Both of these albums feature Norwegian singer/multi-instrumentalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll.
For Individuals Facing the Terror of Cosmic Loneliness (Jazzland) is her third album of low-fi alt-pop duets with guitarist and fellow multi-instrumentalist Stein Urheim, and Kem Som Kan å Leve (Hubro) her second recording with drummer Øyvind Hegg-Lunde and keyboard player Åsmund Weltzien as Building Instrument.
Brunvoll’s solo music-making is intimate, with a naive sophistication. In concert, she sits cross-legged on the stage floor behind an array of instruments, including a sampler that she uses to loop her thin, high pitched vocals. Sometimes she sings in her native Molde dialect of Norwegian, sometimes in made up language.
With Building Instrument, the intuitive(?) sophistication of her practice is amplified. The trio’s self-titled debut of 2014 combines, uniquely, elements of jazz, folk, acoustic progressive rock, and an incisive pop sensibility with freshness and assurance; it’s one of my absolute favourites of the entire rich and varied Hubro catalogue. Kem Som Kan å Leve sees the development of a more cohesive group sound, which, ironically, brings it more in line with the relative introversion of Brunvoll’s solo music.
Much of the arboreal light of the first album is shaded here with organ fills and zither strums, and regular, occasionally processed rhythms are substituted for Øyvind Hegg-Lunde’s formerly bustling kit drumming. The difference is striking, and the effect more sombre – a peculiarly beguiling opacity.
Some of the new material originated in a commission for a concert at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, in September 2015, devoted to music inspired by the art of Kurt Schwitters, the German artist, sound poet and installation artist who lived, in exile from 30s Nazi Germany, on the island of Hjertøya, in Brunvoll’s home municipality of Molde. He built one of his Merzbau buildings there.
The group say that Schwitters’ sound poetry inspired them “to go further in…expanding or erasing the meaning of language”, and that they composed using a “collage…cut-and-paste process”. Yet the polished, downbeat loveliness of this subtle and beguiling album belies this genesis, tapping into an ambient pop vein that’s ironically closer to the mainstream than their more easily accessible and uplifting debut.
For Individuals Facing the Terror of Cosmic Loneliness follows two previous Stein & Mari releases: Daydream Community (2012) and vinyl-only follow-up Daydream Twin (2013). For the most part, as with Building Instrument, there’s been a significant maturing of the duo’s sound.
Jørgen Træen adds breadth to an already eclectic palette of electronic (effects, loop, drum machine) and acoustic instruments (guitar, bass, bazouki, zither and tamboura, percussion, roll up piano, kalimba, flute and kazoo), playing modular synth, mellotron and additional programming.
The core duo split composing evenly, with only lead cut “Garden Sound” being co-written.
Urheim’s pieces are generally the most direct. His “Lazy Philosopher” is a strange-but-simple Morricone/chanson concoction, with a distinct Sun Ra at leisure vibe and lyrics, doubling as the album’s title, that were inspired by Bertrand Russell on philosophy (“wast(ing) time on insoluble problems“). It’s one of the most immediately pleasurable and songlike tracks on the album.
Likewise, Urheim’s bass- and guitar-driven “For Now” has the catchy immediacy of an alienated reggae vibe, and his album-closing “Are You Glad” is an indian-inflected steel string blues. (For a solo showcase of Urheim’s more expressive, stylistically varied playing, primarily on string instruments, check out Standebarm, also new on Hubro.)
Brunvoll’s contributions include the etherial “Trees”, with its wordless vocals and flute, shimmery electronic ambiance and naive melody picked out on thumb piano; and the jaunty, lilting sing-song of “That’s What I’d Do” (“I would love your crisis / I’d die for you”), which segues into Urheim’s simpatico “Gold”, with lyrics by Brunvoll after Federico Garcia Lorca, cf. “Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)”.
Brunvoll’s “Lately” and the album’s one entirely improvised piece, “Things I Wish For”, are both purely instrumental soundscapes – the former almost audaciously beautiful in its simplicity, the latter intricately collaged.
Stein & Mari have a magical close rapport, and their music pares lots away to reveal a core of intimate shared sensibility. Combined with a winningly direct melodic sensibility, the results are intelligent, complex and immediately accessible.
Mari Kvien Brunvoll vocals, sampler, zither, percussion, kazoo; Øyvind Hegg-Lunde drums, percussion; Åsmund Weltzien synth, electronics.
Stein & Mari
Mari Kvien Brunvoll vocals, effects, loop, kazoo, kallimba, zither, percussion, roll up piano, drum machine; Stein Urheim vocals, guitars, bass, flute, bazouki, tamboura, percussion, effects, loop; Jørgen Træen synth, mellotron, programming.
Building Instrument / Huntsville / Skadedyr – Building Instrument / Past Increasing Future Receding / Kongekrabbe.
Stian Westerhus / Sidsel Endressen and Stian Westerhus – The Matriarch & the Wrong Kind of Flowers / Didymoi Dreams.