Norse Code | 06.05

The bottom line is that there is simply no way to pigeonhole this album. Bol is navigating the furthest reaches of their own personal Bol River, stopping at genre outposts all along the way, but staying true to their mission.

 

For a music lover, there are few things better than being flat-out startled by what you’re listening to. Lots of albums can be “pretty good” or “interesting,” but for something to truly startle you, it has to have a pretty potent combination of ingredients. Listening to the wealth of great music coming from Scandinavia these days, it’s been a pleasure to hear startling sounds fairly regularly. But even by the high standards established by the best Nordic musicians, the new album by Norwegian trio Bol is something quite special, indeed. Silver Sun (Curling Legs) is the work of Tone Ase (an extraordinary female vocalist), Stale Storlokken (keyboards, sampling) and Tor Haugerud (drums, electronics), who hail from the city of Trondheim. It’s the kind of recording that inspires critics to write long essays, and while I don’t want to go overboard here, there is plenty to say about this astonishing disc. First of all, Ms. Ase has one of the most flawlessly pure timbres I’ve ever heard, even in a country known for talented women singers. She’s classically trained, but there is no showing off in her performance, no holding notes just to impress. Instead, Ase seems driven by some ancient spirit of creative passion, where the goal is to elevate the artistic impulse skyward to the heavens, with as little ego involved as possible. In so doing, Ase seems more like the wise, soulful Nordic goddess of my musical imagination than just about any female singer I’ve heard. She can sing lullaby-soft or wail with frenzied intensity, and either way it sounds completely organic and focused. Silver Sun is a beautiful showcase for Ase’s utterly bewitching vocalizations.

The first couple of times I listened to this recording, the image of a river crept into my mind. The sound of the album, the primal soul that informs its grooves, made me think of the film Apocalypse Now and the theme of traveling up a dangerous river to an unsettling destination. There is definitely a “journey” element here as the album takes its musical and lyrical twists and turns, although instead of going to find a renegade Vietnam War colonel whose heart has turned black, Silver Sun could be experienced as a search for why a loving heart could turn cold, or why someone who was once open to the magic of life and love could suddenly shut down and lose hope. Numerous lyrical passages point to such a theme, like this one from the unforgettable song “Could I Be There”:

“In those days, when the grayness and the weakness gets to you/Like a river too strong, much too strong/And those evenings when your heart is neither giving nor receiving/Just cold as your freezing hands/And those nights when future and past keeps you from sleeping/And keeps you from dreaming…could I be there?”

The musical setting for these words is ominously dark, with an Enoesque ambient tint over which an amazing variety of clanging, clattering bits of percussion are heard, reinforcing a vague sense of exoticism, perhaps the way the broken-hearted feel about the possibility of true love ever coming their way again. Ase’s sweet, lulling voice serves as a beacon in the darkness, a sort of quiet plea not to give up. It’s simply an incredible piece of music, rendered with the deft touch of master sonic craftsmen.

Back to the river motif: Besides occurring thematically, the idea of a river stuck in my mind because the music itself seems to be motoring its way up some remote stylistic river. This album does a stunning job of making itself nearly unclassifiable. It’s described as a jazz album on the label’s web site, but if this is jazz, then the Norwegians have a completely different take on jazz than anything I’ve encountered. Yes, there is, at times, a kind of Joni Mitchell-like folk-jazz element here and there (Ase may well be familiar with late ‘70s-era Joni). But just when you think that’s your stylistic rudder, the Bol-ship veers off to an almost Yes-like prog-rock idiom, especially with some of the astonishing keyboard passages played by Storlokken, who offers a smorgasbord of sparkling synth work on Silver Sun. Then when you think you can dig your listener’s heels in THAT way, the sound morphs into a sort of eerie, unsettling minimalist ambience, with Ase coming across like a less detached Laurie Anderson. The bottom line is that there is simply no way to pigeonhole this album. Bol is navigating the furthest reaches of their own personal Bol River, stopping at genre outposts all along the way, but staying true to their mission. Which, on the one hand, is to make an exciting, compelling, original record (mission accomplished), and on the other, to explore human vulnerability and the quest for love and understanding in an increasingly difficult world (mission accomplished again, far beyond what the group probably realizes).

Silver Sun deserves a quick summary of its nine peerless tracks. The title cut begins with a dark, thumping synth like a sped-up version of the dread-laden pulse you hear on the Apocalypse Now soundtrack as Capt. Willard nears Col. Kurtz’s outpost. Ase’s vocal is bright, bracingly clear and self-assured; the prog-ish arrangement is amazingly economical, especially for a track that breaks the seven-minute mark. The tune is filled with portent, signaling uncertain times ahead. “Caring” features a poem from The Collected Poems of F.R. Scott set to a slow, graceful, near-waltz tempo. Ase’s tender voice is note-perfect, gliding softly above organic keyboard work that positively glistens. Kudos also to Haugerud’s restrained percussion. “Calling to Myself” is the first major stylistic twist, with a bit of tribal drumming over which Ase transforms into a Pagan goddess, chanting “Calling to myself, calling to myself/Now I want to paint my face red.” As a surging burst of electrifying synth flows like lava around her, the tempo picks up and Ase suddenly wails in an unearthly tone, like some impossible combination of Janis Joplin at her most passionate and Robert Plant at his most mystical. It’s one of those delirious moments of primal musical ecstasy, in an absolute stunner of a track. “Forbidden Acts” begins with a delicate bit of spoken word, including such lines as “Laughter and lightness/The glimpse of the invincible/Falling, falling/Yes, I could like this, we all like this/What this…?” A vaguely oriental vibe gives way to a thoroughly unexpected wave of prickly, electrified sound like loose, exposed wires roping and twisting through the air, sparking with dangerous musical “voltage.” The rhythm stays steady and solid, while the keyboard work is varied and richly cinematic. With each “bend” of the River Bol, Ase’s voice is like a warming light of reassurance, the thing you can always hang on to as a listener, confident you’ll make it to the end of this unique journey. “Curious” is another dramatically memorable piece, built around the lyric couplet “Love should be curious/Never settle for the obvious.” Insistent, repetitive keyboard work serves as a framework over which Ase does astonishing things vocally. At one point, she sings the lyric a full octave higher than the previous line, in a vulnerable tone that you fear could falter, but doesn’t. A bit of interesting distortion on her voice gives it a slightly disembodied effect, while simmering electronica bleeps and burbles around her. The “loose wire” effect then occurs again, with a much edgier vibe to it this time, as if to underscore that settling for the obvious is what too many people do in love, with the result being, well, getting burned or shocked. By this point, the CD just keeps getting more and more fascinating. “Wedding Song” offers a swift litany of deceptively greeting card-styled thoughts and feelings about relationships: “Something easy, something hard/Something written on the card/Something hidden, something found/Something always turns you ‘round/So much to carry…” For the sweetly poignant chorus, Ase concludes with the line “For God’s sake, don’t lose your integrity”—a solid bit of advice for couples everywhere. Once again, there is fabulous synth work on this tune, with a lumbering, ominous bit on the low end of the keyboard accenting the verses, and a cluster of brighter, more Yes-like tones for the chorus. We’ve already discussed “Could I Be There,” but I’ll just add that it has one of the most starkly emotional, haunting soundscapes I’ve heard in recent years serving its very stirring lyrics. In “Warrior,” Ase’s Pagan goddess persona springs to action again in a thoroughly sensual, captivating performance that can barely contain its potent whirl of sound. Atonal slabs of rumbling synth launch the track with some of Haugerud’s most masterful drumming underneath. There’s a flurry of unclear background murmuring adding to the atmosphere. Then a jagged, machine-like motif kicks in over which you wouldn’t think any feminine voice could possibly sound at home, but Ase’s captivating vocal (harmonizing with herself, to boot) somehow manages the trick. It’s a wild, unpredictable mix of sound that suddenly disperses, much like troops scattering after a fierce battle. “Erase the scum” Ase wearily sings, cryptically (although I kept hearing the lyric at first as “You raise this gun, which works just as well) over a mournful keyboard bit, and the metaphor could apply to actual violence or the ongoing tensions between partners in a relationship. Ase’s voice then rises to a full lament, a universal cry of sorrow as though a Goddess whose powers don’t extend to stopping human folly were looking down on the real and emotional carnage inflicted by people against each other. It’s completely and utterly shiver-inducing. The disc ends with “Song Tread Lightly,” a minimalist poem by Olav H. Hauge, set to impossibly delicate synth tones that sound like individual droplights of dew glistening in the morning sun. The eerie shadings of sound conjured by whatever keys are being played here are nearly microtonal in nature, and very hard to describe. You wouldn’t know whether to feel hope or despair if not for the sweet reassurance and plea that is restored in Ase’s final vocal here. The synth droplets slowly fade, and you’re left to quietly reflect on the power of what you’ve just heard.

Lost in all the compilation and iPod fever these days is the remembrance of what it used to be like to totally lose yourself in an album, to listen to an entire work just as the artist intended it. What Bol has done with Silver Sun is produce a compelling reminder that it’s still possible to make a classic album, and to provide that kind of thoroughly immersive experience for the listener. There is no recipe for this sort of thing, and no easy way to explain it. The three members of Bol (they even self-produced this disc) were operating at a level of pure artistic inspiration as mysterious as art itself. At every turn, Silver Sun avoids the predictable, and it rewards repeat listens with countless surprises both big and small. Layered, emotionally involving and crafted with exquisite musical discipline, Silver Sun is a masterpiece of modern pop-tronica (or should that be jazz-pop-tronica?), transcending all boundaries. It’s one of the finest Scandinavian albums ever made, a fascinating example of the magic that can result when daring creative choices and complete emotional conviction occur in equal measure.Overall rating: 10. OM: 4. CSC. Silver Sun can be ordered through www.cdon.com. More info: www.curlinglegs.no

Another artist from Norway who’s rather startling but in a totally different way is Bergen’s Julian Berntzen. The upbeat singer/songwriter released his second album, Pictures in the House Where She Lives (Universal Music Norway), late last year (no release in the U.S. yet, though). Berntzen’s music is breezy and uncynical; it has an old-fashioned romanticism to it that practically makes it a stylistic anachronism in today’s marketplace. Echoes of Nick Drake (had he lived long enough to become a happier, more successful musician), Jeff Buckley and Paul McCartney (in “Penny Lane” or “Honey Pie” mode) can be heard in Berntzen’s tunes, and a dash or two of Brian Wilson’s production style can also be gleaned from the mix. Like his friend Sondre Lerche, who contributes backing vocals on one song, Berntzen has the ability to step outside his compositions—they become slices of life, mini-narratives rather than introspective confessionals. Berntzen uses fewer words than Lerche to tell his stories, and he keeps the melodies simpler, while going further back in time. “The Park 1920” sets the tone—and perhaps the time period for Berntzen’s nostalgic songcraft. “Can you recall all the joyous times when/The days were so long and so bright?/Do you remember the flowered park as/We walked under trees with their leaves falling down?” sings Berntzen in a jaunty, violin-laden arrangement rich with memory-tugging charm. It would be a nice tune regardless, but Berntzen made the inspired decision to sing a duet with Ephemera’s Ingerlise Storksen, who possesses one of the sweetest, most lilting voices on the planet. Thus primed for stories of the fictional residents of “Waffy Town”—or wherever these characters live—we meet William, who was “different from others he was just so shy/Day by day walking to school alone,” but who might find redemption through music. And Steven, whose mysterious candy factory in the single “Caramel Smog” was “creating an experimental taste/Capturing the flavor of the happiness that time erased…lost in marshmallow and cherry fondue.” It’s a delightful, radio-friendly song. Many songs here are stylistically similar, although there are a few instrumentals that are quite successful as film music. But that makes sense, since Berntzen is essentially creating his own little visual and sonic world here. “Letters in the Sun” is a particularly Brian Wilson-like tune, richly melodic and with Berntzen’s own harpsichord gracing the arrangement. “A Stranger’s House” is also memorable, with Bertnzen—or someone, playing a keyboard that sounds like an autoharp. Only a very enlightened musician would conceive of arrangements as sweet and non-formulaic as this. There’s a very natural flow to the entire record, and it’s as enjoyable to play in the background as it is to listen to closely. The music can be a bit samey at times, but the rarity of this old-fashioned sound in today’s pop world more than makes up for it. Rating: 7. OM: 2. Available through www.cdon.com.

Berntzen may be largely unknown in America, but his two records did receive a fair amount of attention in Europe. Reached via email, he was gracious about responding to a few questions. With such a nostalgic sort of sound, I had to ask what he listened to or was influenced by.

“When I first started writing songs, I was not into popular music at all,” said Berntzen. “I played jazz violin in a group called SWANG and wanted to create classical pieces. I listened to all kinds of jazz and classical. Of course I knew about great pop bands like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but I never saw myself writing anything in that genre. I listened to the great composers and Stephane Grappelli, the jazz violin magician.”

The violin playing on Pictures certainly does reflect Grappelli’s style here and there. But listeners will more likely hone in on the pop-ish arrangements and on Berntzen’s melodious vocals. Berntzen has that fabled near-perfect Nordic diction, so I naturally inquired about the phenomenon of Scandinavian voices singing English lyrics so perfectly, as well as being mixed upfront on the records the region produces.

“I think many Norwegian artists that sing in English are afraid that Americans won’t think they sing well enough,” he explained. “Therefore, they do their best to pronounce clearly. There are also a lot of talented producers who bring out the best in their artists and don’t stop pushing until they’re completely satisfied. You’ve gotta give 100%.”

The production on all but one tune on Pictures was handled by Hans Petter Gundersen, who does a typically sterling job. Curiously enough, the disc was also mastered at Abbey Road Studios, which doesn’t fully explain the Beatle-ish sound on some of the tunes, but it’s kinda cool. It’s Berntzen who wrote and arranged these unique songs, displaying the kind of craftsmanship that could only come from a life exploring and learning about music. The atypical sound and style certainly makes one wonder where Berntzen gets his ideas and inspiration.

“I like creating characters and making up stories about them,” he said. “One day I saw some fantastic paintings by kids, and I immediately wanted to make music about them!”

He added that having creative people around all the time and seeing others perform (or listening to their music) was a great way to keep the inspiration flowing. Berntzen has no shortage of performers to collaborate or trade musical ideas with. He’s lucky enough to be part of the thriving Bergen scene, one of the most musically vital places on earth when it comes to cutting-edge pop. I asked why the Norwegian music industry was so exciting, and what was behind the astonishing variety there lately.

“For the past few years, Norway has really been developing musically,” he said. “When local musicians succeed, it clearly inspires others to take chances. I’ve noticed an unbelievable amount of support between artists in the local music scene. They’re really happy when things go well for their colleagues. Additionally, a lot of great record labels have been started that dare to take chances on new and alternative music.”

While agreeing with Berntzen about the role of labels in spreading great new sounds, I’ve been puzzled by the fact that many of these labels don’t end up getting a U.S. release for their artists, except through a happy accident or the rare big-label interest in promoting some powerhouse name. Why is it so hard to get attention in America? Is there just too much competition?

“It’s hard for Norwegian artists to get their music released outside Norway because they are dependent on labels to be extremely excited about their music, and willing to use substantial funds to release and promote them abroad. It’s difficult to perform and tour in other countries without strong financial backing. Every country has its own artists that eat up a large part of the market,” he said. “Also, a lot of bands try to get their album released in Europe before focusing on the States.”

“It would be fun to release my albums in the U.S. It’s a dream of mine. You gotta dream!”

Berntzen seems like the kind of performer who will be around for a long time and just keep getting better. With only two discs released, he already seems to have a sound all his own and a rare degree of finesse and self-assurance.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have music as my career,” he said. “It’s the greatest. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with fantastic people.” They’ve had the pleasure of working with Berntzen, too. More info: www.waffytown.co

And now for something completely different: CRUNCHY FROG! You’ve gotta love a record label that names itself after a classic Monty Python skit, as this small Copenhagen, Denmark-based company has done. The label’s best-known signings are probably The Raveonettes and Junior Senior, but I’m more interested in a couple of others like epo-555 and Powersolo. The former are one of Denmark’s top bands, drawing big crowds and driving the young’uns into a frenzy of rock & roll fever. They accomplish this by being damn good, conjuring a classic sound that sounds almost familiar, but isn’t quite traceable in its influences. The press release for Dexter Fox, the debut album, mentions bands like the Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Velvet Underground and Calexico, but these aren’t obvious to my ears. The band has a distinctively clanging rhythm section, though, and wonderfully understated vocals (always something to be appreciated!). Their sound is big without being in your face, diverse without being self-indulgent. A good way to get a quick feel for epo-555 would be to play the three tracks “Dakota” (a driving song with both real drumming and electronic-style percussion), “Pioneers” (a sweetly melancholy indie-rock tune with a distinctive shimmery keyboard part) and “Sugar for the War Machine” (heavily atmospheric tune with a bit of acoustic guitar, gripping, multi-layered instrumentation and the female vocals of Camilla Florentz joining guitarist Mikkel Max Hansen, drummer Ebbe Frej and bassist Jakob Nielsen) in sequence. This nice little trio of tunes can’t help but make a great impression on a new listener. There’s something rather grand about epo-555; they sound like an important band for the new millennium, but in a way that’s hard to put your finger on. I certainly hear it in powerhouse songs like the amusingly titled “L’Art Pour la Fart,” which kicks considerable ass (I can just imagine the audience goin’ nuts when the band plays this one live), and the R.E.M.-meets-Yo La Tengo jangle of “Sophia,” a tune that’s right as So. Central rain. Better than half the American bands mining similar territory, epo-555 are the real deal, a top-notch outfit that deserves to be popular overseas. Call the Crunchy Frog people, someone, and get these kids a U.S. distribution deal. Rating: 8. OM: 2.

Hats off to the Crunchy folks for being open-minded; how else to explain Powersolo, a trash-rock psychobilly trio apparently fascinated with the American culture of NASCAR, monster trucks and drunken back-seat diddling, as well as genre outcasts like the late Hasil Adkins, the Cramps and Southern Culture on the Skids. Somehow, I can’t get used to the idea of Scandinavians playing American roots music, especially the kind of shit-kicking rockabilly on It’s Raceday…and Your Pussy is GUT! (yep, that’s the title). But Danes Kim Kix, brother “Atomic Child” and drummer JC Benz have put their heart, soul, shoes, socks and six-packs into this wild 14-song collection, and the result has made me laugh harder than anything else I’ve heard from Scandi-land. My favorite two tracks come at the disc’s end—“Don’t Hate Me Baby” and “Truckin’” are seriously unhinged, loopy raveups with brain-thumping percussion and delirious dirt-track drama. Before that giddy double climax, however, there are scores of fine, funny, rooty-tooty tunes like the slightly dark “Mr. Suit,” the hilarious Tex-Mex piss take “Juanito,” the self-explanatory “NASCAR,” the bluesy “Fertilizer Baby,” the genuine rockabilly kick of “Good Behaviour” and the stylistically fractured “Be Witcha” (one of many tunes showing the artfully disciplined drumming Benz is capable of no matter what’s happening around him). Gol dang! This is just one helluva funny record, one that forces you to expand your understanding of what they’re capable of over there in northern Europe. Clearly, Americans are NOT the only ones capable of drinkin’, fuckin’ for no reason and acting like idiots (the song “Truckin’” pretty much celebrates all those things). No way is It’s Raceday art, but it’s a tremendous depression-slayer and an object lesson on the spirit of the music being just as important as the cultural conviction behind it…or something like that. There’s spirit a-plenty conjured by these dotty Danes, and I recommend you pour yourself another kind of spirits ‘fore listenin’ to this here thang. Rating: 7. OM: Album overall: 1.5; last two songs: 3. Order and find out more about Crunchy Frog releases at www.crunchy.dk.

There’s a Swedish band called The Stuff who may or may not also be Monty Python fans. Remember that skit called “The Mouse Problem,” where a bunch of young British lads started dressing up as mice, and sneaking into the cheese? According to the official “bio” for The Stuff, the four band members are actually rats who grew up in “the vast sewer system connecting Europe’s major cities.” They’re wearing rat heads in every photo on their debut album Pick It Up, Pig Boy (Ill Wind Records), and even more amusingly, the press release lists the musicians as “a rat, guitar and lead vocals; another rat, guitar and vocals; a third rat, bass; a final rat, drums.” Now certainly there are other groups in the world who prefer to hide their real identity (notably The Residents). But this is a pretty unique twist, especially since The Stuff appear intent on maintaining the conceit in both marketing and performance. If they sucked, it wouldn’t be anything but a lark. However, these guys are damn good. Pick It Up is a raw but viscerally satisfying collection that may not be as dirty as the sewers, but it certainly has its own dark, grungy life. You’ll hear echoes of the Stooges, T Rex and more recent bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club within the grooves, but The Stuff have that Swedish tendency of making you think they invented their own brand of rock & roll. “Your Libido” has a kick-ass rhythm and an infectious “Give it up!” chorus that prove irresistible, and the kind of blazing guitar riffs that drive songs like “Say Hello to Mary” and “Knock Knock” are the very essence of Rock 101. “Pl-pl-please” is an effortlessly catchy single that it’s pointless to resist; it joins the list of pop classics that employ stuttering as a stylistic element (come to think of it, both BTO and The Who could be considered additional influences here). “Here Come The Judge” and “Say Goodbye” with its clattering percussion are also great goofy rock songs. There is little that’s original about The Stuff, but somehow their sound and presentation induce smiles and spontaneous giggles. Whether or not “rodent rock” becomes a hot new trend, the grimy, gritty sound showcased on Pick It Up, Pig Boy definitely has teeth. Rating: 7. OM: 2; Presentation: 3. Order from www.illwindrecords.com

AK-Momo
We’ll close this edition by talking about another Swedish album, one that is easy to get and is earning a fair number of plaudits both in Europe and here in the U.S. It’s the debut recording of AK-MOMO, called Return to N.Y. (Hidden Agenda) and it’s a little gem. The band consists of singer Anna Karin von Malmborg (that’s where the “AK” comes from) and Mattias Olsson, an accomplished and respected musician in Sweden (he provides the “MO” and certainly half the “mojo” of this very lush, sexy pop album. The two things distinguishing this band are Olsson’s fondness for vintage keyboards and electronics (he’s partial to the optigan, orchestron and mellotron, among other tone-generating devices) and Malmborg’s unique voice, half dreamy-eyed little girl and half sultry chanteuse. It’s a potent combination, and though there are other vocalists in Sweden with a similar timbre, none have this kind of music behind them. If bands were candy, AK-MOMO would probably be sweet tarts, or some other fruity confection. There is undeniable pleasure in soaking up their strong melodies and mellotron chords, but Malmborg’s phrasing and intonation can be a little “tart,” and the less open-minded listeners may not have the requisite taste for her pungent sound. I’ve always believed, though, that the most interesting music makes a few demands on you, makes you go to places you aren’t really used to. This duo certainly do just that. From the opening couplet “We met at a greasy spoon/You had no one to hold onto,” which I’m pretty sure is an autobiographical comment on how these two Swedes began their collaboration, the music gets its hot little paws on you and doesn’t let go. The title track has a bit of a bossa nova rhythm to it and really insinuates itself into your mind almost subliminally. I haven’t gotten the song out of my head since I first heard it. “Women to Control” has an odd bit of percussion that sounds like a train quietly passing over its tracks nearby, while mellotron and Malmborg create a nice meringue around it (I love it when music naturally inspires food metaphors; it’s especially true here). “Your Mother’s Faith” is a looped, loungey little number with periodic jungle sounds/bird calls that is moody and mysterious. But there are a few tracks that really put this recording in the big leagues. “Time for the Muse” is a fascinating aural patchwork held together by Malmborg’s increasingly addictive voice. “You’ll never be mine to keep/So I guess it’s time for the muse to weep” is what I believe she sings. The peculiar arrangement could only result from musicians truly searching for a different sound, which is why I love those nutty Scandinavians so much. Even more stunning is “Only the Stars,” which is a romantic waltz with unforgettably blunt lyrics: “I fucked you/And you fucked me/So tenderly/And only the stars were watching/The shy, shy stars.” I cannot think of any song ever written that lays the act so “bare” lyrically, and yet is so lush and sweet regardless. You HAVE to hear this. And it’s a waltz, one of the greatest tempos ever! The jazzy, pizzazzy “Cold War of the Hearts” is an absolute delight, with a little “Bah bah b’da bah bah” rhythm that will pull you completely into the song and charm the daylights out of you. They cap the mood with a sweet little whistled part right in the middle. You start to conclude that AK-MOMO have a gift for combining human emotion/sensuality with quaint recording technology in a truly unforgettable manner. “Boys and Girls” is the stunning closing track—an eerie, darkly hypnotic song that transforms the playful mood of what came before into something richer, more contemplative. Here’s one of my favorite lyric couplets of the year: “Where does it end and where does it start?/For boys and girls with brave haircuts and chicken hearts.” Whoo-ey. The keyboard sound out moody’s the Moody Blues on old songs like “Watching and Waiting.” And Malmborg’s voice, if you’ve made it to the end of the record, rewards you by delivering one final emotional wallop that somehow deepens the impact of the whole record. I don’t know how the Swedes keep doing this kind of thing so well. And let it be said that male and female musicians collaborate with more natural grace, affection and mutual respect in Scandinavia than anywhere else. I’ve been collecting evidence to support this theory, and I’ll have a lot more to say about it in the future. Anyway, Return to N.Y. is a terrific record, and I hope Miss AK and Mr. MO make some mo’ records in the future. Rating: 9. OM: 3. CSC. Available from www.parasol.com

Next month: The Scandinavian Goddess Edition! We’ll survey many of the top female artists of Scandi-land, including Hanne Hukkelberg, Stina Nordenstam and Ane Brun.

Links covered in this article:

Ak-Momo

www.curlinglegs.no

www.bol.no

www.waffytown.com

www.crunchyfrog.dk

www.epo-555.dk

www.illwindrecords.com

Visit www.itsatrap.com for daily news about Scandinavian artists.

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