Album Reviews

Fenomenom – Hourglass

(beatservice) UK release date: 28 June 2004

For the uninitiated, Fenomenon is not a ladies contraceptive, but a Norwegian duo who are, according to the publicity blurb, “a household name in the nu-jazz / broken beats scene". There may well be a small village on the outskirts of Oslo where the indigenous population listen to little but string-laden, filtered, and off-kilter post-Dance, but an admittedly cursory examination of a Norwegian gazetteer failed to reveal its location.

Still, Fenomenon’s debut extended CD could just catapult the duo into being a ‘loft’-hold name in the gentrified topography of London, and not a few aspirational suburbs in the major conurbations.

Fenomenon’s Hourglass exists in a universe where civilisation began by worshipping the sun-gods of ELO, Supertramp, and Cerrone; enjoyed its Enlightenment period by uncovering the lost artefacts of Hall & Oates, Vangelis, Scritti Politti and Mantronix, before enjoying a funky decadence by invoking the contemporary spirits of Trevor Jackson, Maurice Fulton, AIM, and Daft Punk‘s Digital Love. I know what you’re thinking: Paradise. And for the most part, yer not wrong. But beware: this record contains an instrument sounding suspiciously like a syn-drum.

Firstly, the Paradise bits: Hourglass is a close, but generally trickier cousin to Melody AM, the mega-selling debut from fellow Nordic-types, Royksopp. The snowdrift sensuality of Hypersleep is perhaps the closest this set comes to that record, but Hourglass’ affection for the dancefloor is much more obvious. Just Pretend begins innocently enough, before its 4/4 rhythm propels it into a disco-lovin’ chorus laden with Bee Gees falsetto. Time may have the most unimaginative song-title on the album, but is hotel-bar retro-chic picture perfect in its assimilation of 80’s synth parts, Streetsounds beatboxes, and Gallic House. But, still, those syn-drums…

However, if none of this sounds like your bag, have no fear. Despite the late-nite radio specialist-spot cool, Hourglass has enough tuneability to rub Pop shoulders with the freshest R ‘n’ B sensation from Virginia Beach, or the latest guitar slingin’ sensations from New York, Glasgow or the Home Counties. First single Lucy Said is as refreshingly breezy as the first Summer evening (if we get one). Space Continuum may be a little close to Royksopp’s vertical hit, Eple, for some, but its rip-off status is redeemed by sumptuous strings and an unfussy b-line.

And in a land already burdened with anaesthetizing, ham-fisted attempts at chill-out, it feels good to report that Fenomenon end the set with the actually lovely Sleepy Meadows Of Buxton. Those fjords are just the place for self-examination and contemplative bliss.

Oh, but then I did say there were less heavenly elements to Hourglass, didn’t I?. Well, Trouble Takes Flight is probably more soporific than terrific, but the low point of Hourglass is definitively an ill-conceived and unnecessary cover of Tears For Fears‘ Everybody Wants To Rule The World. When the download revolution finally takes over (…and you can hear them storming the barricades now…) , the phrase ‘filler’ will finally be erased from our lexicon. Unless the world really is mad after all.

Fenomenon’s Kay Ingebretson and Hobie Rosenborg were first known in these parts by contributing two EP’s to Dave Hill’s Nuphonic label, before signing up to new home, Beat Service. A shame really that Dave Hill didn’t get his mitts on this set as it may have kept his much-missed label afloat. Expect to hear more of Fenomenon. But, blimey, look out for those syn-drums…

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Fenomenom – Hourglass