Hanne Hukkelberg is not a conventional singer-songwriter. As such, her music is not easily categorized, and rarely sticks with one sound long enough to be pinned down. The Norwegian has evolved and taken new directions with each of her last three albums. Her debut, 2005‘s Little Things, was a pristine pop album, laced with electronic subtleties and Björk-esque eccentricity. Hukkelberg followed it up with the tightly orchestrated, cinematic soundscape of Rykestrasse 68 and 2009’s atmospheric, indie rock album, Blood From A Stone.
Yet with each album Hukkelberg’s appeal has grown, as her vast musical experience – which includes studying at the National Academy of Music in Oslo and performing with a variety of metal, prog rock and jazz acts throughout her early 20s – and attention to detail has led to a wide international audience.
Hukkelberg sees her fourth effort, entitled Featherbrain, as the final part of her first cycle as a solo artist. “This album feels like the missing link, the record that concludes my first years as a solo artist,” explains Hukkelberg. “Featherbrain is its own beast, but it still has aspects of the other three in it.” After the ambitious and direct sound of Blood From A Stone – where she acknowledged the influences of Sonic Youth, Pixies and PJ Harvey – Hukkelberg certainly appears, once more, to engage with the dissonant, stripped-back approach that served her so well on her first two albums.
The album opens with the title track, which demonstrates Hukkelberg’s crystal clear vocals during its quiet-loud-quiet structure. Written and recorded predominantly in New York, Featherbrain is undoubtedly more intimate than its predecessor, while also retaining the idiosyncrasies and haunting vocals that made it so unique. Hukkelberg’s penchant for unusual instrumentation is evident throughout the record, with several noise-making oddities interweaving with the frailties of her vocal. I Sing You is one such moment, featuring a harpsichord and multiple string instruments, it is an intense and compelling number.
The near eight-minute Too Good To Be Good shows the full range of Hukkelberg’s talent for experimentation. Starting with a stuttering electro-beat and an understated guitar, the song slowly builds with sinister lyrics (“Do you want my eyes/ I’d rather be without/ I’d rather not know, not see/ what I see threatens me”), as an unsettling screeching combines with a machine-gun beat and an ever-loudening guitar to create a crescendo of noise at the climax. If Too Good captures Hukkelberg at her complicated, intricate best, then Noah shows her more delicate side – to begin with, anyway. Hukkelberg’s vocal is mesmerising and heartbreaking in equal measure, as a simple piano melody underlies everything, before the song reaches its grandiose, wall-of-sound conclusion.
The first single from the album, My Devils, is also based around a few piano chords – sounding like a slightly more menacing Florence And The Machine – before a staggering verse and ear-splitting chorus break in. The twanging guitar of Your Gonna provides Featherbrain with the attitude that was so distinctive on Blood From A Stone, while album closer, Erik, is an inventive, but unconvetional finish to the album. It sees Hukkelberg duet with classically trained 88-year-old Erik Vister in Norwegian and is both personal and painfully affecting.
Overall, Featherbrain does what Hukkelberg previously stated. It is an album that touches upon aspects of all her previous three albums. The record is by no means perfect. In fact, Hukkelberg is often far too concerned with her desire to provide the defining link between her catalogue than concentrating on giving Featherbrain its own distinctive sound. However, with a voice that encompasses so much feeling, it’s hard not to get swept up in the ethereal landscape that she paints. Featherbrain is another solid album from the unassuming Norwegian, even if it lacks the direction and cohesiveness of her previous offerings.