To say that Scandinavia has a stranglehold over the electro-pop genre would be somewhat of an understatement. As such, Norwegian trio Philco Fiction have a lot to live up to with their debut album, entitled Take It Personal. The Oslo three-piece – made up of Turid Solberg, Andreas and Bjarne – have already made an impact across Europe and in the US, as well as sharing the stage with the one and only, Snoop Dogg.
However, with BBC Sound of 2012 nominees Niki And The Dove – also from Scandinavia, obviously – already setting a high standard this year with their debut album, Instinct, Philco Fiction can hardly afford to release an album that is anything other than brilliant. And while Take It Personal is by no means brilliant, it has enough about it to suggest Philco Fiction are a band worth investing in.
The trio’s debut is nowhere near as extravagant and instantaneous as Niki And The Dove’s first offering, but Solberg’s haunting vocals mixed with Andreas and Bjarne’s tinkering production is still intriguing. The flittering opener, Help!, suggests that Philco Fiction have decided to imitate the sound of the Stockholm duo, with a stop-start verse breaking into a rushing synth chorus. And the comparison is only aided by the similarities between the vocals of Solberg and Niki And The Dove frontwoman, Malin Dahlström.
Yet, as Take It Personal progresses, Philco Fiction prove to be much more than just an imitation act. Finally is a beautiful, piano-laden ballad, which also includes a bassline similar to the ones that earned The xx the 2010 Mercury Prize. While the six-minutes of Too Nice are both enchanting and sinister at the same time, as Solberg sings: “How do you expect me to fit into this youthful dress?/ my ass is bigger than your success/ I want another dress.” The twinkling strings are wondrous, but when combined with the matter-of-fact lyrics they take on an unsettling tone.
Horizon is another highlight, with its rumbling beat and swelling synths, while The Youth plods along with all the pomp and drama of Björk. But it is penultimate song Portrait Of Silence, which shows the true potential of Philco Fiction. “I buy a ticket to your show, they say it’s a one of a kind show,” sings Solberg, over a delicate piano melody that slowly builds towards a melodramatic and emotive conclusion. After an album leaning on electro-pop and flourishes of synths, it shows the ambition of Philco Fiction to include such a thoughtful and epic piece of music.
It’s perhaps a shame that Portrait Of Silence was not the closer, although Time To Fly – complete with throbbing synths and breathy vocals – does finish the album with the same charisma and spasms of electro-pop that started it all off. Take It Personal is not without its flaws, though. At times, it does feel like the trio are too eager to impress with their vast array of instrumentation, as demonstrated by the irritating The City. Then there’s I Want You, where Solberg’s childish vocal adds little to the frustratingly dull synths.
Philco Fiction are certainly a more interesting prospect when they concentrate on the emotional pull of Solberg’s vocal and lyricism, rather than try and stumble across larger-than-life choruses. Indeed, Philco Fiction’s first LP is all the better for the piano ballads, which rest comfortably alongside the soaring synth numbers. Overall, it is a strong and ambitious debut effort from a band that, on this evidence, can more than live with the musical heritage of Scandinavia. Undoubtedly, one to watch.