The Little Hands of Asphalt is the solo-project of Norwegian songwriter, Sjur Lysed. Having first emerged over a decade ago, Sjur found plenty of critical acclaim for his debut album, 2012’s Floors, and then largely disappeared from view, working on other people’s records in his Oslo studio. Now eight years later, Sjur is set to return with a brand new album, Half Empty, to be released in March, between Fika Recordings and Norwegian label Furuberget. Today we’re premiering Begin Again and Foreverest, the first two tracks from the album.
Despite an eight year gap, what’s most impressive is just how effortlessly these tracks seem to pick up where Sjur left off. While the two tracks showcase different sides of his musical make-up, they both seem to inhabit a space of timeless pop. The fittingly titled, Begin Again, is a winning example of subtle ambition; while it makes no bombastic statement of intent, buried within is a winning complexity. The Mountain Goats-like vocal line, accompanied by a fluctuating backing of guitar, piano, and some delightfully subtle orchestral flourishes. Sjur has suggested the track is about the impossibility of starting over, whilst simultaneously representing a fine example of just how possible that is to do.
Foreverest is the more lively of the two, bounding in on an easy-bouncing drum beat, that seems to sit in contrast to how relaxed everything else on track is; the vocal a gentle whisper, the guitar a meandering flicker of sound. It’s a techno-influenced, if not actually sounding, aside from the gentle mood that his songwriting has previously occupied while still sliding neatly into his general oeuvre.
Check out the tracks beneath and then read on for Sjur talking in more detail about the two tracks.
I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to write music again. And if you asked me six years ago, I think I would be pretty adamant I would never do a Little Hands of Asphalt album again. I didn’t officially break the project up, rather I’d just let it fade out, cause that’s what I do. So much had changed in my life, I was fed up with my musical self, and felt like there wasn’t really anything else to add to what had already been said.
Then, something happened. There were all these inspiring and encouraging people I’d met, I had written songs for other projects, and slowly realised that I still had a good few songs in me, that this is something I’m actually good at. That it doesn’t necessarily have to be that difficult. And, most importantly, though there isn’t really a ton of people listening, for those that do, they kept telling me it means something to them. So, I start anew.
A little ironic, then, that the first song is about the impossibility of starting over. You can never go back to being stupid, you are not young enough to know everything, though you’ve left your bags at the counter and seen them disappear into a hole with their ribbons and name tags, you’re still painfully aware of what’s inside, and that you at some point have to pick them up at some baggage carousel.
So I know, I’m not really beginning again. To me, this song is about the same two people as in the song “Pioneers” off of Floors. “Pioneers” is a split second song, with everything that happens between when a door shuts and a lock clicks. This is about the 52 minutes preceding that. They’re in an apartment (and I know which one, but it might look different to you) and they’re listening to Blood on the Tracks. That’s pretty much it.
To go with the lyrical content, I wanted “Begin Again” to express both continuity and departure. To feel like a classic LHoA-song; a spiderweb of plucked acoustics and a simple chord progression, something that felt like it had always been there, something simple and pure. But at a point, break away from that formula, do something else, something different, with a bit more grandeur, to well, begin again.
Oh, and it’s hardly a secret I had a Brian Wilson-obsession when I wrote and arranged that middle eight.
Foreverest is the spark that started this whole album. Written, and largely recorded, back in 2014/15, this song was originally meant for another project. But at least it also meant I was able to write again. At the time of its conception, I had been listening to a lot of music that was different from what I usually gravitate towards, things like krautrock or techno: Repetitive patterns and hypnotic lengths, stuff that requires patience and attention to sonic detail. Where the sum of the parts make up the whole. Where every new simple element is key in propelling the song forward. So, I tried to write like that. The result? The longest song I’ve ever written, for one. But also the realisation I can’t really escape my own disposition for pop formalism, melodies or earnestness.
Writing about songs about death are almost as hard as writing songs about death. I wrote this after my father died. He lived on a small farm by a beautiful mountain. Foreverest is about him, in a sense, but mostly about me. And that makes it different than most of the songs on Half Empty.
Half Empty is out March 27th via Fika Recordings (UK) / Furuberget (Norway). Click HERE for more information on The Little Hands Of Asphalt.