So it’s that time of the year again, choosing NMC’s ‘Singles of the Year’ (Albums/EPs to follow).
It is always hard because very good songs have to be left out for the sake of creating a shortlist of just 25 (from about 250); including a top three, and a winner – my personal Single of the Year. And of course I can only consider what we’ve reviewed.
I’ve also opted generally for ‘lighter’ fare this year in common with the salad I’ll be eating rather than turkey. Times are hard in this reviewing business.
I’ve listed them alphabetically except for the top three, which come at the end, along with the #1 song.
Wherever possible I’ve used videos rather than Spotify because I know readers like to see as well as hear the band or artist, or at least see an image.
Of course the full review of each song can be found in NMC. (Tip – use the Search facility (top right of each page), it’s a pretty good one though you might need to click a couple of times before it kicks in).
So here we go.
Ask Carol (Norway) ‘Quiet One’
This is the first song from the irrepressible Ask Carol that I heard in 2022 and subsequently more tracks, then the entire album, were reviewed.
This is what they are about, plain and simple. I reckon you’ll love them.
Astrid Swan (Finland) ‘In the woods’
I know some people find Astrid’s songs and their lyrical content a little depressing. But you can’t deny they are beautiful.
Between Mermaids and Me (Denmark) ‘somethingaboutyousomethingaboutme’
A bit of glitch pop from Aarhus. I commented, “The final section, after Stine’s vocal has come back in, is edgy and disturbing, as if you’ve suddenly wandered unwittingly into a room in the Berghain basement which is VERBOTEN!”
boerd (Sweden)‘Another Life’
Orchestral bassist boerd is one of Sweden’s classiest writers and producers and here he reunites with the engaging vocal of Stella Explorer – who will feature in the albums/EPs review – in another sumptuous piece of work.
Chivvy (Sweden) ‘Kiddo’
From their EP released in the autumn comes the expansive, characterful, but dreamy and sometimes psychy guitar-based pop style of Chivvy, on this occasion building towards a rousing anthem in its mid-section which will set your nerve endings a-tingling. “You’re like a fantasy to me…like ecstasy” if I heard the lyrics correctly. With chord progressions here similar to those of early Highasakite, ‘Kiddo’ is very pleasing on the ear.
Das Body (Norway) ‘Bad Boy’
Das Body have been fairly quiet this year and this is the only new release I know of since their debut album two years ago. But you can’t keep the larger than life Ellie Linden and her crew down.
I commented, “There are few bands creating this sort of raw power allied to attention-grabbing lyrics outside of North America, let alone those that can rock it onstage. Marvellous stuff.”
I’ve no idea why they aren’t much bigger than they are.
Dragongirl (Denmark) ‘Isolde’s Greatest Challenge’
It sounds like a TV programme on BBC4 or an essay question at Oxbridge but another Aarhus artist serves up as I observed, “while it is fundamentally hardcore techno it is flavoured in parts by elements of symphonic metal, and that’s a combination I haven’t heard before… There is a lot going on here and you’ll need to spin it a few times to get the full message. It’s primordial in texture but modish at the same time. A rare recipe.”
Frum (Faroe Islands) ‘Run’
One of many excellent artists from the Faroe Islands (I could have included several in this list) Frum delights again with a song in which she again demonstrates her propensity to create odd rhythms as well as lovely melodies.
Gurli Octavia (Denmark) ‘Lemme lie down’
Gurli Octavia changed her artist moniker and her style part way through the year following a career-defining rail trip across Europe and became ‘Summer Fry.’ Hence this might be the last song she released under the previous name. While I quite like her new persona I’ll miss the old one, which delivered one of the best ever debut albums I’ve heard.
In fact you might argue that style shift was already underway with ‘Lemme lie down’ and the lyrics suggest she was ready for a change…
Hannah Schneider (Denmark)‘Mirror Sphere’
My comment at the time this was released, in February:
It all comes together perfectly, the electronic, synthesised part evoking the sensation that it’s been recorded 100 metres below the Atlantic in a bathysphere, with the incessant beat reminding you that there’s only so much time left before the air runs out. But don’t come up too quickly or you’ll get the bends. You’re half expecting Jacques Cousteau to swim past.
Meanwhile, her luscious vocal is soporific in the nicest way. When she sings “go to sleep with an empty mind, it’s been a long day, it’s been a painful time” you could do just that.
Can’t better that.
he is tall (Denmark)‘New York’
he is tall (Troels Sørensen) is an innate storyteller and as he weaves this ‘road trip’ one, both reminiscing on the past and hoping for a happy present and better future for all the participants, mainly just to his acoustic guitar but with some subtle orchestral and trumpet interjections, he drags you into it as if you’d been a part of it yourself.
Helena Montgomery (Sweden) ‘Diamond in the Rough’
Whenever you get to listen to a song by Helena Montgomery – and we reviewed three this year -you know for sure it will be thoughtful, provocative and high quality. And the arrangement is superb.
Inki (Iceland)‘Playing with fire’
Inki appeared twice in NMC in 2022. Initially it was for ‘Love of my life, bad guy’ in which she interviewed numerous prisoners and ex-inmates of Reykjavik’s Women’s Prison against a backdrop of a variety of music styles.
In this case, and in complete contrast, ‘Playing with fire’ has ‘chartbuster’ stamped right through it.
Knife Girl (Finland) ‘The Good Times Are Coming Your Way’
Knife Girl (Lili Aslo) has been described as ‘genre defying.’ The best I can offer is – imagine Janis Joplin meets Talking Heads meets Amy Winehouse, and fronted by the Lili Aslo Big Band. My conclusion: “You could write a thesis on why she’s in the wrong era. She should have been playing this at Woodstock or Monterrey Pop.”
Marte Eberson (Norway) ‘This will blow’
The multi-talented Marte Eberson is playing piano for Ane Brun as I write this. A few weeks ago she was performing at a jazz festival in Montreal. In between this hectic activity she’s found the time to write an album, which will be released next year, of songs with a greater emphasis on pop than she has done for the last five years or so.
Three singles have been released so far of which this, for me, is the pick of the bunch.
If you can’t tap your feet to this make sure they are still attached to your legs.
Maylen Rusti (Norway) ‘Romeo & Julie’
She’s been around for a while then took a break, hence I only discovered Maylen Rusti this year. Her storytelling capability in this song simply bowled me over as revisits the Bard’s tragic love story in a modern-day setting.
You can really picture her as ‘Julie(t)’. And she has a natural storyteller’s voice too, complementing a melody that flows throughout the song like the Adige River does through Verona, underscored by a punchy rhythm section that makes it eminently danceable as well.
NORD (Orchestra) (Sweden) ‘Movement (Of a Hand)’
They are known by both names and are a couple of deep-thinking philosopher types from Malmö.
Their take is that “The song is in many ways a reflection on the past year, where factual resistance and disinformation increasingly penetrate our everyday life. But ‘Movement (of a hand)’ is also the story of a counter-movement – on how organisation and knowledge stand over conspiracy and nonsense.”
My take? “It is commanding and impressive stuff.”
Red Cell (Sweden) ‘Only Night’
There isn’t a great deal of electronica in this year’s selection but this one is a gem. Red Cell returned with their first new music since 2016. It’s Erasure on valium, perhaps with a hint of Soft Cell in the lyricism and even of Kraftwerk in the heaviness of the beat – and with hooks in spades.
SkarWorX (Norway) ‘XOXO’
SkarWorX (Øystein Skar) is one of the unsung heroes of piano and electronic composition in the Nordics generally. In the review I called him “a master of disguise and a practitioner of sorcery in that you never know quite what to expect from him,” then “There are quite a few musicians in Norway alone who are working around experimental electronic sound although not often combining it with acoustic instruments such as piano like this. SkarWorX is undeniably at the cutting edge.”
It was also the first track on his second EP (of a trilogy) ‘SEED- X: Volume 2’ which was released in June and in support he released this video, starring dancer Sudesh Adhana.
The Bridges (Denmark) ‘Daydreamers’
The Bridges is a new band from rural Denmark, where “there is room to daydream away from all kinds of disasters.” ‘Daydreamers’ is a tribute to these rural surroundings and the slightly slower life far from Copenhagen but it rattles along at a fair pace and builds up a head of steam quickly. It’s unrelenting, melodious, catchy and feel-good. What more could you ask for?
The Victim (Denmark) ‘Ghost House’
Danish singer-songwriter, Kenneth Nefling, alias The Victim, released his latest single ‘Ghost House’ in September, one which I described as “the liveliest piece of folk-rock you’re likely to hear all year. It starts off at a heck of a pace – I was convinced I was listening to A-ha’s ‘Take on me’ in the opening bars – and it stays that way throughout most of its four minute span.”
And the more I listen to it I hear a distinct Arcade Fire vibe.
We Ghosts (Sweden/UK) ‘Love will tear us apart’ (Joy Division cover)
Still on the subject of ghosts, this is the only cover amongst this year’s selection (and there were a few others that were reviewed) but what a belter.
Joy Division’s song ‘Love will tear us apart’ has been named one of the World’s best rock songs by both the NME and Rolling Stone.
We Ghosts have for long had their own version of the song in their repertoire. What’s more they often play at a music pub/venue called The Wharf, in Macclesfield, Cheshire, which was Ian Curtis’ home town at the time of his suicide.
We Ghosts have speeded it up a notch, turned up the tempo and to a degree ‘pop-ified’ it. The biggest difference is in the vocal. Jenny Woodall is closer to Judith Durham than to Ian Curtis.
You think that can’t possibly work? Think again.
Now it gets even more difficult as we move into the ‘Top 3’.
#3 – Rikke Normann (Norway) ‘Unfollow’
I’d never heard of Rikke Normann until this year but I fell in love with this song when I heard it.
It’s a sort of ‘awareness song’ to the faultless perfection of social media, especially Instagram and all of its filters, edits and the many attempts folk will make to get that perfect picture. She’s ahead of her time; a few ‘influencers’ have been touting the same line recently I noticed, even Elon Musk.
Not that I’ve ever presented ‘perfect me’ to Instagram, you understand.
With the accompaniment only of piano (specifically an Ed Seiler upright in one of the two versions she released), and her own voice in harmony, she delivers a lovely composed little melodic ballad that you wouldn’t easily exclude from your memory even if you wanted to.
And she does so with a delicious vocal style which in some sections sounds like the way Ingrid Håvik of Highasakite presents her ballads. And that’s top class.http
#2 Kindsight (Denmark) ‘Hi Life’
I was lucky enough to catch Kindsight in Manchester in April when they made a short UK tour, one of few Nordic artists and bands to do so this year. (More required please).
Released in advance of their debut album ‘Swedish Punk’ and known to be more of a shoe-gazey band, ‘Hi Life’ isa rollicking pop-punk affair which I immediately thought was some sort of weird amalgam of the Norwegian bands Sløtface and Pom Poko; punk set to an obscure, almost arty math rock beat . Indeed, Kindsight’s front woman Nina Hyldgaard Rasmussen pitches somewhere between Sløtface’s Haley Shea and Pom Poko’s Ragnhild Fangel.
The song plays out with a short but almighty outro but what really does it for me is the incredibly catchy chorus, which comes crashing in like the SAS at the Iranian Embassy. I defy you not to bang your head, no matter how much it hurts.
/And the winner is…
#1 Stinako (Finland) ‘Pelasta mut’
It’s seven years since I first came across Stina Koistinen, then of Color Dolor, an alt-pop band which coincidentally is playing its last ever gigs this month.
She’s involved in several other ventures, including a collaborative EP with Astrid Swan (above), released a couple of years ago but she has become known mainly these days for her solo work as Stinako, including two albums, the first of which was nominated for the Hyundai Nordic Music Prize in 2020. The second, ‘Ghostina’ will be featured in the forthcoming albums review.
This track, ‘Pelasta mut’ (Save Me) was released as a single in advance of the album and it is unlike anything else on it or anything else she’s ever done to my knowledge. But then that’s Stina. You never know quite what to expect next.
She calls it “a melancholic party anthem”. To me it’s an exhilarating pop banger, a full-on dance track, at least from the halfway point, without a hint of melancholy.
I’ve often said that I don’t get why she isn’t a much bigger name internationally. Yes, singing in Finnish doesn’t help in that respect and maybe an English version would help cross international boundaries. It’s a funny old business, pop music.
I don’t hear as much British music these days, only what I catch in passing on the radio but it continues to challenge me why I hear so little Nordic music here. I mean, like none. Take away Sigrid and the occasional re-run of ABBA or A-ha and there isn’t much left. Every single track here merits UK airplay.
I just hope someone is listening.