Magnet | The Tourniquet (Filter Recordings)

He shares certain traits with fellow countryman Sondre Lerche, but where Lerche tends to take literary cues from artists like Elvis Costello and really lay on the narrative, Johansen mostly keeps it simpler and more emotional.

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There’s something about a Norwegian with a banjo… Or a harmonium or a glockenspiel, for that matter. But a banjo in the hands of a Norwegian singer/songwriter like Even Johansen will likely be employed in the service of a genre-busting tune, far from its normal terrain. Johansen performs and records as Magnet; The Tourniquet is his third full-length disc, although he’s released numerous singles and EPs (many of which didn’t reach the U.S.).

Opening track “Hold On” sure enough finds him using a banjo as a textural device, and there’s something inexplicably refreshing about it, especially when a bewitching chorus of “bah bah’s” enters about two minutes in. The presence of both electronic and acoustic instruments here means that Johansen could easily be placed under the “folktronica banner” that’s become so all-pervasive these days, but this guy is really more of an old-fashioned craftsman—a serious young songwriter who probably weaned himself on the masters. He shares certain traits with fellow countryman Sondre Lerche, but where Lerche tends to take literary cues from artists like Elvis Costello and really lay on the narrative, Johansen mostly keeps it simpler and more emotional. A perfect example is “Deadlock,” which combines that characteristic Nordic shimmer with fairly straightforward lyrics about heartache (“It’s time now to let go…I don’t think I can do this no more”).

Johansen’s most effective weapon: his wearily resigned singing style, which conveys the sense that though he’s been through the ringer too many times already, he’ll get up the next day ready to hurt some more. He never overemotes, either—he just sings the truth of what he’s seen and experienced with complete honesty, and you end up feeling every bit of emotion, perhaps filling in your own comparable stories as you listen. “Fall at Your Feet” is a truly beautiful pop/folk song that’s as uptempo as a Magnet tune’s likely to get; the pristine clarity energizes both the music and the production. Then there’s the stunning “Blow by Blow.” The song begins casually enough, with a cluster of simple keyboard tones and Johansen’s soft vocal. But when a striking bass riff kicks in, it triggers this amazing shift—Johansen starts singing a more urgent, haunting melody with a repeated guitar figure underneath that induces real chills. Something about this song is slightly reminiscent of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” and something about it is also more transcendent and life affirming than any review can convey.

This is real musical art, folks. And Johansen tops this sonic confection with a dash of blissful falsetto. “Miss Her So” continues the melancholy splendor, with something like a musical saw adorning more romantic angst: “Sunday morning sky is blue/I’m still in black/And nowhere is where I’ll be/If she won’t have me back…It’s all because I miss her so.” Truly lovely stuff. Magnet might be too maudlin for some listeners; there’s not really much rock ’n’ roll here. But if you understand loss and heartache, Johansen’s sweet, doleful songcraft may provide the perfect soundtrack. This Magnet exerts a powerful pull, indeed.

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