Building Instrument – Building Instrument (Hubro)
Mari Kvien Brunvoll vocals, live sampling & electronics, zither, percussion, kazoo; Øyvind Hegg-Lunde drums, percussion; Åsmund Weltzien synths, electronics, melodica.
Building Instrument’s self-tited debut album is immensely appealing. Primarily song-based, and rich in both melodic and atmospheric invention, it’s the distillation of six years of sporadic work. The main focus may be the voice of Mari Kvien Brunvoll, but the most distinctive thing about this trio is its easeful, improvisational approach to its material. If you like Múm, then it’s a safe bet you might like this too.
in 2011, Brunvoll recorded Stein and Mari’s Daydream Community in collaboration with Stein Urheim, then followed it in 2012 with a self-titled, fully solo album culled from various live performances. Both were nominated for Norwegian Grammys. There’s also been 2013’s Tim Tygg collaboration with fellow singer and multi-instrumentalist Johanne Birkeland Svendsen. I first heard Brunvoll though as a guset on Splashgirl’s Pressure (Hubro, 2011) which remains a personal favourite (you can read my Jazz Mann review here).
Here, Brunvoll sings for the first time in her native Molde dialect of Norwegian. Sometimes, as on “Historia”, her vocals are wordless accompaniments to the relaxed exposition of a primarily instrumental melody. Elsewhere, as on “Bli Med”, her voice mixes lyrical expressivity with childlike vulnerability, her song carried by the patter of toms and rim-clicks, the shimmer of organ and an insistent, sporadic bass pulse.
As “Historia” segues into “Alt e Bra”, through an ambient bridging section, Hegg-Lunde’s drums keep up a light pulse reminiscent of Massive Attack’s rhythm on “Unfinished Sympathy”. The song is enchanting, almost like a dream-reverie, with Brunvoli’s singing pitched in an ethereal high register. “Kanskje” is more earthy, the trio’s atmospheric weave of electronics and (I think) zither evaporates, exposing a folksy melodica refrain and a slow-heartbeat pulse of bass drum and brushed toms. Brunvoli’s voice treats this lyric as an intimate incantation. When Weltzien’s melodica leads, with a softly expansive percussion accompaniment later bolstered by a deep, subtle electronic undercurrent, Building Instrument’s economy yields immensely satisfactory results.
“Klokka Sju” surpasses “Bli Med” for catchiness: the pulse is similar, but tighter and punchier, with Brunvoll’s vocal line high-pitched in near-ecstatic reverie, slipping into breathless “la la” repetitions to match an implicit sway in the backbeat.
The trio’s original idea to focus on electronic music has yielded to a pleasingly acoustic, homespun sound. Largely improvised, sometimes reserved and sometimes playful, they unravel their more ambient passages to free catchy, impulsive rhythms.
Building Instrument has been one of my most-played albums this summer.
Huntsville – Past Increasing Future Receding (Hubro)
Ivar Grydeland electric guitar; Tonny Kluften electric bass; Ingar Zach percussion, electronics.
In 2011, reviewing Huntsville’s third album and Hubro debut, For Flowers, Cars and Merry Wars for the Jazz Mann, I noted that the band had transitioned away from what had become an over-reliance on percussionist Ingar Zach’s shruti box, tabla machine, and Drone Commander to drive their rhythms. The effects were compelling, but samey. Past Increasing Future Receding builds on that album’s maturing of the Huntsville sound, which is now more muscular, mantric and directional. Also, the twang of Country imparted to their early albums has entirely burned away.
Past Increasing Future Receding was recorded in Oslo’s Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum, which Hubro describes as: a “dimly lit…barrel-vaulted room covered with frescos…portraying hundreds of naked figures,” having: “exceptional acoustic properties and a long-lasting echo…Even the most tentative sound evokes an enormous acoustic response.”
For its first 90 seconds, the seventeen-minute “Presence in Absence” is a single tone. Then the near-silence is detonated by explosive percussion. The tone expands to become a drone, with second and third detonations leaving increasingly persistent traces of decay in its grain. A dying back to near-silence heralds the familiar sounds of Huntsville’s steady, hypnotic accretion of individual lines toward a structure: a methodology based on repetition and braced by overarching dynamic tensions. With this pattern set, the music becomes more expansive, with Grydeland’s guitar now free to embellish melodic ideas and Ingar Zach’s percussion exploding the rhythm, until Kluften’s bass breaches its hitherto insistent line and low-end fuzz seeps into the texture of the music as its impetus slowly ebbs away.
The Mausoleum’s vast echo is exploited most brazenly on the album’s third and final piece, “In an Hourglass” (08:42). This is an unwavering doom-drone, within which torpid bass lines are sporadically broken by subtle cymbal crashes and percussion hits, which pool expansively in the echo. Ivar Grydeland’s guitar, initially the source of a needling, unsettlingly insidious metallic jingle, eventually blooms in clean, increasingly melodic acoustic picking that contrasts effectively with the sustained background drone.
Working backwards: “The Flow of Sand” (08:47) is borne on an insistent machine throb which, at intervals, spins out shards of light electronica, a ripple of piano, and, most effectively, copacetic strains of feedback electric guitar. In its fifth minute Ingar Zach, playing with brushes, sets up a light, locomotive patter under which the dominant throb recedes. And that’s it. It’s simple but effective.
Huntsville bridge the gap between Earth’s doom-drone Americana and The Necks’ more jazzy, slow-yield meditations. Theirs may be only one of many viable crossing points, but it’s a choice spot.
Skadedyr – Kongekrabbe (Hubro)
Heiða Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck, Anja Lauvdal, Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson, Hans Hulbækmo, Torstein Lavik Larsen, Joakim Heibø, Ida Løvli Hidle, Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø, Adrian Løseth Waade, Ina Sagstuen, Lars Ove Fossheim, Marius Klovning.
Skyadedyr’s Kongekrabbe is an uniquely uncategorisable album. Hubro describes the group as “democratic/anarchistic”: “12 musicians and an even larger assortment of instruments,…a brass section, guitars, keyboards, vocals, two drummers, strings and an accordion.”
The group’s joint founders, Heiða Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck and Anja Lauvdal started Skadedyr when a former group, Your Headlights Are On, disbanded, sometime after its single, self-titled album was released in 2011. Lauvdal is now best known as the pianist in Moskus, alongside Skadedyr’s Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson (bass) and Hans Hulbækmo (drums) – I reviewed their album Mestertyven in the first part of this roundup. Though Mobeck and Lauvdal are jointly credited for the present album’s new works, publicity stresses that Skadedyr’s music is improvised, refined and arranged collectively.
Kongekrabbe was recorded in the studio in one day. It is characterised by the ranginess you’d expect from a collective of anarchist democrats, but thankfully not the ideational confusion. The brief “Intro Linselus”, with it’s smears, parps and burrs of brass, suggests a more-or-less standard Euro free jazz collective approach is on the cards, but the transition to “Linselus/Due” suggests things brighter, tighter, and more modern: hints of the producer’s former charges Jaga Jazzist. The slide into double-time, increasingly chaotic ska is less predictable.
Jarring, staccato pileups in the rhythm precede small intervals where choice details extrude—a momentary accordion break, a peal of guitar—until the track settles into a lengthy passage of rather lovely stillness: wistful piano and (almost) pure ambience. A coda sets that piano to a wordless vocal refrain in the boy soprano style of Arve Henriksen.
So far I’ve described only the first ten minutes of the album. “Kongekrabbe” is more unified: a return to ensemble playing reminiscent of Jaga Jazzist at their calmest. With wordless harmony vocals emphasising the unifying melodic figure, the unison steadily swells to a beautifully modulated and dissipated peak.
“Partylus” is the song that sticks in the mind, arguably to the detriment of everything else. It moves through a succession of mostly disjointed segues, like a ramshackle take on one of John Zorn’s file-card compositions. The track incorporates fragments of various ‘found’ (not sampled) song: Fats Waller’s “Your Foot’s Too Big”, Astor Piazzola’s “Cafe 1930”, Lowell Mason’s 19th century church music, an Icelandic traditional, and, most unignorably, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, the latter essayed at various speeds, all rudely interrupted by occasional snatches of the Prodigy’s “Firestarter”. This is 07:50 of anarchist-improv acoustic turntablism – music for the dementedly eclectic.
“Lakselus” is a welcome contrast. At first it’s experienced as echoes of distant music and noise, driftworks percolating a fog bank. But the noise accretes and becomes more harsh, wound tight to a repetitive machine rhythm., until a piano refrain coheres, signalling a reprise of the “Kongekrabbe” theme, albeit still swathed in ghostly blankets of other sound.
This is an invigoratingly fresh and, “Partylus” aside, an unexpectedly subtle album. But there’s no putting “Partylus” aside, so the verdict on Skyadedyr is out, pending album number two.
1984 – A/B + Moskus – Mestertyven + Håkon Stene – Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal.
Bly de Blyant – Hindsight Bias + Cakewalk – Transfixed + Space Monkey – The Karman Line.
Hanne Hukkelberg – Featherbrain.