If Scandinavia is the home of synth-pop, Norway’s Casiokids should fit right in. On the one hand, their UK debut throws up dreamy synth-pop a la their countrymen Röyksopp, but on the other it’s a hyper-bubblegum pop romp that lends itself to that country’s answer to Kylie, Annie.
It might be their first physical release on these shores (albeit some months after it was unleashed across the rest of the world), but it’s certainly not the first we’ve heard from them. An indie release, Fuck MIDI, gave them cult status in Norway, but it was their first record in 2010, Topp Stemning Pa Lokal Bar, and singles Gront Iys i alle ledd/Togens hule and the brilliant Fot i hose that established their name on the electro circuit.
Riding high on this success, they went on to win what has to be the weirdest prize in music – a one million kroner (£100,000) grant from fellow Norweigans a-ha, awarded to the artists deemed to have the best export potential. Presumably they took this about as seriously as you’d expect, because unlike most European acts teetering on the brink of international acclaim, they’ve shunned English, sticking with their native tongue for their a-ha funded Moshi Moshi release. This means most of us will struggle to ask for Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen in a record shop, but staying in their comfort zone lyrically has given them time to sharpen up and experiment with a more spacey, psychedelic synth sound.
The band has made much of this being a more “mature” sound for them, and it certainly starts off that way, with the opening (title) track. A crackling brass and wind intro that gives way to fluttering flutes, it has a dawn freshness to it. As it segues into Det Haster!, with forest noises and bird song echoing, it couldn’t be further away from the fierce chaos of Fot i hose. Yet when it gets into full swing, it’s a much more similar beast. Crunching, plodding, quirky pop under an icy vocal, with a layer of theremin to pull it all together, it’s the chilled out older brother of Fot i hose.
Dresinen is different. A slice of cartoonish, Dresden Dolls goth-pop, with pouty britpop boy/girl lyrics, The Auteurs would have loved its drama and brattishness, if not the occasional, unnecessary twinkling that’s slapped over it. They then shift gear, moving from the forest to the jungle for a spot of afro-pop. Golden Years starts off with high energy, but the vocals don’t quite keep up with the music, and what feels like a cute one-minute jam is stretched out over four minutes. It sets the tone for the next few songs until Selskapets Triste Avslutning, which sees beautiful theremin wails loop around a whimsical falsetto, gradually building up into a dizzying rush of a instrumental and a 30-second xylophone fade out.
Towards the end of the album, they look more to Röyksopp and M83 for intricate, soaring synths with a melancholic bite. Closing track Aldri Ska Me Ha Det G is especially bittersweet, with Super Furry Animals‘ warped, lazy wooziness and distorted vocals. There are some mid-song breakaways that feel so calm and lonely compared to the constant hyper-noise of the rest of the album, that the vocals sound stark and devastatingly sad.
Bands making a conscious effort to make a “mature” record usually spells disaster but, while it’s far from perfect, Casiokids have done well to polish their sound, even if they’ve not yet quite decided what they want to be when they grow up.