Oslo’s dødpop label have been gradually making a name for themselves as the Norwegian arm of Scandinavia’s upstart skweee scene, and their progress has been largely built on three producers: Melkeveien, Sprutbass and Beatbully. Their latest offering, their first non-compilation full-length – and thus by default probably Norway’s first solo skweee album release – gives the latter the opportunity to explore his brash but leisurely brand of ‘scandinvian synthetic funk’ in depth. The result, Kosmisk Regn, aptly demonstrates both skweee’s charms, and also why the genre has not yet cracked the mainstream, and, in its current form at least, perhaps never will.
The album gets off to an assertive start, ‘Råkks’ offering wobbling synth shimmers in call-and-response with pocking bleeps and a stripped-down funk beat, before it slaps right into the irresistibly shiny ‘R’n’Bully’, the twee beeps and sleazy bass of which embody skweee’s often glorious dichotomy by being like someone playing a gameboy with one hand and squeezing a hot girl’s arse with the other. Beatbully’s strengths lie in his undeniable ear for catchy hooks, and his obvious command of ‘production values’ – everything here sounds colourful, crisp and clean. Far from bullying his beats, Beatbully strokes them seductively out. As the context of dødpop’s two compilations proves, however, Beatbully is also very much at the laid-back end of the skweee spectrum. And that’s saying something. There is certainly never anything frantic about the nine short tunes on Kosmisk Regn, and by and large the low-key nature of the songs on offer works just fine. ‘Bølleboogie’ and the appropriately named ‘8-Bits Drøm’ both sport hooks worthy of massive club tunes, but deliberately downplay them – the latter’s quasi-anthemic refrain could have had sweaty clubbers pounding an Ibiza dancefloor; if it wasn’t played out in rudimentary radar-blips. Such is skweee, of course, and ‘8-Bits Drøm’ is perfectly judged, and indeed probably the record’s high point.
At other times, though, too much energy is lacking. Beatbully is better at high-end hooks than he is low-end bass manipulation – sometimes proceedings lag while you wait for a melody to kick back in. The title track boasts another killer squelching instrumental chorus, but you long to inject just a little bit of pace into the whole affair – it’s like Ikonika in a tar pit – whilst ‘Expecting Company’ takes this a step further, slowing the skittering, limping beat down to an almost queasy pace, although here the lopsided rhythm is so disorientating that it becomes an asset, and another twinkling chorus section ultimately renders it a winner. The final track ‘Buddah Nr.2’ makes explicit skweee’s links to dubstep, and also Beatbully’s firm intention to give that shared territory his own spin, with mixed success: it’s like dubstep stripped down to two-dimensionality; shuddering bass and an irregular beat used not as a driving force but as dreamy atmospherics, the sheen of twinkling chatter that drifts alongside it perhaps as close as the record gets to its seeming misnomer ‘Cosmic Rain’, as a voice simply echoes the words ‘bullet boy’, perhaps a nod to the gun-crime movie that put the territory of dubstep’s London on the big-screen.
The problem, though, is quite what to do with a whole album of dance music, that, by and large, you can’t really dance to. ‘Move Your Feet’ achieves its goal to an extent, and the opening salvo of ‘Råkks’ and ‘R’n’Bully’ both have some propulsion, but whilst Eero Johannes in charge of these hooks might manage to both retain skweee’s principles and deliver a club-worthy jolt, in Beatbully’s hands these by and large ain’t dancefloor fillers. Try jumping up and down to ‘Buddah Nr.2’ and you’ll be left poised in a crouching position waiting for the beat to come around again. If you can get over that, though – and let’s face it; most of us are listeners and not movers – what Beatbully leaves you with is a record that is almost always fun, funky and charming. You’ll have some of the tunes in your head for days, and if it seems slight at first the record will soon worm its way into your affections. What Kosmisk Regn ultimately seems designed for isn’t dancing, but chillin’ – this is the perfect record to nod your head to, one hand on the wheel and the other resting on the open window of your car, as you cruise along a serene street on a scorching summer’s day. If you like the sound of that, you’ll like the sound of Beatbully.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2011.