Musical Dreams Under a Midnight Sun

Seven years ago, she got my attention with a bass clarinet. Something about the low, ascending notes in triple time that introduce her Cast Anchor EP won me over, and I've been a fan of Hanne Hukkelberg ever since. A version of the following review originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Nordic Reach, the Scandinavian lifestyle quarterly. Not many bands find inspiration above the Arctic Circle. Fewer still pick up and move to northern latitudes in search of their muse. Yet that’s what Hanne did following the release of her sophomore album: she relocated to Norway’s attic to write new material on the rugged, forested island of Senja. Seven months later she returned to Oslo with songs that would become Blood From A Stone, roughly forty-five minutes of challenging, yet bizarrely polite rock music. After two charmingly quirky albums assembled from found sounds, off kilter rhythms, and her mesmerizing vocals, the melodies here seem somewhat less playful and the tones she and producer Kåre Vesterheim coax from their instruments often come across as otherworldly—at times unsettling even. On “No Mascara Tears” for instance, cryptic lyrics accompanied by a log drum and an eerie saw could serve as an incantation, an ancient chant adapted for today’s urban youth, while the funereal “Salt Of The Earth” might be a dance club dirge, choreographing steps around an impending doom. Once again vocals are at the heart of her third full-length, but gone are traces of the “dusty jazz” that characterized Little Things, and to a lesser degree, Rykestrasse 68. “Bandy Riddles” is one such example of this stylistic shift. Growing steadily louder as several guitars and then melancholy cello are added to the mix, the song barrels headlong towards its conclusion, propelled by the tempo of a Vaseline box, bicycle spokes, kitchen percussion, and tambourine. Repeated listens uncover a method beneath the sonic madness however. Beat by beat, chord by chord, the compositions slowly build on each other, as if Hukkelberg wants to lead her audience to a musical precipice. Are we meant to see something from the zenith of the final track “Bygd Til By?” Is it the flying saucers, ghostly forest creatures, and strange, colorless terrain that appear in the artwork? Or perhaps the landscape of a remote island, alien and mysterious? Cooing over the measured strumming of an electric guitar, Hukkelberg hints at an answer with the album’s opening line: “You and me and everyone, walking in the midnight sun.” Hanne plays a SXSW send-off show with Pirate Love and Megaphonic Thrift at Santos Party House on Monday.

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