Kate Havnevik | Melankton (Continentica/Universal)

cd_havrenikHavnevik has the touch, apparently, but knowing the little details about her past hardly prepares you for the vibrant, gorgeous sound of her debut.

 

 

 

 

On the assumption that some readers may only read the first few lines of this review, here's the deal: Kate Havnevik is Norwegian, and her debut album Melankton (which means "black rose," from writer Jan Kjaerstad's novel Oppdageren, or The Discoverer) is an orches-tronica wonder. I'm not sure if that's an official subgenre yet, but Havnevik combines gorgeous orchestral arrangements with innovative electronic flourishes in a rapturous, fearless manner. Oh, and she sounds more than a little like another potent artist from that sector of the planet who does similar things: Iceland's legendary Björk.

If you like Björk but find the occasional extremes of her vocal style hard to take, Kate's your girl. Her bio is anything but typical: the progeny of two classical flute players, Havnevik grew up listening to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush, played in a punk band as a teen, made guest appearances on Royksopp's second album and Carmen Rizzo's The Lost Art of the Idle Moment, and somehow got a gig doing backing vocals for Britney Spears. She's also had songs placed on hit TV shows like West Wing, The O.C., and especially Grey's Anatomy, whose producers loved her so much they commissioned her to write a song for the second season finale.

Havnevik has the touch, apparently, but knowing the little details about her past hardly prepares you for the vibrant, gorgeous sound of her debut. This is no tossed-off effort—you can hear the lifetime of emotional and creative preparation that went into these dazzling compositions. "Travel in Time" and "I Don't Know You" pull you into Havenvik's romantic, but mostly extroverted world, where she is all too eager to share her observations and enthusiasm. This is also reflected in the flawless string arrangements by Harry Peat, and on a few later tunes, by Havenvik herself. The remarkably accomplished, lyrical trumpet playing by Arve Henriksen  elevates some merely excellent songs into the level of the sublime. "You Again" is one of those; on this beautiful track, Havnevik's voice (featuring two different harmony tracks) and Henriksen's trumpet are like two best friends at the same ecstatic party.

On the artful "Serpentine" and hypnotically compelling "Suckerlove," the Björk similarities come to the fore – i.e., that adventurous combination of inner rapture and outward exuberance, topped by quirky musical seasonings, which is practically a patented style now for the infamous Ms. Gudmundsdottir. "Se Meg" is a bit of relatively quiet reverie, sung in her native Norwegian, before Havnevik pulls out all the stops with the climactic "New Day." What a powerhouse piece this is! Building from the singer's own sparkling string arrangement (lordy, she even arranged the horns on this track), into a sharp-edged electropop workout with innovative programming by Petter Haavik, Havnevik's passion fuses with modern technology to create a real sonic tour de force. "The beauty of you/ Gives me my fortitude/ Stronger than any dark cloud/ Screaming out loud/ The sky is lit up," sings Havnevik, hauntingly.

"Lit up" is right—everything about this wonderful debut illuminates, glows, and reflects. It's another passion-filled gem from the musical wonderland of Scandinavia. A | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Björk, Goldfrapp, Venus Hum

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