Everybody’s favourite Norwegian multi-instrumentalist female four-piece set sail for the airwaves in their latest swashbuckler of an album. With UK dates at the end of May, their small but cult-like following can only swell, and judging by this album, deservedly so. Carving out a unique niche for themselves in the bosom of folk-pop, Anne Marit Bergheim, Marianne Sveen, Solveig Heilo and Turid Jørgensen’s latest effort is often raucous, occasionally majestic and close to brilliance.
The title track is a creepy little music box that opens into a ghoulish masquerade ball, brimming with sultriness. Yet all that’s whisked away by the arrival of first single I Will Dance When I Walk Away. The key climbs into the major, the glockenspiel is fired up, an accordion hums contentedly over a simple but eager bassline, and all is well in the world. The singalong chorus makes this the perfect breakup song – never have lines like “I vainly held a rosary/to pray you’d stay with me” sounded quite so…well, cheerful. This is foot-stompingly perfect pop, achieved without sacrificing the folky feel.
Already, however, the first flaw has emerged. While there isn’t a weak track on the album, they don’t always seem particularly well stitched together. The suspense of A Kiss Before You Go isn’t so much developed as killed by the sudden switch to cheerfulness. Similarly, God’s Great Dust Storm, largely a cappella and brilliantly powerful when taken by itself, is an unsatisfying end to the album, fading into a silence that begs to be filled with something more substantial to round off.
Yet to allow this to spoil the album would be like turning down a lottery prize because it wasn’t a round number of millions. This album demands to be heard, if only because of the variety on offer.
Cherry Pie may be a little too sickly-sweet for some, but it’s undeniably excellent at what it does; tight staccato and close harmony, underscored by the friendly bumbling of a double-bass and punctuated with the occasional whistle. Meanwhile, Land Of Confusion adds a welcome swagger that the Genesis original never knew it needed, and benefits from being played with the bass turned up. There’s nothing quite like basking in the glory of the proudly squelching trombone. Elsewhere, the squawking harmonica of Shepherd’s Song and barn-dance feel of Rock Paper Scissors will have audiences dancing in lines before they know what’s hit them.
Cocktails And Ruby Slippers is definitely a grower. At first, the verses suggest running for cover would be a sensible option, for it’s a little bit too unhinged, and bawled out like Karen O at her shoutiest. Thankfully, things chill out considerably for the dreamy loveliness of the chorus – just as well, if the beard-pulling feistiness of the verses leaves you breathless.
Yet the real gem is breathtaking, ghostly Lady Marlene. Thinly textured at first, the music is sometimes so stripped back that you can hear Anne Marit Bergheim pausing for breath over the delicate piano. Her vocals are spine-chilling, and will stop you dead in your tracks.
Despite a couple of minor issues with ordering, this album deserves to put Norway’s finest firmly on the radar of the UK folk scene. If this is the Kiss Before they Go, lord help anyone in their way when Katzenjammer get cracking.