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
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.
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.
( excellent unofficial site approved by the band)