Posted on Mar 20th 2012 01:09 am
Although primarily a cauldron of jazz, noise and electronic experimentations, Rune Grammofon have never shied away from gentler musical forms, most notably with Susanna Wallumrød, with or her Magical Orchestra, or Hilde Marie Kjersem. Last year, the label opened its doors to two more Norwegian female singer songwriters, Ingvild Langgård, who officiates as Phaedra and Jenny Hval, who both delivered stunning, if very different, records (The Sea, a folk odyssey of sort, and Viscera, a much more angular and disconcerting project, respectively). After a false start last year due to a venue double-booking a date, the pair finally hit London this Monday evening at the Borderline in central London.
Was it the fact that it was a Monday night, that the Borderline is surrounded on pretty much all sides by the vast Cross Rail development or that the two are not so well known in the UK, but the crowd was somewhat on the small side, yet was treated with some rather wonderful moments throughout the evening. First on stage was Phaedra, in a quartet formation (keyboard, violin, percussions and guitar and vocals). Presenting the same delicate and dreamy blend of Nordic folk which made up The Sea, Phaedra gave faithful renditions of songs such as Black Dog, Sister, Death Will Come, Honeydewed Autumn or The First To Die. Like that of Susanna Wallumrød, Phaedra’s music is subtle and melancholic, but there is a greater emphasis on vocal harmonies, which makes good use of Langgård’s range, and it was served very well by her vocal accompaniment tonight. The formation retained much of the pastoral quality of the originals, if perhaps at times slightly too closely, as if they intentionally refrained from pushing into darker, less obvious corners, they confidently delivered most of the songs from The Sea, before concluding with two new songs which demonstrated a much more upbeat and daring sound, owing not so much to Seventies folk as to Eighties New Wave, or at least a strangely folkified version of it. Despite Half Human and Two Much Sugar being both slightly drowned under the somewhat forceful drums, Phaedra’s voice at times struggling to compete, they revealed a different side of Langgård’s music, which, we could well form part of a future record.
Jenny Hval is quite a different beast altogether. Following a couple of pop-orientated records as Rockettothesky, she materialised as herself on Rune Grammofon with the oblique and disconcertin Viscera, on which she raised an inventory of the human anatomy (hers, mostly) and bodily functions, talking freely of semen, ears, cunts, tongues, blood or golden showers. Musically, her work relies less on heritage and tradition, and if it feeds on anything, it is above all on a definite flair for experimenting, not only with sound, but with ambiences and, in her case, words. The premise of the album was not to shock but to unsettle enough to actually make her lyrics stand out. Her reduced formation (two guitars, drums and electronics), was perhaps not so different to the one she worked with on Viscera, yet it all felt much rawer, à vif. This undeniably stripped the songs of some of Hval’s haunting vocal harmonies, but it equally infused the music with a sense of urgency totally fitting to her style. Despite encountering numerous sound problems, she ploughed on through part of Viscera, delivering particularly fine versions of Blood Flight, Golden Locks or a deliciously awkward and incisive Portrait Of The Young Girl As An Artist, before presenting a song originally performed as part of the live soundtrack to The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, a silent movie dating back to 1928, then turning her attention to LCD Soundsystem, the trio’s tour music we were told.
Hval’s lyrics may be intentionally noticeable, but her vocal prowesses are unequalled. There is something utterly visceral (no pun intended) in the way her voice breaks and switches from utterly velvety and pastoral to warm and rounded to harsh and corrosive in the split of a second, or in a chord progression. In turn loaded with innocent naively or charged with maturity well beyond her age, spoken, sung or screamed, nothing can quite prepare for what she can so effortlessly deliver.
Representing very different strands of what Rune Grammofon can deliver, yet utterly bound by a particular aesthetic which is serving them superbly well, Phaedra and Jenny Hval incarnate, in their own style, part of the label’s spirit, and offered a rather fine evening of Norwegian music.