A strange match it may be, but over the last decade Norway and disco have become increasingly productive bedfellows, with acts like Lindstrøm, diskJokke and Prins Thomas giving out a string of seminal electronic records that have firmly established the country as a world leader in this throwback field. Up till now the onus has been on the capital – the ‘Oslo disco’ moniker that has been attached to the string of releases confirming its Oslo-centricity – but being the staggeringly creative musical melting-pot it is, Bergen was always going to want a slice of the disco pie. Bjørn Torske and Skatebård have done their bit, of course, but this highly promising debut solo EP from Geir Hermansen, synth maestro with hotly-tipped upstarts The New Wine, suggests that Bergen might well have given birth to another disco standard-bearer.
Velferd’s confidence has been apparent from the start. His track ‘Driveby’ on local label Untz Untz’ first release was a dreamy effort that swayed pleasantly between twinkling downtempo and pristine disco funk bleeps, whilst a pair of standout remixes included on the bonus disc of Casiokids’ excellent debut betrayed a kinship with Nordic remixer-extraordinaire Fred Falke, and The Aspens Turning Gold builds on all of this to offer up four tracks which, through drawing on numerous sounds familiar from the last decade of Norwegian disco (and as such acting as a decent primer for the wave), largely manage to do so with such assurance that what is created is far too sure of itself to come off as reductive.
Of the four efforts on show the central two are the least remarkable. As soon as the echoing bleeps kick in ‘9092’ is immediately reminiscent of Bergen’s most famous electronic offspring – a murky take on the cascades of ‘Happy Up Here’or ‘Eple’ springs to mind. There are some delicious sounds bouncing around, but the track never quite takes off to reach the melodic heights of Røyksopp’s hits. Similarly ‘Drum Squad’ kicks off with a compellingly powerful live-sounding percussive assault, but unfortunately the funk bassline that forms the backbone of the track, if equally tangible, is irritatingly simplistic. ‘Drum Squad’ is structurally interesting – Velferd evokes the march suggested by the title with the forcefully repetitive rhythm section, but the fluid noodling that is draped over this backdrop doesn’t quite manage to subdue the feeling of monotony.
It is the two efforts that bookend this E.P., however, that truly shine. The opening title track stirs an evocative synth sheen that establishes it firmly in Lindstrøm’s space-disco tradition, but from this assertive soundscape another fleshy bassline confirms that Velferd is more than capable of giving the genre his own distinctive spin. There are unforgettable synth hooks galore, but rather than run them into the ground ‘The Aspens Turning Gold’ constantly shapeshifts, seamlessly segueing in a new cosmic direction. Upbeat disco melts into a dark prog excursion – Pink Floyd guitar licks effortlessly blending with the live-sounding bass and chattering synths, each musical layer managing to evoke a different musical era without this juxtaposition feeling at all unnatural. The stargazing breakdown two minutes from the track’s conclusion could have been cut verbatim from Lindstrøm’s ‘The Long Way Home’, but it is so brilliantly executed that Velferd is forgiven being unable to escape the long, long shadow of the Oslo producer. The track is a precocious delight.
Equally compelling is the closer, ‘Cobalt’. A charming naïve synth hook offers the E.P.s catchiest melody, but again on this song Velferd refuses to push one idea beyond a couple of minutes – giving much of the E.P. the feel of an expertly meshed mixtape. Our hook bubbles into rhythmic disco pulses, which then explode into lush melancholy, this vision of a house-infused The Field itself exchanged for clean but dreamy guitar which hints at crystallization through a synth haze. Just as you fear that Velferd is letting things stew for too long he slams his foot on the gas and we burst back to that opening hook as naturally and satisfyingly as could be, a whimsical disco journey bringing us back home.
The Aspens Turning Gold is still the sound of a producer finding his feet, but such is the feeling of confident control exuded on this release that it would be surprising indeed if Velferd did not go on to play a significant role in the evolution of Norwegian disco.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2010