Nordic Music Central Viking Hero

Nordic Music Central EPs and Albums of the year, 2022

Featured artists: Pom Poko; Rikke Normann; SkarWorx; Stella Explorer; Ask Carol; Highasakite; Stinako; Tiergarten; Lydmor.

To my eternal shame I realised that I only reviewed five albums and four EPs this year. On the other hand there were many more ‘sample track’ EP and album reviews (one featured track with a quick overview of the others) and they can often be more helpful to an artist than a long winded exposé. Especially one of mine.

But that’s what the full reviews boil down to and that actually makes my job harder. There is no ‘shortlist’ to draw up; it’s simply a matter of which I can decide merits the ultimate award out of a group of releases that I value very highly or I wouldn’t have written a review in the first place.

(All the full reviews can be found on the website; use the search function).

Let’s start with the EPs. As with the Singles the Number One comes at the end.

First off, in January, was –

Pom Poko (Norway) – This is our house

The problem Pom Poko have is that they released a brilliant debut album, ‘Birthday’, and retaining a high standard in subsequent albums is always difficult, the dreaded ‘second album syndrome’. ‘Cheater’ wasn’t bad at all as it turned out though it was never going to be celebrated like ‘Birthday’.

Pom Poko have cornered the market in fast-paced, loud, but subtle and technical math rock in recent years.

They said that although the songs on this EP are quite different from each other, they felt that they fitted together “in a nice way”. My view was that there’s little in the way or form or structure to it, it’s as if they’ve stuck together a series of jams, but they are better than just about anyone else at that.

When you call a song ‘Our House’, which I’ve selected as the sample track here,you invite comparisons with Madness and this is indeed a mad house of a song. It starts off with the sort of reverberated feedback you’d expect at the end of a track rather than the beginning. Then before you know it, it’s 1966 and Jimi has arisen and is warming up at London’s Scotch of St. James Club. ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ could be just around the corner. (I wonder what the Norwegian national anthem would sound like if Pom Poko’s Martin Miguel Tonne was to play it).

Then it slows right down into a sort of gentrified 1960s prog keyboard section before exploding into a jazz-rock fusion which requires a redefinition of ‘experimental’. There is no contemporary band I can think of to compare Pom Poko with when they play this sort of stuff. Perhaps Brand X was in the UK in the1970s when Phil Collins was behind the kit and that’s a level they should continue to aspire to.

And is this the first track on which they’ve used keyboards, albeit sparingly? Another important moment in their development.

NMC rating: 8/10.

Find them on:




Rikke Normann (Norway) – The art of being home alone

Rikke Normann achieved a well-deserved #3 place in the NMC Singles of the Year list and the song, ‘Unfollow’, is part of the EP ‘The art of being home alone’.

‘The art of being home alone’ is a four-track acoustic EP with remixes of the last two, ‘Unfollow’ and ‘Melted Snow,’ to a total of six and they are unperfected single-takes. If she made a mistake it stayed in (I don’t hear many).

All the tracks have been released before, on ‘The art of letting go’ album (2021) and are acknowledged fan favourites, singled out by those fans for acoustic versions.

She enjoys wordplay; the ‘home alone’ bit comes from her first acoustic album, which bore that title (2019) (and which pre-dated the pandemic; how did she know?? Is she ‘Mystic Rikke’? Does she have connections to the Communist Party of China?)

All the songs are ballads, quite lovely, and they are all played solely on that piano with just her own voice and backing harmonies in tow. Not that there’s that much difference from the original versions in some cases in the sense that she didn’t over-instrumentalise them, and ‘Unfollow’ is a case in point.

And all of themare dripping with melody while her vocal delivery of these versions could have come right out of a Disney movie.

I can usually relate an artist to others but I’m struggling this time. The nearest I can get is early Regina Spektor – on valium, if you get my drift.

And if this EP doesn’t put a smile on your face, see a doctor!

The sample track is ‘Melted Snow’, played on an Ed Seiler upright piano.

NMC rating: 9/10.

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SkarWorX (Norway) – SEED- X: Volume 2

Øystein Skar, aka SkarWorX, also figured in the Singles of the Year list, with a track, ‘XOXO’ that features on this EP – his second as the title suggests – and of a trilogy, the third of which will be out next year.

As I said in the Singles review, SkarWorX is something of an unsung hero in Norway,  a modest ‘regular guy’ and a genuine composer as opposed to songwriter, and one who works both at the cutting edge of electronic technology and with the piano, his preferred instrument, and often on the same song.

He has released, and continues to do so, a form of music which is very hard to identify. It’s a sort of experimental instrumental pop, lacking the formal gravitas, if that’s the right word, of some of his contemporaries in electronic composition in Norway, pushing collective, intricate sets of melodies to the edge of the known universe while at the same time ensuring that they aren’t in any way pretentious and that they remain attractive to the casual listener.

And as we’ve seen with Øystein before, no two songs are the same.

For the sample track I chose ‘Birdsong’ in which the piano is very much to the fore, supported by strings from Madeleine Ossum, a gorgeous piece that with just a little more instrumentation could be labeled symphonic. There’s a film producer somewhere who doesn’t know it yet but who is about to discover that perfect piece he/she’s been looking for to play out his/her latest rom-com.

I believe Øystein will be coming to the UK next year and I hope it’s a fruitful trip. He deserves to be heard more widely.

NMC rating: 8/10.

Find SkarWorX on:



#1 Stella Explorer (Sweden) – Dorkay House

I have to give pride of place to Stella Explorer. I came across her by chance at the By: Larm showcase festival in Oslo in February 2020, just as Covid was beginning to force lockdowns. On the first occasion I walked out of her set and went to the bar, before she’d begun, so long was she taking to get her and her band set up.

The following night I thought I’d give her another chance. It was the last set I saw at By: Larm. Little could I have known at the time that it would be the last one I would see for over two years.

She’s a talented lady, who knows how to hold an audience, and her rich, smooth vocal registered immediately; a distinctive groove that somehow accommodates R&B, a little Americana and a little electro pop, into a sultry, chilled melting pot of her own.

But in any case the circumstances endeared her to me.

While she has other avenues (for example she works as an emeritus vocalist with the Swedish artist boerd and has been in the band Brödet), I was pleased to see she eventually released this solo EP, ‘Dorkay House’, this year.

Dorkay House’ is an allusion to a Johannesburg music venue that was a haven for black musicians during apartheid, and a title that is her own metaphor for the power that lingers in places of emotional significance. (She is part South African).

For the sample I picked the final track, ‘House Arrest’, which is the first on the EP to introduce African melodies and rhythms, somehow intertwined with a 70s dance floor beat while Stella adopts a different vocal style to the other tracks, a richly expansive one that could be Madonna when she gets into full flow. I’m not sure whose house arrest she’s referring to, it may well have something to do with apartheid era, but to be honest it is easy to be so wrapped up in the music here that the lyrical meaning becomes incidental.

I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. Almost three years ago I left that Oslo venue in a blizzard, convinced I’d seen a sophisticated artist who was fully capable of laying down an exceptional debut album when she finally got round to it. And I feel totally vindicated right now.

NMC Rating: 8/10

Find her on:



And now for the albums…

Ask Carol (Norway) AC 1: Control you

Ask Carol(Karoline Strømshoved and Ask Thorsønn Borgen) really burst onto the scene in 2022, working out of their rural retreat of Auma in Østerdalen, 300km north of Oslo, where the only audience are farm animals, in what they call their CowChella festivals.

Ask is the drummer although he has other roles, while Carol does the vocals and plays guitar, or perhaps that should be guitars, as the huge array of pedals she has, together with assorted sampling devices means they can sound like the Polyphonic Spree when they want to.

And it’s difficult to pinpoint their style, which encompasses, inter alia, various rock manifestations, punk, blues, and even some grunge and an occasional dash of metal. The punk is particularly evident in Carol’s forceful sonic delivery but equally can she provide less strident vocals.

For the sample track I selected a slightly off-the wall one, ‘Do it in LA.’ The story behind it is that Ask Carol should have gone to Los Angeles for a meeting with record company bigwigs but the pandemic intervened.

Rather than sulk, they decided to make light of it and the result is ‘Do it in LA.‘  It’s a delight; genuinely funny from start to finish and brilliantly scripted. It lies somewhere between Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ and Sheryl Crow’s ‘All I wanna do’ with lyrics that might have been written by Sarah Silverman.

How ironic it would be if it made them stars on Sunset Boulevard.

They are a ‘fun’ band but the musicianship is deadly serious.

NMC rating: 8/10

Find them on:





Highasakite (Norway) – Mother

Highasakite’s ‘Mother’ was another review early in the year and I concluded what was a lengthy one by saying “For my money a very serious contender, even at this early stage, for Album of the Year.”

And so it remained.

I have history with Highasakite. They were my favourite band for a couple of years and then what had become a successful and highly respected (internationally) five piece split up, with what is today’s Highasakite returning to the original duo that formed it. (One of the ex-members is in the EP section, above).

The whole thing was messy, involving lengthy legal proceedings over the band’s name and who could use it, and a little unsavoury.

But more to the point I felt that from then onwards something went missing from their music. The first post-split album, ‘Uranium Heart’, was good but didn’t measure up to the previous two. Ditto the two EPs that followed it, in quick succession.

But with ‘Mother’ they returned to form, in what chief songwriter Ingrid Helene Håvik, who had become a mother herself, called “a celebration of the macabre.”

There is something inherently dark and angst-ridden about Ingrid’s song writing, there always has been, and it is much in evidence here.

There is huge musical variety across this ‘concept’ album, from ballad to techno to catchy pop to symphonic anthem. There’s tenderness but mainly there is a dark, melancholic grandeur.

At the same time they managed to concoct an almighty dance track in ‘Autopsy’ as if they’d been doing it for years.

And they invented a new genre with the final track – and the sample one here – ‘Can I Come Home’; Symphonic Indie Pop. Hand on heart this is quite possibly the most powerful song they’ve ever written, a monumental anthem featuring piano, violin-like synths, many real violins, a terrific vocal contribution from Ingrid in a pleading voice the likes of which I haven’t heard since ‘God don’t leave me’ and some masterful orchestral percussion from Trond Bersu, who can say more with a few deftly placed and well-timed strokes than most drummers do in a five-minute solo. A stunningly epic piece played out by a full symphony orchestra, it carries as much gravitas and is every bit as ground breaking as A-ha’s ‘Take on me’ in the overall scheme of things in Norway and that’s saying something.

Had it been released as a single it would have been challenging for the Top 3 spots in that list without any doubt.

Ultimately it isn’t the #1 album because I felt that some of the tracks had been overproduced, to the point that you can’t decipher individual instruments. They are just an amorphous mass of sound in parts.

But that’s the only reason.

NMC rating: 9/10

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Stinako (Finland) – Ghostina

Stinako (Stina Koistinen) was placed #1 in the Singles of the Year list for ‘Pelasta mut’ but I have to say something about the album it came from.

It can’t be easy to follow up an album, ‘Ikuisuus’ that was nominated for the Hyundai Nordic Music Prize, the equivalent of our Mercury Prize in the UK, in 2020. But Stinakohas given it her best shot.

A wordplay Grandmaster, she says ’Ghostina’ is an alias of Stinako, “a phantom living in the ruins of my memories” and that “the album is a collection of songs grown out of those ruins, coming to life.”

It sounds dark and portentous and it is, but Stinako’s flirtatiousness is never far away. There are few artists who can combine gravitas and dalliance on the same album, let alone on the same track, as she sometimes does.

She’s the Finnish equivalent of a Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë who opted to write sonnets over prose.

I awarded the album 10/10, something I’ve only ever done once before, for two reasons. Firstly on the strength of two fabulous tracks, ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Pelasta mut’, both supremely powerful in their own way and yet so different in their composition that it is hard to reconcile that they came from the same artist.

Secondly, because Stinako is one of few solo artists across the entire Nordic spectrum who is consistently working at this creatively cutting edge level.

The sample track is ‘Ave Maria.’ Not Schubert’s ‘Ellens dritter Gesang’ (if only…what would she make of that?) but a stunning song which starts off like an ABBA track with jangly piano chords and riff and then terminates in a spectacular extended vocal and instrumental chorus/outro that will blow your socks off.

One of the most powerful songs I’ve heard this year.

NMC rating 10/10

Find her on:




Tiergarten (Norway) – Bluemass

This is Tiergarten’s second album, following the 2016 debut one ‘Oslo Exit Baby’, which was highly regarded.

There is an air of mystery about them. I don’t know how the band acquired its name or what the meaning of this album’s title is. But I do know that counted amongst their number, are Mats Rybø, who formed Tiergarten in 2014, and acts as a vocalist, sharing those duties mainly with Trine Skullestad Hølland, and Anne Marit Bergheim, once of Katzenjammer. The other band members are Odd Kristian Svedal and Stian Sveen.

I’m not familiar with Trine and the latter two members but when you consider the quality of the songs that Mats Rybø and Anne Marit Bergheim produced with Katzenjammer alone it gives you an idea of the excellence to expect here.

Tiergarten make powerful, sophisticated electronic indie-pop and rock. And the standard is consistently high throughout the entire album. No filler. Definitely no bummers.

The musicianship on this album is marvellous and the probing lyrics (the product I guess of Mats Rybø, because I’m familiar with his technique, but I may be wrong) fit like a glove.

I was totally taken aback by the quality on ‘Bluemass’ I had only heard bits of Tiergarten previously but after absorbing this album I can safely say that musically they are one of Norway’s best-kept secrets.

It is scintillating, stirring, intelligent pop. Often grandiose, sometimes epic.

It was hard to select a sample track, they are all so good. Eventually I went for the final one, ‘Lighthouse Man’, which begins as a soft, subtle ballad and transforms over five minutes into something that is akin to a religious experience.

NMC rating: 9/10

Find them on:


#1 Lydmor (Denmark) – Nimue

That just leaves the #1 album and I had to go for Lydmor. When I was speaking of Stinako in terms of being “one of few solo artists across the entire Nordic spectrum who is consistently working at this creatively cutting edge level”, the other one I had in mind was Jenny Rossander, who goes under the artist moniker of Lydmor (Sound Mother in English).

She’s a box of contradictions. In-your-face powerful electronic music at one end of the scale, together with a highly dynamic live act, and subtle, tender ballads delivered just on a piano at the other. A feisty lady who is also erudite, committed, compassionate, and utterly focused.

The ‘Nimue’ album was born out of a semi-abandoned, Covid ruined-gig in Oslo in which she could only play an acoustic set and after which she chose to stay on rather than return home to Copenhagen for Christmas, booking a studio on a remote Norwegian island and going back into isolation “to create music without the possibility of hiding myself behind layers of sounds and endless editing.”

It’s a 13-track album, made up of acoustic versions of songs from previous albums (some of which sound quite different from the originals), four new ones and a cover.

She said that it is her “darkest album yet” but I’m not sure any of these songs are darker. There is less angst about them, and at the same time a little more threat, in some of them at least, if that makes sense. It sounds contradictory but then she is a little incongruous, herself. She sounds softer, as if she realises there is a bigger audience to be won without sacrificing her indie legitimacy (and she hasn’t), and more rounded.

Ok, Jenny is still a work-in-progress, even a decade into her career. While her lyrics are peerless she can still improve her vocals for example, especially in the higher ranges, but the complete package is engrossing.

There is always a standout track on a Lydmor album and for my money this time it is ‘Heard you the first time,‘ despite the claims of the fabulous acoustic version of ‘Lsd Heart’, which originally featured on previous album ‘Capacity.’

It’s so laid back that the percussion is provided by brushes, over that piano, again. As soon as I heard it I thought “this is Fiona Apple, performing live in her favourite club, Largo”. Somehow Jenny Rossander has come up here with the Grammy-winning song that Fiona is yet to write.

This is one of the classiest songs I’ve heard in years; truly world class. I want to hear it on BBC radio. Like every day. Played by every DJ.

NMC score: 9/10

Find her on:




That’s all folks!!

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