Think of Scandinavia and what sort of music springs to mind? Cool, icy electronica? Expansive glacial post-rock? Abba?
Quite possibly all of the above of course, but how many of us think of country music? Indie-Pop? Even Americana? We can’t be the only ones who’ve noticed that in recent years there’s an abnormal amount of oddly sun-drenched music coming from the Scandi-shores. Where did this explosion (ok, perhaps minor ripple) come from?
Perhaps it can be traced back to around the turn of the millennium.The emergence of the likes of Kings Of Convenience, Jens Lekman and Peter Bjorn & John, injected their Scandinavian-cool with a hint of pop, a splash of sunshine and the ability to be at the same time creative and fun. They took influence from bands like The Smiths, Jonathan Richman and Orange Juice, looking beyond national borders, and embraced the emergence of the internet and allowed music to become truly multi-national.
From the success of those pioneers plenty more Swedish bands emerged, the likes of First Aid Kit, The Tallest Man On Earth and Making Marks, showed that Scandinavian music could stretch far beyond our clichéd ideas of the glacial, cool and synth heavy sound. Proof were it needed that in a highly connected modern world exciting music can often pop up where you least expect it.
Tina Refsnes is unsurprisingly a singer-songwriter, however her debut album was a more-collaborative affair than that suggests. Hearing a record produced by Robbie Lackritz, Tina and long-term collaborator Eirik Stordrange travelled to Toronto, to track Robbie down and work with him. They’re also joined on the record by Toronto based-musicians Don Kerr and Mike O’Brien.
Discussing her music, Tina says she has always been fascinated by the space in recordings, the gaps in the music where you hear the person behind the performance, this interest passes through into her music which has the intimate feeling she set out to achieve. It’s a record that plays out largely on acoustic guitar, warm washes of slide guitar and minimal,hushed percussion. It’s vocally spectacular, Tina’s voice sounds at once powerful but dexterous it seems to effortlessly pick out melodies without ever resorting to showing off; with hints of Caitlin Rose, Joni Mitchell or Laura Marling.
Tina grew up in the small seaside town of Florø in Norway, but always craved the bright-lights and excitement of the big city more than the rain and salt-spray that classified her home town, via a stint in Liverpool, she is now based out of Oslo. A recent article in Time Magazine placed Oslo as the third most expensive city in the world to live in, ranking only behind Paris and Singapore, whilst it’s even worse if you want a drink, being the most expensive city in the world for a beer. Oslo has a strong cultural history, but has produced surprisingly few bands who are well known internationally, although glam-thrashers Turbonegro, experimental jazz act Jaga Jazzist and of course A-Ha are exceptions.
Tina has been writing songs for a long time, but having never found an outlet or style that suited her writing until she stumbled on a record produced by Robbie Lackritz. After this, she started to do something with her music. That music will see the light of the day this month, when she releases her debut album, No One Knows That You’re Lost on Vestkyst Records.
Beautifully produced, gorgeous slices of Scandi-cana (yeah we just made that phrase up, but we’re sure it’ll catch on). It’s one of the most sophisticated, mature and thoroughly excellent debut album you’re ever likely to here, sounding more like the work of an experienced head than a newcomer. It’s a record that takes the best parts of so many other albums and creates a cohesive whole.
The highlights are numerous; Upside Down Clouds is a psych-folk masterpiece in the mould of Meg Baird; The Heart Wants Its Way matches the vocal inflexion of Joanna Newsom with the beautifully produced song-writing of Easy Tiger-era Ryan Adams, whilst Spoilt Rotten Blues is the middle ground of First Aid Kit and Hurray For The Riff Raff.
Lyrically they’re explorations of life’s small details. There’s discussions on self-doubt, such as Alaska, where “you try to show them some more of yourself”, but secretly look for a place where, “it’s so quiet that not even the wind will talk to you.” Whilst the classical relationship dissections are numerous, often, like Laura Marling before her, she takes on the subject like a wise old head, such as in Put It Away, a bright country number in the mould of Natalie Prass or Caitlin Rose, where she pleads with someone to “don’t break my heart because I can’t break yours”. Whilst the closing track Song About Trust is the heart aching collapse of something, whether a relationship or a friendship, it’s clearly very painful and very raw.
A little more variety might not go amiss, perhaps the album should have been a track or two lighter so as to not repeat the same ideas, and perhaps a couple of tracks could have done with slightly longer in the development phase, they occasionally fade out before they’ve quite had time to grab the listener. These are all minor details; quirks that Tina will work out over her career as she develops her sound still further. The important thing here is that she has all the natural gifts to become one of the biggest Alt-country stars in the world, and it’s always so thrilling to see a new star emerging.
No One Knows That You’re Lost is out November 6th via Vestkyst Records.