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Album of the month : May 2002




" Det er mig der holder traeerne sammen "

( Pladelselskabet/ Have a Cigar )


The times they are a-changing... and long gone, fortunately, are the days when rock and pop were only a man affair. Nowadays, more and more great music comes from the female half of the world, and it's quite good news. Girls can rock like hell ( Norway's Bronco Busters or Sweden's Sahara Hotnights), but they do it with style. They can charm and caress ( like Ephemera in this same column last month) without being insipid. Or they can bring you to unknown territories, like UNDER BYEN do on this stupendous second album.

Since the debut single Veninde i vinden in 1999, there was clear evidence that this four girls - four guys combo lead by Henriette Sennenvaldt and Katrine Stochholm was bound for great things. The same year, their first album " Kyst" confirmed brilliantly that favourable impression. Set into a lush soundscape of scrawling noises, this haunting mixture of chilling whispers and chamber instruments displayed a captivating effect, bringing to mind - maybe a bit too obviously sometimes - the sheer magic of Björk and Stina Nordenstam at their most inspired.

Now comes " Det er mig der holder traeerne sammen" which spectacularly exceeds the promise of this impressive debut. The violins and cellos, omnipresent on the first album, only appear occasionally here. This allows each song to develop its own sound, and broadens UNDER BYEN's horizons to large extents. Always homogeneous yet offering a stunning stylistic variety, the music now rides freely, tackling jazz, folk, classical or repetitive music, and keeping only the piano as the one common denominator to each track.

The result is always brilliant, and sometimes outstanding. Check for instance on the title-track how the song builds up gradually, starting only with bare pizzicati, sparse piano chords and bewitching whispers, then adds percussions, upright bass and that alluring oboe theme which gives the song its peculiar colour. Mission is just as arresting: over an obsessive bassline come successively cold metronomic beats, velvety strings and smooth woodwinds. Everything culminates when all these elements finally collide with uncanny background noises and creepy rattles. On the opposite, the breathtaking beauty of Byen Driver is only due to the simple combination of piano and voice. Captured very close to the mike, the sweet murmur of Henriette Sennenvaldt sounds just like if she was singing in you ear, with a deeply moving presence that makes this song the most touching moment of the album. More thrilling whisperings enhance the non-narrative radiance of Batteri Generator. Except for a jazzy canvas of piano, bass and drums, the traditional band's line-up disappears almost totally here, making way for an extraordinary background of creaks, chinks, crackles, rumbles, hissing sounds and low frequencies that sound weird and strangely familiar at the same time.

Plantage is one of the album's highlights. The first 35 seconds of this song would deserve a whole chapter on their own. It begins with a short and wonderful orchestral movement enriched with wild romantic piano. As it fades away, a big sigh echoes in the deep silence, the reedy tinkling of a glockenspiel gently flutters around, then comes a heavy bass rumble, muffled percussions, and... the song really starts. At this precise moment, only half a minute away from the beginning, it already happened more things than in most of full-length albums you've heard lately. And the rest is no less amazing, as proves that gorgeous passage when Henriette's voice melts with a stirring tombone solo, or the extra-terrestrial bridge at the end of the song.

Actually, this is just another step on this stairway to heaven leading to Om Vinteren: twelve minutes of pure and intense splendor, the kind of epic masterpiece that you'd thought only Icelandic magicians Sigur Ros would be able to achieve. Words fail to accurately express such an emotional experience. The song starts slowly with the sound of melancholic horns. Then comes the rhythm section at shambling speed with those recurrent uncanny noises in the background. Over a mesmerizing piano loop, Henriette starts singing at ultra-low volume, her voice always threatening to break and shatter. Then the music soars inexorably, going up in spiral higher and higher while it gets simultaneously denser and denser. It soon reaches the lower stratas of atmosphere, keeps rising up, goes beyond stratosphere, enters outer space and finally hit the stars in a dazzle.

That's it : Om Vinteren. On UNDER BYEN's second album. You'd be well advised to wait for a few minutes before pushing on the " repeat" button.


UNDER BYEN: ( official) ( excellent unofficial site approved by the band)