" from Motorpsycho’s Behind the Sun

Fellow Norwegians Death by Unga Bunga are less epic – especially with that name: from a song by US garage band The Mummies – but also look to the past for inspiration. On energetic third album You’re an Animal, belatedly getting a UK release six months after hitting the shops in Norway, they corral wheezy Sixties organ, peppy melodies and surf-ishly reverbed rhythm guitar and lyrics about a tambourine. They could have been part of LA’s Paisley Underground in 1982. Cute and infectious.

Hanne Kolstø, on the other hand, captures exactly what her third album is about with the title Stillness and Panic. Issued in Norway last November, its appearance in the UK is less tardy than that of You’re an Animal but still overdue. Stillness and Panic is modern pop of the highest order. Like a less agitated and friendlier Knife, the album marries grandly ascending songs to programmed, vaguely Afro, beats and warmly acoustic textures. Watch out for the uncredited bonus track.

Watch the video for “One Plus One Makes One Out of Two” from Hanne Kolstø’s Stillness and Panic

Pop is not something on the mind of all the remaining visitors from Norway. On their improvised debut album The Karman Line, sPacemoNkey, the duo of Morten Qvenild and Gard Nilssen (who theartsdesk recently encountered in the flesh), punctuate the stillness of ECM-style piano with burbling synth, rattling percussion and dark slabs of noise. Unsettling. Also jazz are trio Moskus, whose roots are in LA’s refined mid-Sixties improvisational scene. Their skittering second album Mestertyven is even more assured than debut Salmesykkel. More visceral, but also jazz in a rock way, is the new album from Hedvig Mollestad Trio. Enfant Terrible directly takes from fusion, but as heavy as Black Sabbath and as direct as full-flight Led Zeppelin.

Listen to  “Laughing John” from Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s Enfant Terrible

Out there on their own are Building Instrument, a twinkly electronics, zither and melodica trio whose songs and their self-titled debut album are topped by the Molde-dialect vocals of Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Uncategorisable, yet with a familial relationship to the Birmingham-area Pram, this frequently lovely and spacey music would be at home soundtracking a Jan Švankmajer fantasia.

Moving away from the elastic world of Norwegian jazz, A/B, the fourth album from the trio 1982 opens with a stunning, untitled 18-mnute mood piece (listen to an extract below) where Nils Økland’s Hardanger fiddle and violin gel with waves of Sigbjørn Apelands harmonium and organ while effortlessly accommodating the bassoon, clarinet, flute, horn and trombone of a specially assembled quintet. The pulsing waves of each instrument and their interplay make A/B a beautiful experience.

Listen to an extract of “18:16” from 1982’s A/B

Equally spiritual is Cosmic Creation, the new album from trumpeter Arve Henrikson. Paired with Chron for release – an album previously exclusive to last year’s Solidification box set – Cosmic Creation is made up from eight interlinked sections which shift from sounds evoking the rumbling of the surface of the sun to rays of light breaking over the horizon.

Scandinavia and Norway in particular, bow out with Cor Amant, the first album by string quartet Tokso. Norway-born, half-Norwegian, one-quarter Greek and one-quarter French, they feature cello, Hardanger fiddle, Lira and nyckelharpa (listen to a sampler from the album below). Though folk-based, their cyclical compositions seduce like serial music. In common with the best artists from the north, boundaries are seamlessly breached. May it ever remain thus.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Listen to a sampler from Tokso's Cor Amant

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