We’ve got two month’s worth of tracks for you this time, going back to the beginning of October, with one interloper from 1st December.
Again, apologies to the artists and bands that we’ve featured but didn’t make the cut onto this playlist; we can’t include all of them and have to set a limit, which this time is 15 songs.
This time there’s a précis of the original review included, together with some extra bits I’ve thrown in since.
Marte Eberson (Norway) – The End of Us (track from the album Free)
Marte Eberson’s first solo album for six years, released in October, deals with complex issues of relationships in her home city of Oslo, with the conclusion that she is ‘free’ and has to remain that way in order to be true to herself.
It is the final track in particular, ‘The End of Us’ that caught my attention. Itis different from the rest of the album musically, sounding like a cross between what Marte used to do in her previous solo work and the songs she wrote for her band Löv on its 2020 album.
It is replete with atmosphere, starts off like a clip from The War of the Worlds (which some of her relationships might have been) and then gravitates into something that sounds a little like Emmy the Great’s ‘Swimming Pool,’ all rich and cultured, while the choir could be a memorial one in a cathedral.
It isn’t a stretch to say that Marte Eberson is redefining meaningful pop music.
Ida Wenøe (Denmark) – Mourning Time (track from the album Undersea)
Also released in October was Ida Wenøe’s third studio album, ‘Undersea’, from whence comes this track, ‘Mourning Time’, which appealed to me straight away for several reasons.
Firstly, for clever wordplay; secondly, for the atmosphere she produces; thirdly, for the ever so appropriate sound effects at the beginning and end; fourthly for daring to introduce a flute as the means of delivering the bridge.
But mainly for her vocal clarity, diction, and the plain sweetness of her singing.
Biljana Heights (Denmark) – Stranger (title track from EP)
She sits somewhere between Laurie Anderson and Sweden’s oddball Skott (think especially of her ‘My Name’); what you might loosely call ‘prog pop’.
What particularly struck me was her subtle chord selection on the piano; it is very pleasant on the ear. As, for that matter, is her alluring vocal. Some say she sounds like Lana Del Rey. I say LDR sounds like Biljana Heights.
Little Lies (Sweden) – Roadblocks (single)
Fleetwood Mac-inspired Little Lies are Mikael Nordgren and Anna Maria Espinosa.
‘Roadblocks’ steamrollers along and you can’t help feeling they are shoveling coal onto the rhythm section.
NO roadblock is going to stop her getting where she’s going and add emphasis she delivers some of the lines with the sort of power I haven’t heard from a female Swedish singer since I last heard Anna von Hausswolff.
Das Body (Norway) – You look so pretty when you’re on your knees (single)
I’m cheating a bit on this one as it came out on the first day of December, blindsiding me, and hasn’t been reviewed previously. The third single from Das Body’s forthcoming second album, it is both a little rockier and experimentalat the same time as Ellie Linden chants a mantra to the children as if she’s the Pied Piper of Økern, delivering a lecture on “the imminent collapse”, urging them not to get “caught up in the facts”.
A song that looks it might concern BDSM degenerates (I chose the word deliberately) into a Pink Floyd- like mantra that is somewhere over and beyond ‘The Wall.’
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. Please carry on guys, because I hear so few others pushing the boundaries like this.
Melody Fields (Sweden) – Jesus (sample/focus single track from album 1901)
The album ‘1901’ explores themes of spirituality, faith, trust, and conviction, and has been described as a rock album with psychedelic influences.
This ‘Jesus’ might be the one in The Greatest Story Ever Told as, after an opening note that could be ‘Alive and Kicking’, he comes down from the mount with all guns blazing to a powerful Spaghetti-western style riff. Thereafter a heavenly choir takes centre stage with what is a highly tuneful chant, almost religious in nature in its own right.
There are strong hints of Pink Floyd in there again; well at least to me anyway. If you can imagine the Floyd mixed in with The Polyphonic Spree in full flow, I reckon that positions them quite well.
Sandra Kolstad (Norway) – Unlearning (single)
Sandra Kolstad has been absent from the music scene for almost five years, now she returns with a new single, ‘Unlearning’, by which she means “letting go of fear and letting people in” and that it is hard work but doesn’t have to be “a lonely thing.”
Where the song shines is in its musicality. It’s a delightful little piece, the sort of thing a committee of Laurie Anderson, Jenny Hval, Caroline Polachek, Regina Spektor and the Danish Lydmor might have come up with, hanging onto a simple but memorable piano/glockenspiel melody line.
Bulletproof Poets (Sweden) – The Winter Fair (sample track from EP)
What fascinates me about this song is what sounds like deliberate discord or dissonance in the tune, but it isn’t, they simply grind it out in such an earthy fashion. Then there is the odd metre, time signature changes and variation in pace to contend with.
On the basis of this track I’d compare them with the British band Trembling Bells, which was definitively alt-folk/psych and there is a psychy feel to this work.
Hilma Nikolaisen (Norway) – This Time (single)
The press release that went with this song mentions that it is a “track full of references” and I concur. The opening bars are full of Arcade Fire from the mid-2000s period. Think of ‘(Antichrist Television Blues’) for example. Then as the song progresses she posits herself as a Norwegian equivalent of Caroline Polachek, backed by The Undertones.
It’s insistently catchy. She must have a bionic wrist and her guitar titanium strings, the bashing she gives it, the tune enlightened by selective and discrete use of synths and assault by drum machines and underpinned by a driving bass line that she also provides. It wouldn’t have been surprised to read that she played guitar and bass at the same time, and all in time.
Brimheim (Faroe Islands/Sweden) – Brand new woman (single/future album track, featuring eee gee [Denmark])
The song was inspired by the “cool girl” monologue from David Fincher’s film ‘Gone Girl’, the premise of which is that a cool girl doesn’t pretend to care, when actually she cares deeply. She bends over backwards to transform herself into a person who can be worthwhile to love. In this song, she’s someone so used to settling for scraps of attention that she loses touch with reality and fantasises about tapping into survival instincts—a wild, violent sense of self-respect that propels her into a new life. “A suburban housewife nightmare” is how Brimheim puts it.
Don’t ever check out a Brimheim song and expect to find anything other than a moral and philosophical treatise.
Musically and lyrically she excels with each release. The song rattles along at a fair old pace, a strong melody underscored by a riveting bass line and adorned with little piano and synthesiser accompaniments and with a blistering chorus.
And her voice has something of the US West Coast about it. The Lissie of the Faroe Islands.
Mall Girl (Norway) – Inzane (single/ future album track)
The Last Post being played on a hurdy gurdy; something off King Crimson’s ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ (with and without a string accompaniment); a Martin Tonne guitar riff straight out of the Pom Poko songbook; a Haley Shea (Sløtface) vocal passage; a full orchestral string section bridge; sloppy dream pop; a ballad; and a yacht rock guitar solo that morphs into something Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin might have played.
And all with an undercurrent of free form jazz. It’s inzane.
Skånnråkk (Norway) – Kitty Kat (sample track from the album Gratis Øl)
They must have some pretty wild felines in the alleyways of Hokksund where the band lives, and they’ve definitely been let out of the bag.
It steamrollers along from the get-go, reminiscent of early Rolling Stones in some ways, complete with cowbell and sweet guitar shredding, throwing in bits of prog and metal and culminating in a deathly laugh that could only come from Dr Evil or the Bond villain Blofeld. He had a kitty cat didn’t he?
Mildfire (Norway/Germany) – How to be an Astronaut EP, Part 2
Part 2 is the really interesting track for me on this EP. It’s advertised as “prog rock explosions.” As a follower of 70s prog I’m always keen to discover what is happening in that genre these days. It turns out to be the sort of prog-jazz fusion thing that Eberson does so well, on a base of Go-Go Penguin. This is the astronaut’s lift off and exiting the Earth’s atmosphere and all the cacophony of sounds, motions and energy that goes with it.
Nicolay Løvvold (Norway) – Hunter (sample track from the album Grey)
The song “concerns the interactions between a predator and its prey. It’s meant as a metaphor for how those that are cautious, timid or just nice always seem to finish last.” Or ‘shy bairns get nowt’ as we say in these parts, a tried and trusted idiom.
It’s raw and guttural, yet melodious with the snap of the stick on the snare drum like a slap in the face and delivered with the Ian Anderson-like vocal affectation that I’ve clocked previously and some terrific instrumental and vocal overlays.
Johanna Brun (Sweden) – Bird (debut English language single/track from forthcoming album)
Johanna Brun’s long-awaited debut English language single ‘Bird’ proves beyond doubt that she is a massive talent hidden from public view for too long. If you like songs that soar like a bird, well this is a golden eagle, with backing that might have come from the Intergalactic Sinfonia.
More singles and a debut album will follow next year.
If this commentary is short that’s because it doesn’t need any more words. Just listen.
(If the playlist below only permits previews, click on the link for the full song).