Nordic Music Central Viking Hero

Songs for the end of the day, 23rd February – Simon Toldam (Denmark) and Joe Carnwath (Sweden)

Simon Toldam (Denmark) –  To linjer  (sample track from the EP Fem Små Stykker Med Tid)

I have to say that it is highly unusual to be asked to sit and listen effectively to silence. And I don’t mean the Sound of Silence. In contrast to this, Simon & Garfunkel’s classic hit is a cacophony of noise.

Simon Toldam’s focus on his five-track album is driven by his desire to shake things up for his fellow Danes where their relationship with silence is concerned.

He considers it uncomfortable, awkward, and unpleasant but acknowledges that it is ingrained in the culture there.

For Simon silence is full of possibilities, in music and in the act of listening itself. So, ‘Fem Stykker Med Tid’ (‘Five pieces with time’) is a demonstration of what we can also use music – and silence – for. If we dare to.

He invites us not to listen so much to sounds, tones, and melodies rather to the silence, the space, and ultimately to ourselves on the album. In the space between activities and movements, between sounds and tones, there is time for digestion, time to be curious, and time to be in the present. Perfect hypnotherapy music.

He seeks to understand what actually happens to us, the music, the moment, the mind, and the emotions if we listen as much to the gaps and silence as we do to the notes.

This is for sure the most experimental piece of music that will be promoted in NMC this year. It’s like wandering into the Tate Gallery to find a pile of bricks scattered on the floor with no explanation. In fact, this album could soundtrack that exhibit, or Tracey Emin’s unmade bed for that matter.

I couldn’t blame any one of you for thinking that both he and I are quite mad but give it a listen and I reckon you’ll find he’s on to something, that he has something to say, namely that there is self-awareness to be found in listening mainly to silence. It’s like being in a parallel universe, one that operates in complete juxtaposition to ours and one where silence is punctuated by occasional noise rather than noise being interrupted by very occasional silence in our existence.

In fact I reckon you should play it either before or after Nightwish’s frenetic track ‘Noise’ from their last album, which is about the falsehoods created by the constant garbage coming forth from cell phones, headphones and speakers. Who knows, between them you might discover the meaning of life.

Incidentally, I selected ‘To linjer’ (‘Two lines’) because it is the quietest track of all as well as being the longest. A couple of the others might be the product of My Bloody Valentine or Swans in comparison.

He recorded the album in the Sendesaal concert hall in Bremen, Germany, as he did with his 2019 release ‘OMHU,’ a concert hall with fantastic and unique acoustics that, according to Toldam, is tailor-made for sounds and spaces.

Photo credit: Andreas Omvik

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Joe Carnwath (Sweden) – The one about the girl (sample track from the album The Man that I am)

Every so often you come across someone who is so quintessentially British, but who is parked up somewhere abroad where they could easily be regarded as a parody of that Britishness.

In my youth I recall visiting Alicante with my father, long before the Costa Blanca became the tourist haven that it is today. We chanced across the then only British inhabitant of the city, an old guy colloquially known as ‘El Ingles’ and one who played up to the role by wearing themed British countryside clothing, plus fours and all, and who traipsed around without a hat (‘only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ as Noel Coward observed) with a copy of the Daily Mirror under his arm, and dragging a bulldog along behind him.

It is tempting to consider Joe Carnwath in a similar light. Joe is American I believe though raised in southern England amongst those of an ‘El Ingles’ penchant  and domiciled now since the 1990s in Uppsala, Sweden’s fourth largest city, just up the road from Stockholm Arlanda Airport. In some of his promo photos with his flat cap he looks like a cross between a post-war country squire  and a Cockney spiv.

He too seems to be playing out a role on his album ‘The man that I am’, one of 10 “succinct vignettes” as he calls them, applying some of that traditional British cynicism and self-deprecating humour.

Joe seems to have developed a thing about the value of lyricism, opining that while “geniuses” like Dylan, Paul Simon and Lloyd Cole write “truly amazing” lyrics, at the end of the day they can’t claim them to be ‘superior’ to Little Richard singing “a wop bop a lubop a wap bam boo.”

I suppose it depends how you look at it. If he means a lyric doesn’t have to be meaningful I’m in agreement with that. We get plenty of artists in here whose lyrics are indecipherable and in many cases that’s exactly what they wanted. But they have a lyrical cadence at least. It sounds like they mean something and they often invite you to put your own interpretation on them. Little Richard’s wop bopping is part of the music.

Hence ‘The one about the girl’ sends up the futility of preening pompous pop ditty songwriting by being just that.

It’s an interesting way of tackling the subject, similar to my local Asda superstore hanging signs all over it boasting how they have ‘matched prices to (those of) Lidl’ (a competitor). Obviously not a leader in the field of retailing.

But it works very well in the end, with a jangly guitar delivery and ear pleasing melodies that could be Everything But The Girl, and, true to the story, one of the most pretentious lyrics you will hear this year – “Even though on paper it’s not what you’re after, drawn to your Camus and Kafka, there’s a song you still come back to: It’s the one about the girl”.

Ha! Existential or what?

‘The man that I am’ is available now on Clean Slate Records.

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