Norway’s latest hopes for global success break the mould of previous exports in one notable fashion: they sing in their native tongue. Rather than signifying a greater willingness amongst Anglo-Saxon tastemakers to absorb Norway’s lilting idiom, however, the imminent success of Casiokids is rather testament to the extent to which the other aspects of their music make understanding the lyrics unnecessary.
Casiokids’ 2006 full-length debut Fuck Midi played with all the elements that make the group such a compelling proposition today – creaky keyboards, a blend of indie-pop hooks and bubbling electro instrumentals, energy and sincerity hand-in-hand – but, despite a surplus of ideas and enthusiasm, largely failed to coerce them into anything particularly striking. After that record the band vowed to stick to singles only, and spent the next few years honing their craft and periodically releasing a series of double A-side gems that were, almost without exception, utterly delightful. This follow-up album collects these eight singles and packages them with a second disc of remixes and covers. Which does mean that if you’ve been following Casiokids at all over the last few years chances are you will have heard most, if not all, of these songs before; even the remixes have been doing the rounds for some time. But by no means should its compilation status be allowed to devalue Topp Stemning as an album. The record is no less cohesive for not being the result of one session push, and if you have heard the bulk of the material before, well, it’s largely so good that there can be no real excuse for not listening to it quite a lot more.
The quality of the music on the first disc is superlative. ‘Grønt Lys i Alle Ledd’ is a disarming indie pop charmer, ‘Togens Hule’ squeezes ancient-sounding squeals and bleeps into a compulsive and sweet instrumental ride, and ‘Verdens Største Land’ gives the impression of a more D.I.Y Cut Copy, with a driving beat, smooth bassline, chiming synths and falsetto harmonies. The two songs forming the centrepiece of the album are also Casiokids’ strongest to date: ‘Fot i Hose’ and ‘Finn Bikkjen’. If you’ve heard one Casiokids track before, chances are it’s ‘Fot i Hose’, which has achieved quasi-ubiquity in the group’s native land and won a fair few fans abroad. And no wonder. Bouncing synth rolls over echoing bass to produce one of those musical instances where simplicity begets almost infuriating addictiveness.
One of the band’s hallmarks is their childishness – gigs (often specially for children) have included fruit, furry animals, shadow puppets and giant heads, the instrumentation has a playful naivety, and the lyrics deal with seemingly simplistic and ‘immature’ themes and diction – but these youthful imaginings have a bittersweet edge. ‘Grønt Lys’ lists simple pleasures, but the composite effect is a melancholic questioning of their validity, as if the band’s own light-hearted play breeds insecurities of its own. This restlessness recurs in ‘Finn Bikkjen’, the vocal high-point of the album, which marries wistful falsetto to a ripe synth beat. Ostensibly the song translates as ‘find the dog’, but the band have hinted at the title having its roots in a derogatory Bergen expression instead, where ‘bikkjen’ denotes something bad. Does the lamenting chorus then represent a hymn to negative experience and upheaval? No matter, a mournful synth wash and yearning vocals meander through a melody of the sweetest kind. It is the moment at which Casiokids’ recent tour pairing with Hot Chip seems most fitting.
The remainder of the first disc is similarly strong. ‘Gomurmamma’ is another persuasive geriatric instrumental effort that quickly puts down roots, and closer ‘Min Siste Dag’ is an intimate indie-pop singalong with a cute swinging refrain that recalls fellow Bergen natives John Olav Nilsen og Gjengen’s recent debut. If the disc has a weak point it would probably be ‘En Vill Hest’. There’s a cracking tune in there, but somehow this penultimate ditty, perhaps the band’s tribute to Paul Simon, ends up sounding a little off-key. Even then, though, there is enough in the afrobeat intrusions and curveball chorus-melody to more than entertain.
The ‘bonus’ disc almost holds its own with its partner, and it’s refreshing that the remixers are largely upstart locals – Captain Credible’s two efforts in particular are first-rate, his ‘Fot i Hose’ managing to retain the character of the original whilst making it more dancefloor-friendly and also immediately recognisable as his own glitchy and hyperactive work, and Velferd (of Bergen newcomers The New Wine, and signed solo to Untz Untz) bathes ‘Verdens Største Land’ in persuasive disco swathes to provide a worthy companion to the original. ‘Det Snurrer’, a cover of Familjen’s Telle-released track from a few years back, is similarly successful. The remainder of the remixes, and an undemanding James Yuill ‘translation’, are solid if unspectacular, but by this point nothing could stop Topp Stemning from going down as a resounding triumph. Apparently the album title comes from a text from one of the bandmember’s mothers, telling him that there was a ‘great atmosphere in the local bar’. Stick this, the finest Norwegian record of the decade so far, on in the local, and a ‘topp stemning’ is guaranteed. Casiokids just grew up bigtime.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2010