Here are the albums I reviewed for the October issue of EL magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo on September 25.
The Nordic Mellow
-Siv Jakobsen (P-Vine)
-Anna of the North (Different/Hostess)
When we think of Scandinavian pop, Sweden first comes to mind, mainly because of ABBA, but also because of indie artists characterized by The Cardigans chamber Top 40 and Robyn’s dance music. If you say Norway, music fans will probably think of death metal, so Norwegian singer-songwriter Siv Jakobsen naming her second record The Nordic Mellow seems to have a special meaning. It is not, in fact, mellow, though Jakobsen’s voice has a hushed quality to it. A lot of the songs are bombastic. “Shallow Digger,” the pick to click, places the singer in the midst of some crashing drums and seriously strummed guitar. It’s a sort of environmental song, an angry environmental song to be precise. She’s mad at everyone, including herself, for not taking care of the world. We are all just too selfish, but she sounds as if she doesn’t think there’s anything we can do about it. In interviews Jakobsen has said The Nordic Mellow was written out of frustration after her debut EP set some sort of streaming record in her home country. The frustration, however, has less to do with other people than with her own difficulties in communicating with other people. She seems to be able to do that better in songs, which are more measured in their attitudes and assessments. As the album develops it eases in and out of extreme emotions—desperation giving way to resignation and then back to desperation—and while the instrumentation, supplied by her and her producer Matt Ingram (who has also produced Laura Marling, another singer-songwriter with a wide emotional range), is spare, it matches in dynamic power what Jakobsen seems to be going through in her lyrics. Which is what she is going through in life. Anna Lotterud, who is careful to make everyone aware that she’s from a Nordic country with her stage name, Anna of the North, is also from Norway, but her music is more conventionally accessible than Jakobsen’s, more Swedish, you might say. Her debut, Lovers, is a collection of songs she’s released in various forms over the past two years, and their electropop provenance has made it easy for people like the Chainsmokers to remix them for various purposes. And it’s definitely worth mentioning that she appears twice on Tyler, the Creator’s new album. Also worth mentioning is that, technically, Anna of the North is a duo, the other half being Australian Brady Daniell-Smith, who doesn’t sing but mostly shapes the songs into radio-ready 3-minute slices. As meditations on love and loss, the songs aren’t as heavy as Jakobsen’s. They’re airier, prettier, more likely to slip through your fingers if you don’t hold them tight enough. They’re also danceable if you’re so inclined. What Lotterud and Jakobsen do have in common is the lack of something that tends to be associated with the North: coldness. These are two of the warmest records of the year. When it’s dark and bitter outside, that makes sense. Continue reading