The Norwegian artist’s second album of folk-flecked piano songs offer up the sort of delightful flora where delicate leaves and complex tendrils turn out to be as gorgeous as the flowers
Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. Two artists for whom the greatness of their recordings is indirectly proportionate to the awfulness of most musicians they’ve influenced. The former has inspired a phalanx of open-mic wraiths mumbling about how lonely they are, and the latter unintentionally gave the green light to enough tastefully pretty tunes about self care and nature rambles to sap the life from any coffee shop employee. It seems almost wilfully wrong-headed to think that these elements were what made Drake and Mitchell great – it’s like a Numanoid proselytizing recreational aviation and ’80s Tory policy.
On Inger Nordvik’s second album of folk-flecked piano songs a very clear line can be traced back to Mitchell, but she and her band is unusual in picking just the right elements to bounce off. Sure, the songs are succinctly jazzy and the vocals sweetly breathy, but like Mitchell’s best work there’s a knottiness to the playing and a sophisticated complexity to the arrangements: take the clockwork construction under Go Back’s exquisite vocal line, or the arco bass acting as a sinister undertow to the calm limpid surface of Waiting.
The entire band is outstanding, but special praise must go to drummer and percussionist Ola Øverby. In contrast to the bounce he supplies to the cocktail-umbrella urban pop of Fieh, he brings a twitchy precision to Hibernation, from the delicate ride taps on Secret that make it sound as though the kit has been caught in a warm spring rain to the uptight buttoned-down fills of album opener Denial – which sounds like Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain migrating from a blustery tundra to a humid afternoon on the Ganges plain in three minutes.
Listening to Hibernation is like leaping between icy coolness and inviting warmth, possibly reflecting the songs’ genesis in a small cabin on the snowy northern coast of Norway. The title track opens with a glacial post-rock billow before being thawed by toasty bass, ending up like a strange optimistic cousin of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song that could give you a cosier glow than radioactive Ready Brek. Nordvik’s voice is similarly quite lovely, and full of different characters, sweetening the gruff sincerity of Mark Eitzel, tempering the kooky artistry of Stina Nordenstam, freshening the cool detachment of Sheila Chandra, and recalling Jeff Buckley without his pervasive miasma of smugness.
Amongst these riches, the album does occasionally tip over into a cute refinement, such as on closing track Ask You which the ears enjoy but which dances away from memory, and It Follows slightly mars its wholesome earthy groove – imagine someone had crocheted a Portishead song – with a somewhat precious lushness. But, overall Hibernation is the sort of delightful flora where the delicate leaves and complex tendrils turn out to be as gorgeous as the flowers.