From the release of the final novel in Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle series, to a mesmerizing performance by Susanne Sundfør at the Barbican, it’s been a big year for Norway across the arts in the UK. With so many highlights to sift through, we asked our NA contributors to round up their best cultural moments of the 2018 calendar.
Jenny Hval, Paradise Rot
– Luke Slater
Jenny Hval has been making music under her own name for nearly a decade now. But alongside that she has written several books, released in her native language. This year the first of her books was translated into English. Paradise Rot –Perlebryggeriet in Norwegian, released in 2009 – is everything you would expect from Jenny Hval. Beguiling would be one word used to describe the world she creates but there is much more to it than that.
Paradise Rot tells the story of Jo, a Norwegian girl who moves to Australia to study. Knowing nobody there and with an uncertain command of the English language, she moves into a renovated warehouse with a stranger. Her experiences seem fairly run of the mill to begin with but the atmosphere and her life, particularly inside the flat changes gradually but hugely as her life become odder and more surreal.
As with her music, many of the themes are related to the body and to language. How certain words and phrases play on the lips, sexuality and sensuality, the extension of the physical body into something else, something greater. At just under 150 pages long and with a plot that advances rapidly, it demands to be read in as few sittings as possible. And definitely returned to.
Paradise Rot is out now on Verso.
Susanne Sundfør, Music For People In Trouble
– Dan Cromb
It was always going to be hard to follow up the international success of 2015’s critically acclaimed album, Ten Love Songs. But Susanne Sundfør is not an artist who’s afraid to take on a challenge or two, nor is she lacking in creativity. Her 2018 album, Music For People In Trouble is a definite testament to that. With the release of the album earlier this year, she not only solidified her reputation as one of the greatest songwriting talents of her generation but the accompanying tour demonstrated why she deserves recognition as an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and an exhilarating live performer.
Music For People In Trouble is by no means an easy listen. The songs vary wildly in their style, from the softly-plucked minimalism of ‘Mantra’ to the dystopian and industrial offering on ‘The Sound Of War’. At times it requires attention and focus, although that is fitting for an album that is heavy on introspection. As with Ten Love Songs, Sundfør is at her best when reflecting candidly about heartache, evidently one of the main themes on this album. You’ll struggle to find better opening lyrics for a song this year than the those on ‘Undercover’ and the palpable sadness in her voice on ‘No One Believes In Love Anymore’ leads you to believe that that statement might almost be true. But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of joy to be found in listening to the album. ‘Reincarnation’ is classic Sundfør, bold and spirited, offering glimmers of hope and an opportunity to marvel at her flawless vocal ability. Similarly, the majesty she brings to the foreboding ‘Mountaineers’ (with John Grant having laid the foundations) is genuinely jaw-dropping. Overall, it’s an album that really is worth investing time in. If you’re willing to do that, the reward is a staggeringly beautiful piece of work.
Translating such a dynamic collection of songs into a coherent live performance was never going to be easy either. Nevertheless, aided by the innovative use of sound and lighting effects, Sundfør delivered what can only be described as a musical tour-de-force. From the first moment, when the abstract visualisations and opening words of the title track coalesced together, seemingly hanging in mid-air, the atmosphere was electrified. Draped in robes, Sundfør slinked from piano to guitar to synthesizer and back, delivering a masterful performance on each. There was little offered in the way of crowd interaction throughout the performance, but when the music is this enrapturing, this charismatic and this damn sensational, there is little need for it. At the end, for the London show at least, there was a short-lived moment of silent appreciation before the crowd burst into a standing ovation – confirmation that those in room at the Barbican Centre had just witnessed something truly magical.
Where Sundfør goes from here is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for certain: Music For People In Trouble is undoubtedly one of the albums of the year and as live performances go, the accompanying tour was unparalleled. If you’ve not already given it a listen, you’d do well to rectify that now.
Music For The People is out now via Bella Union.
Gerhard Munthe, Norwegian National Gallery
Filling time before a flight can be like receiving an unexpected gift. This summer, while waiting for my departure from Oslo, I stashed my bag in a locker in the Norwegian National Gallery and visited their presentation on Gerhard Munthe, the fin-de-siecle pioneer of Scandinavian Modernism, of whom I knew little. Munthe had a 360-degree talent, adaptable to any medium: drawings, paintings, tapestries, typefaces, silverware, crockery, furniture and, most memorably, interior designs. His trademark aesthetic featured repeat motifs drawn from nature and mythology: pine trees, anemones, owls, goats, intrepid mariners on the waves and bloody footprints in the snow.
His work is steeped in both the Norwegian landscape and the dawn of the 20th century, blending elements of Japonism, Symbolism, the arts and crafts movement and Nordic folk imagery. From the 1890s through the 1910s, he created for Norway what Charles Rennie Mackintosh had for Scotland: a bridge between the past and present, the real and allegorical. Arguably, Munthe’s masterpiece was his Fairy Tale Room at the dragestil-style Holmenkollen Tourist Hotel built overlooking the Oslofjord. Lost in a fire in 1914, this marvellous cocoon of fantastical friezes and wood-panelling, is now part of the artist’s legend. A few hours after stepping into this other-world, I was buckled-up and in the air. My mind, however, was still full of firs, Norse gods and jagged polar bears.
Read more on the Gerhard Munthe exhibition via The National Museum’s website.
AURORA, Infections Of A Different Kind
– Cheri Amour
There have long been popular culture characters in our midst hell-bent on saving the planet. Healing the world and making it a better place, for you and me and the entire human race. But, as the album title suggests, rising pop gem AURORA’s is something of a different kind. Since the singer sprang onto our stereos like a forest-spirit back in 2016, her debut full-length All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend has racked up a massive 200 million streams globally. It’s an impressive feat for an artist who only recently celebrated her 22nd birthday.
Latest release, Infections of A Different Kind shows no signs of that difficult second album syndrome. Instead, AURORA focuses her attention towards Mother Earth and the sad reality of climate change. Stark opener, ‘Churchyard’ is layered with sincere, reverb-doused vocals as a solemn strings section soothes in with a morbid twang as she questions the fine balance between life and love. Lead single ‘Queendom’ offers hope; a thumping call to arms into a self-created enchanting world and a celebration of our differences with an open innocence that tries to find the best in all of us.
Aflurry of live shows at the end of this year saw AURORA reunited with her legion of warriors and weirdos who stand united with the songwriter and her mission for the future. As she says herself, keep your eyes open for the continuation…
Infections of A Different Kind Pt.1 is out now via Glassnote Records.
…and a few highlights from News Editor at NME, Andrew Trendell who struggled to pick just one!
The bassist of Norway’s best punk export Sløtface, Lokoy steps out into the spotlight for his debut EP Can We All Go To Bed; a gorgeous and promising four-track taster of his skills at creating blissed-out, soulful pristine, summer-ready, electro-pop. And speaking of the summer, Thea and The Wild’s impassioned arena-ready power-pop were a definite highlight at this year’s Øyafestival. The rising songwriter blends the open-road anthemics of Fleetwood Mac with the fire of Florence And The Machine, the sweet synth-pop of Chvrches, the R&B kick of HAIM and a spirit of all her own. This record deserves a much bigger audience. Spread the word. For fans of The War On Drugs, MGMT and Jagwar Ma, Great News’ hazey psych-pop made it feel like summer all year round.
24-year-old, Julie Bergan been bothering the top of the Norwegian charts this year, and was also nominated for her country’s Grammys. Full length Turn On The Lights is 11 songs of masterful dance-pop are a sign of why she’s so beloved back home, and her bid to conquer the rest of the globe soon. On the flip side of the sound spectrum, Spielbergs’ aggressive but optimistic mathy post-rock on EP Distant Star invites even the most reserved listener into the pit.
Ikaros (Propellor Recordings) is the latest from Thea and The Wild. Great News’ Wonderfault came out on Eget Selskap earlier this year. Find Julie Bergan’s Turn On The Lights on Warner Music Norway. Spielbergs’ Distant Star EP comes from By The Time It Gets Dark Records. Lokoy’s Can We All Go To Bed EP (also Propeller Recordings) is out now.