The Best Norwegian Songs of the Decade So Far (2010-2014)

1. Todd Terje – ‘Inspector Norse’ (2012)
For the best part of a decade Todd Terje had been seemingly content to toddle along in the shadow of Oslo disco standard-bearers like Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas, releasing meandering, winking reworkings of the likes of Chris Rea and The Beegees, his choice of remix-fodder and Todd Terry-referencing moniker perhaps suggesting he wasn’t taking any of it particularly seriously. And then ‘Inspector Norse’ happened. The boss of Norway’s national new music radio may have refused to play it on the grounds that it sounded like “elevator music”, but slowly but unstoppably everyone else, everywhere, did. Cool, catchy, moreish, danceable, and deliciously different – never mind best Norwegian track of the decade so far, ‘Inspector Norse’ might be just be the best one anywhere.

2. Susanne Sundfør – ‘The Brothel’ (2010)
‘A work of such terrible beauty you will struggle to look away’, The Times wrote of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and the same is true of Sundfør’s visceral reimagining of the desolate world of McCarthy’s sucker punch dystopia. Achingly beautiful, songs capable of this kind of devastating power are rare indeed, and whilst the vision Sundfør sings pristinely into being (co-opting the literary horrors for what could be read as a bleak treatise on prostitution) may be a horrifying one, you will feel compelled to listen – and feel deeply – again and again.

3. Hubbabubbaklubb – ‘Mopedbart’ (2013)
Disco mouthfuls Hubbabubbaklubb haven’t really released anything other than ‘Mopedbart’, but if it’s all they ever do they can die pretty happy. Given out on a Sydney label, with daft slacker lyrics about riding around on a moped with a moustache, this lazy, hazy Balearic number might have seemed an unlikely success, but from the first note of the lothario bassline your hips will twitch, and the ba-ba-ba-ba-bada-bum chorus is an irrepressible burrower. Despite being uniquely Norwegian, the appeal of ‘Mopedbart’ is somehow utterly universal.

4. Susanne Sundfør – ‘White Foxes’ (2012)
The first single to drop from Susanne Sundfør’s third album The Silicone Veil, ‘White Foxes’ opens with 12 seconds of a distant metronome before a fragile piano descent ushers in a tar-black and poisonous bass growl beset by percussive cave drips. If this frosty palette seems to be keeping the listener at Fever Ray’s preferred arms length, however, that all changes when the singing hits. ‘White Foxes’ features Sundfør’s most stunning vocal performance yet – imperious, moving, enigmatic – and when she soars suddenly into the cryptic pre-chorus trill of “you gave me my very first gun” you forget to keep breathing.

5. Lindstrøm & Christabelle – ‘Lovesick’ (2010)
Lindstrøm’s extended Moroder/Donna Summer tribute collaboration with Belgian singer Christabelle may have been semi-improvised, but more than once the sexy strut crystallised into a solid gold disco Tune, and never more so than on ‘Lovesick’, which drops a massive creaky old-school hip-hop beat for an echoing Christabelle to adorn with sassy remonstrations to some spurning lover.

6. Casiokids – ‘Fot i Hose’ (2010)
‘Fot i Hose’ achieved near-ubiquity in the group’s native land and won a fair few fans abroad – even being utilised as regular interstitial music in a hit UK sitcom. And no wonder. Bouncing synth rolls over echoing bass to produce one of those musical instances where simplicity begets almost infuriating addictiveness.

7. Matoma – ‘Old Thing Back’ (2014)
Norway’s international musical influence this decade has been dominated by the rather unfortunate trop house phenomenon, with a thousand spring break frat parties soundtracked by Kygo’s pallid pan flutes. But sometimes snobbery has to be put aside in favour of a congratulatory pat on the back in acknowledgement of a genuinely first rate achievement. That ‘good thing’ is this ‘old thing’ – Matoma perking up a middling Notorious B.I.G offcut to make one of the most joyously infectious summer anthems of recent years. It may want for credibility, but boy is it undeniable!

8. Kvelertak – ‘Mjød’ (2010)
They may have pissed off black metal purists, but has devil worship ever been quite this fun? A lusty Viking drinking song that barrels along on a feast of massive fur-and-chainmail clad riffs and shrieked tributes to Odin’s gift of alcohol, before the testosterone-swollen choir stands to attention to bellow the anthemic chorus and we all raise our horns in tribute.

9. Röyksopp & Robyn – ‘Monument (2014)
Röyksopp followed the joyous pop statement of Junior with a couple of full length duds – the tame Senior and the disjointed and flabby The Inevitable End, but their sparkier EP collaboration with Robyn picked up where Junior highlight ‘The Girl and the Robot’ left off, and this sleek slice of chilly widescreen pop serves as a microcosmic nostalgia trip back through the downtempo duo’s glittering back catalogue, dissolving at its close into strains of mournful saxophone that tie Röyksopp’s (possible) last act back into the neon noir of Melody AM’s ‘She’s So’.

10. Shining – ‘Fisheye’ (2010)
Former jazz act Shining completed their bestial transformation into muscular black metal method actors on their screeching thesis Blackjazz, and this terse belter found them petulantly comfortable in their new demonic skin. Melting together Nine Inch Nails-inflected industrial synth hammer blows with twisted call-and-response vocals alternately barking or stuttering out a hypnotic and frightening cryptic verse, this kind of quasi-pop economy set the template for their next whistle-stop album One One One, but they’ve never been quite as damn catchy as they were on ‘Fisheye’ before or since.

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Nordic Music Prize Nominations Announced

The long-list for the Nordic Music Prize (the scandi-equivalent of the UK’s Mercury bash) has been unveiled, and whichever of the Norwegian nominees makes it through to the pared down shortlist stage will have to compete with such big names as Sigur Ros, Efterklang, Neneh Cherry and Kent. And a couple of them are definitely capable of that, especially given that thus far in the prize’s short life the judges have shown an admirable disinterest in honouring the Big Names for the sake of it. Fifty acts have been long-listed – ten from each of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, and the cast will be chopped to a final twelve nominees on December 3rd. The winner will be crowned at Oslo new band showcase by:Larm on February 14th.

The chosen Norwegians are:

Susanne Sundfør – The Silicone Veil
Motorpsycho – The Death Defying Unicorn
Lindstrøm – Smalhans
I Was A King – You Love It Here
John Olav Nilsen & Gjengen – Den Eneste Veien Ut
Tønes – Sån Av Salve
Highasakite – All That Floats Will Rain
Enslaved – Riitiir
Ida Jenshus – Someone To Love
Hanne Kolstø – Flashblack

Some big names by Norwegian standards, but few of them can really be said to be at the top of their game. Surely Susanne Sundfør’s formidable third effort will be a genuine contender, though.

See the full list of nominees and find out more about the prize here.

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The end for Lukestar

Indie-pop group Lukestar have announced their impending split. After over two-hundred shows and three albums (including the Spellemann-winning Lake Toba in 2008), the group will go their seperate ways after a final goodbye concert in Oslo on August 31st.

“We have played in this band for over half our lives, and given out all our albums on our own label”, wrote the band in a statement, “Lukestar has over all these years followed us like a friend and also sometimes like a slavedriver which has taken us along for things we could only ever have dreamed of experiencing. Our 2011 album Taiga stands in our view as the culmination of Lukestar’s sound.”

Turbonegro unleash new single

Last summer Norwegian ‘deathpunk’ cult favourites Turbonegro replaced iconic former frontman Hank Von Helvete with former Dukes of Nothing vocalist (not to mention onetime President of the London chapter of the Turbojugend fan club and the band’s UK press officer) Tony Sylvester.

They have been working on an album follow-up to 2007’s Retox, and the first morsel of new material has now been unleashed. It’s called ‘You Give Me Worms’. Plus ça change.

Susanne Sundfør – ‘White Foxes’

Susanne Sundfør has released a video for the first single off her follow-up to 2010’s sporadically stunning The Brothel. ‘White Foxes’ is very special indeed, so have a watch and a listen here, and look forward to the full-length The Silicone Veil with bated breath:

Nordic Music Prize 2011 Nominations

The Nordic Music Prize, an initiative affiliated with Oslo’s by:Larm showcase, handed its inaugural gong to Iceland’s Jonsi last year, and the nominations for its second incarnation have just been wittled down to a final shortlist.

Including the pick of the year’s records from Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark the award was modelled on the UK’s Mercury Music Prize. This year’s final shortlist includes:

Ane Brun – It all starts with one
Lykke Li – Wounded rhymes
Rubik – Solar
Gus Gus – Arabian horse
Malk De Koijn – Toback to the fromtime
Siinai – Olympic game
Björk – Biophilia
Iceage – New brigade
Montée – Renditions of you
Anna Järvinen – Anna själv tredje
Goran Kajfes – X/Y
The Field – Looping state of mind

The Norwegian albums in the longlist had been:

Razika – Program ’91
Lars Vaular – Du betyr meg
Jonas Alaska – Jonas Alaska
Team Me – To The Treetops!
Ane Brun – It All Starts With One
Stein Torleif Bjella – Vonde Visu
120 Days – 120 Days II
Montée – Renditions Of You
John Olav Nilsen og Gjengen – Det nærmeste du kommer
Martin Hagfors – I like you

Overall the Norwegian contingent looks a fair bit weaker than last year, where hit albums from Shining, Casiokids, Susanne Sundfør, Kvelertak and Lindstrøm & Christabelle were among those in the running. This time it is country-tinged songstress Ane Brun, who has enjoyed a considerable rise in popularity recently, even touring with Peter Gabriel, and kitsch pop revivalists Montée who are holding up the Norwegian end. They might not seem unduly likely to walk away with the winnings, but then the big names on the bill have hardly produced their best work this time around. Critical reception to Bjork’s multimedia effort Biophilia has been mixed, Lykke Li’s sophomore record has hardly sparked the interest of her debut, and some of the albums on show (sorry GusGus) are just plain crap. Let’s hope the jury are at least willing to throw a curveball.

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by:Larm 2012 taking shape

The first raft of artists have been announced for by:Larm, Oslo’s annual showcase of new Scandinavian music. Fifty-seven acts have been confirmed so far, including such Norwegian hopes as Lemaitre and Machine Birds, more established bands like Pirate Love and Maribel, and hyped contributions from the neighbours numbering Swedes Korallreven and Danes WhoMadeWho among their ranks.

The first by:Larm was held in 1998 and for ten years the festival rotated between the major cities of Norway, although for financial reasons by:Larm settled permanently in Oslo in 2008. Part industry conference and part musical showcase by:Larm combines a string of meetings, debates and lectures with performances from a whole host of the country’s best new bands in a range of venues across the capital.

This year’s by:Larm will invade Oslo from the 16-18th of February 2012, check out the lineup so far here.

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Morgenbladet poll top Norwegian albums

Norwegian daily Morgenbladet have consulted 100 celebrated Norwegian musicians in a bid to generate an insider’s take on the country’s greatest ever albums. Figures including Sivert Høyem of Madrugada, Stavanger crooner Thomas Dybdahl and Kaizers Orchestra frontman Janove Ottesen contributed to the list, which is, fittingly, 100 strong.

Some of the records will be familiar to an international audience, whilst others have a firmly Norwegian-only appeal.

The top 20:

20. Holy Toy – Warszawa
19. Sidsel Endresen – So I write
18. Turbonegro – Apocalypse Dudes
17. Åge Aleksandersen og Sambandet – Levva livet!
16. Arne Nordheim – Electric
15. Susanne Sundfør – The Brothel
14. Torleiv H. Bjørgum og Hallvard T. Bjørgum – Skjoldmøyslaget
13. Motorpsycho – Timothy’s Monster
12. Kåre & The Cavemen/Euroboys – A Long Day’s Flight ‘Till Tomorrow
11. DumDum Boys – Splitter pine
10. De Press – Block to block
09. Röyksopp – Melody AM
08. Jan Garbarek, Keith Jarrett, Palle Danielsson, Jon Christensen – Belonging
07. deLillos – Suser avgårde
06. The Aller Værste – Materialtretthet
05. Knutsen & Ludvigsen – Juba Juba
04. Kjøtt – 12″
03. A-ha – Hunting high and low
02. A-ha – Scoundrel days
01. Radka Toneff/Steve Dobrogosz – Fairytales

It’s hardly definitive (i.e. there’s some shit on there), but in its entirety the list does pretty much cover all the bases.

Check out the full countdown (and some of the contributors’ personal Top Tens) here.

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Long-awaited 120 Days album gets release date

120 Days burst into the Norwegian public consciousness back in 2006 with their self-titled debut record. A whirling indie electro-kraut fusion, 120 Days managed to be both immersively danceable and catchy, and it understandably got the group noticed abroad. It’s taken far too long, but finally details are emerging about the group’s imaginatively-titled sophomore effort. 120 Days II will be released internationally on March 5th of next year on fledgling Norwegian label Splendour Recordings, and two pulsing cuts have already made it out onto the blogoshpere: the intense instrumental ‘Dale Disco’, and a sleazy neon number, flagship single ‘Osaka’.

120 Days haven’t been resting on their laurels, however, with members honing their craft on such diverse recent Norwegian musical projects as Bygdin, Serena Maneesh and a recent instrumental Susanne Sundfor experiment, so (especially given the waiting time) it seems fair to expect some exciting sonic leaps.

Out worldwide on Splendour on March 5th, 2012, 120 Days II‘s tracklist looks like this:

1. Spacedoubt
2. Dahle Disco
3. Lucid Dreams Part 1
4. Lucid Dreams Part 2
5. Lucid Dreams Part 3
6. Sleepless Nights #4
7. Sunkissed
8. SF
9. Osaka

120 Days – ‘Osaka’

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Numusic Festival 2011

Emeralds, Knalpot, Next Life, Killl @ Folken Stavanger 23rd September 2011

It is three years since Stavanger – Norway’s oil-rich 4th city – was named European Capital of Culture, and despite the looming hulk of the impressive soon-to-open concert hall that dominates a section of the seafront there still seems to have been some cultural belt-tightening in evidence since then. Stavanger’s sprawling celebration of, well, new music, Numusic may be making a welcome return for the twelfth time, but the constricted line-up does seem to lack some of the bigger foreign names of previous years. At a festival that prides itself on tracking the intersections between various shades of progressive music and art, both Norwegian and international, though, there is still of course plenty to take in.

My first taste of 2011’s offering draws me to Folken, where a night that seems to have been specifically paced to track the meeting point between electronica and metal is set to culminate in what promise to be visually compelling shows from two of Norway’s most celebrated experimental metal acts. For all that the student union venue is skeletally empty at the start, and the abundance of lanyards suggest that of the ten or so people who have made the trip to catch the first act of the night, US ambient trio Emeralds, very few have actually paid. Emeralds’ introverted swirling blend of everything from krautrock to drone has the odd scintillating progression, but in a room this sparsely populated it is hard to get sucked in. Knalpot do a better job of engaging the (now slightly swollen) crowd. Purveyors of a kind of multitasking bipolar glitch blues, the Amsterdam pair, sporting extraneous visor caps, alternate between powerful riffs and restless electro, although if it is a fair accusation against such a spasmodic act, they ultimately come across a little samey.

If Knalpot took Emeralds’ electro aesthetic and injected it with sporadic bursts of noise, this progression is taken even further by the next act: Next Life. The Tønsberg trio have had twelve years to perfect their singular brand of sample-heavy metal, and indeed every track finds them punching for ever greater heights. Their set opens placidly enough, with founder Hai Nguyen Dinh toying meticulously with the projections that are to play out on a vast back-screen, but when they do launch into their musical barrage the senses inevitably sit up and take notice. Scrolling Tron-like visuals pixelate their way across the taut trio as they deliver incredibly tight and blistering chunks of epic noise. What Next Life write aren’t exactly songs, but rather variations on an explosive theme. Instead of aiming for traditionally structured musical perfection what the band seem to strive for is instead scale. Every time they slam back into motion, every muscle tensed, every body-crushing note synchronised to perfection, they seem to be gathering up the building blocks of the previous emission and trying to reassemble them into something more massive. Projected skyscrapers and mountains loom over them, bubbling Nintendo gurgles try and get a word in edgeways, and at one point the three of them snap into sudden silence after a particularly colossal crescendo and drummer Anders Hangård simply points his stick in the air to cue what sounds appropriately like a sampled avalanche. Next Life won’t stop until their sound moves mountains.

If that was a spectacle, live-only sideproject Killl make it clear from the off that they are gonna go out of their way to trump it. A lurid curtain is draped all across the back and sides of the stage, its multi-coloured optical illusion diamonds already swirling before the eyes – and that is before Killl turn on their dizzying array of lights. Where to start with these guys? The name Killl, with that assured extra ‘l’, suggests a drawn-out death, and that is exactly what Killl subject you to: extended audio-visual murder. It is also (for twenty-five minutes or so at least) pretty damn awesome. Including such genre-hopping luminaries as Erlend Mokkelbost of Montée and JR Ewing and Martin Horntveth (who always sits at the drums at the back with Jaga Jazzist looking like he wants to fuck something up), Killl live plays out like some piece of modernist theatre about four stocky bearded men trapped in a nightmarish neon cube, hoping that if they make enough blistering noise they might somehow make it out alive. At some juncture in the band’s existence (indeed judging by this show it might have been its founding moment) one of the members of Killl obviously walked into a strobe shop and said ‘I’ll take the fucking lot’. As bursts of tense tearing uproar thunder from all around a flickering, corroding, blinding light show turns the claustrophobic backdrop into a hallucinatory reality spasm, as fluorescent bursts organically co-ordinate with every detonation of noise. This is largely an instrumental affair, although the band-members do take it in turns to roar into the microphone for good measure, and it is also clearly a live experience – if you were callous you could say Killl are a novelty act. Truth is, this isn’t even a concert, more of a thing that happens to you. A sensory violation. In fact Killl are almost not a band, just a kind of blinding mindfuck. Like a Red Bull-fuelled explosion directed by Gaspard Noé, by the end I wasn’t sure what hurt more; my ears or my eyes. Killl are definitely something to see before you die, although they might also be what killls you.

First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2011

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