January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: Broadsheet, January 22, 2010.
For Swedish songstress Frida Hyvonen, music is about connection. By Dan Rule.
By the end of last year’s European summer, Frida Hyvonen found herself facing something of an odd conundrum. Having already completed a round of tours for her beautifully rendered second album Silence is Wild, the Swedish singer, songwriter and pianist had gladly accepted guest roles in an 11-piece traditional ska band as well as in a Finnish orchestra. The only problem, she recounts, was that the experiences were just too damn enjoyable.
“People actually danced when we played,” urges the 32-year-old in her softly spoken manner. “They just danced and danced and danced and really participated in that way, which I kind of came to feel is the way music should be.”
Although relatively unknown outside of Scandinavia, Hyvonen’s two studio records – 2005’s Stockholm Prize-winning debut Until Death Comes and 2008’s Silence is Wild – have made her something of an indie luminary in her native country. Dance records, however, they are not.
“I feel like I owe it to my audience to give them more of a rhythm or something to move against, so they can be a part of the music,” she offers, chatting over the phone from her temporary flat in Stockholm on the eve of her maiden Australian tour. “Sometimes during shows I’ll be like, ‘Hey, you can dance to this song.’ But my music is not really very danceable – it just makes people feel awkward.”
“I’ve been performing in theatres a lot, where people have to sit still, and I’m beginning to feel that I take too much attention up there onstage,” she continues. “So it’s like, ‘Maybe this isn’t right?’”
Nonetheless, Hyvonen’s piano-based compositions and quietly feisty song-craft are nothing if not engaging. Since emerging on the international scene, her oeuvre has found its resonance in both a stark intimacy and an almost loquacious sense of dramatism. While Until Death Comes saw Hyvonen deliver her unadorned, matter-of-fact lyrical sketches in the form of elegiac piano balladry, Silence is Wild’s stark, seemingly confessional verses were counterbalanced by a clutch of swooning, almost theatrical full-band arrangements.
The rowdy honky tonk of Scandinavian Blonde pitches a snide, slightly unhinged take on cultural typecasting, where the spindly, impish piano melody of December belies a incredibly sober, diaristic reflection about the experience of abortion. “You’re the only man in the room, you’re by my side / When it’s my turn to get the injection, you’re sent outside,” she sings. “We’ve had a problem with boyfriends / They often faint if they see blood, the nurse explains.”
“I’m really curious about what happens when you actually build a special world on a record or onstage,” she muses. “At the same time, I often just long to do things very clean and acoustically and with no props and no false eyelashes,” she laughs.
“It’s really a fine line between being too familiar and too strange – I want to be somewhere in between.”
Music was always a part of Hyvonen’s life. Growing up in the small, northern Swedish town of Umea, she wrote her first song on the piano at the age of seven (“a simple instrumental piece in D minor”) and spent her childhood consuming anything from Madonna, Neneh Cherry and Michael Jackson to traditional Swedish folk music.
Nevertheless, writing and playing music didn’t take a serious turn until Hyvonen moved to Stockholm in her early twenties. As she goes onto explain, the moment she realised she had a talent for song-writing was the moment she wrote the first song for Until Death Comes.
“The first song that I was really happy about in that way made me want to make an album out of it,” she says. “I must have been about twenty-two or twenty-three and it was about four or five years before the album came out, but I just knew it.
“I think something changed when I started writing songs out of letters that I had written. It was like ‘this is a really rhythmic letter’ and I would write it into a song. It was like a new door had opened, like a way into something, because I wasn’t especially goal-oriented when I did it. So it was like, ‘This is a good song! I wrote it and I like it!’. It was like something that was an extension of me, like a quite pure expression of something that I can associate with.”
Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before Hyvonen became ensconced in the craft. When it came time to begin writing the material for Silence is Wild, she packed up her life in Stockholm and journeyed back to the relative isolation of the northern Swedish countryside. “The most important thing for me when I’m writing is to be in a place where I cannot be disturbed.”
Seclusion, Hyvonen explains, affords a particular creative permeability. “When you’re in a city, you have to put up guards and shields because there is so much impression,” she says. “It’s easier to relax and be kind of thin-skinned if you’re in a safe environment, which is really interesting for the writing process. You reach a level of intimacy with yourself faster.”
Creativity, though, is hardly an exact science. And for Hyvonen, that’s the precise seduction. “The thing I love most is the fantastic feeling and the pride that you’re somewhat of an alchemist for that moment,” she urges. “Out of nothing you draw up a formula that has a life of its own, which is extremely fascinating and somewhat addictive.”
And that counts for playing live as well. She may not have her audience dancing, but connection is still the key. “I really long for something onstage and I know when it happens, but I don’t really know how it happens,” she pauses, drifting off for a moment.
“It’s about making the audience feel very outward and inward at the same time,” she offers finally. “It’s like making a circle, perhaps.”
Frida Hyvonen plays the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall on February 10. $27, bellaunion.com.au
Silence is Wild and Until Death Comes are available through Chapter/Fuse.
January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: The Age, A2, 48 Hours, January 23, 2010.
Spending time inside Mike Cooper’s Rayon Hula is akin to entering another world. The fact that the British blues guitarist and experimental composer’s lush musical terrains are in part derived from Australian field recordings and artefacts makes this glimmering piece of exotica all the more seductive. The infamous 2005 recording, extended and remastered in this edition, effectively recasts 1950s Western imaginings of Hawaii and the Pacific as a layered, postmodernist melange. Infusing lap-steel guitars, electronic textures and field recordings of Queensland birdsong into a palette of looped samples of late exotica artist Arthur Lyman, Cooper not only pays homage to the genre, but abstracts and expands its haze-riddled atmospheres. The results are intoxicating. Kokoke Nalu’s looped vibes, swirling lap-steel and shuffling rhythm are pure joy, while Paumalu’s sun-drunk ambience is so breezy you could drift away. Cooper’s alluring revision of the Pacific may prove more challenging than its precursors, but it’s all the more rewarding for it.
January 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, January 19, 2010.
Curse Ov Dialect
Although some recent auto-tuned evidence might suggest otherwise, hip-hop was always something of a colourful chameleon. Veering points of departure are in its creative DNA – from Bambaataa to the Bomb Squad, Kool Keith to Wu-Tang, Premier to Madlib, Arabian Prince to Anti-Pop. Rap’s first three decades, one might suggest, have seen the genre traverse the kind of musical and referential terrains that rock could only dream of.
On the other hand, Australian hip-hop has proven something of a thorn in progressive rap’s side. While the quality and diversity of domestic product has come on in leaps and bounds, it could be argued that a hefty proportion of the community are still bound be an overarching conservatism and defensiveness. Crews who have dared to expand on the Oz hip-hop aesthetic have found themselves out in the cold.
Costumed, multilingual Melbourne posse Curse Ov Dialect – MCs Raceless, Volk Makedonski, Atarungi, vocalist August 2nd and DJ Paso Bionic – are the prime example. Having existed for over a decade-and-a-half and released two out of their three albums – the abrasive mastery of 2003’s Lost in the Real Sky and the ethno-experimentalism of 2006’s Wooden Tongues – via celebrated US experimental hip-hop imprint Mush, their hyperkinetic brand of international sample collage, punk theatricality and intermittently political and surrealist rap-craft has taken them around the world and built rabid followings in Japan, France, Germany and much of Eastern Europe. Locally, however, their pluralistic, sans-Anglo take on Australian identity, costumes and general craziness has seen them all but cast from the largely white, suburban hip-hop vernacular.
Though it may not change anything, the renegade quintet’s fourth album, Crisis Tales, is unmistakeably hip-hop. And while it clocks in at more than 63 minutes, it’s also their most succinct. From the thumping kick-snare and Persian ritual samples of opener ‘Identity’, this is as much about compact boom-bap as it is worldly obscura. Crisis Tales’ gamut of samples and cultural artefacts belie Curse’s punchiest, neck-straining beats yet. The brilliant ‘Paradigm’ squeezes a Vietnamese karaoke hook and Chinese opera sample into a surging synth pop sketch, while ‘Honesty in Monasteries’ sees Volk spit a rapid-fire verse into a collage of splintered Mediterranean psych and fluttering Cambodian funk.
In fact, there are a slew of highlights. Volk again tears a blistering verse into the springing beat and various psyche flourishes of ‘Conscious Terror’, where the spectral folk of ‘Media Moguls’ offers a gently swaying reprieve. Some of the most engaging moments, however, are when Curse defy the ethnographic sampling for which they’re known, instead daring to delve into darker, more synthesised sonic palettes.
Atarungi’s brooding solo exploration ‘Connection’ is electric, while the subterranean frequencies and musique concrete abrasions of ‘Draindrop’ – which features freakish Japanese MC Kaigen and a black metal-layered, double-tracked verse from Volk – is one of Curse’s most brutal and brilliant statements yet. If that isn’t enough, 11-minute posse track ‘Colossus’ features 32 MCs from countries as far-flung as Poland, Switzerland, Indonesia, Japan, Bulgaria, Poland, Macedonia, Australia and the US.
A lot of credit has to go Danielsan of Koolism, who mixed the record. Curse’s arrangements have far more kick than previous material. While it’s just as far-reaching, Crisis Tales has a shuddering rhythmic consistency that entrenches it deeper into golden era boom-bap than anything Curse have managed before.
It’s an assertion that many in the Australian hip-hop community won’t want to stomach, but if we’re to take the sample-pillaging and socio-politics of Public Enemy, the deranged experimentalism of Kool Keith, or the collective mindset and genre defiance of Afrika Bambaataa as a guide – then throw in five different accents and five unique perspectives – Curse Ov Dialect seem about as legitimate and original as Australian hip-hop gets.
January 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: Broadsheet, January 18, 2010.
With the touring and festival season in full swing, we offer you a slice of this summer’s best music that may not be on your radar. By Dan Rule.
January 20, The Forum
When a diminutive, elfin, 22-year-old Joanna Newsom emerged out of rural California with her remarkable 2004 debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, it was as if she was from another time, if not another world. The classically trained harpist and positively idiosyncratic vocalist crafted a sound so singular that it traced medieval folk as closely as it did the avant-garde, propelling her to the head of the so-called ‘new-folk’ movement in the process. But as Newsom’s majestic 2006 sophomore, Ys, revealed so emphatically, the precocious artist was far more than a fashionable folkie. In fact, the record’s five expansive vignettes – orchestrated by the legendary Van Dyke Parks – cast Newsom not only as a truly innovative artist, but as a significant contemporary composer. After playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House last year, she returns with her new band for what will prove to be an extraordinary performance.
February 3, The Corner Hotel
$50, Corner Hotel
One of the wonderful things about the last decade in music has been the loosening of both stylistic and methodological restraints. Where the 90s saw clear delineations running between indie music, electronica, hip-hop and so forth, the 00s have been about breaking down boundaries; mixing, matching and mutating schools of musical thought and process. You only need to turn to Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance or Battles for evidence. London quartet The xx are the latest act to defy what was once set in stone. Released a couple of months back through XL/Remote Control, their xx debut witnessed stunning indie-pop tropes and interlocked R&B vocal harmonies skim atop a swathe of tectonic electronic frequencies and textures. Suffice to say, their inaugural run of Australian performances will offer a telling chronicle of music’s brave new frontier.
February 10, Bella Union Bar, Trades Hall
$27, Bella Union
Singer, songwriter and pianist Frida Hyvönen is something of a star in her home country. The Swedish chanteuse’s intricately rendered, intensely personal song-craft saw her scale the heights of the country’s music industry, winning the prestigious Stockholm Prize for her 2005 debut, Until Death Comes, and garnering trans-continental acclaim for 2008’s beautifully orchestrated follow-up Silence is Wild. An arresting, hypnotic performer, Hyvönen will play one of only two intimate Australian shows at Trades Hall’s beautiful Bella Union Bar in February. Her towering vocals, meticulously composed songs and unabashed lyrical honesty are bound to change the way we think about Swedish pop.
February 13, The Corner Hotel
$38, Corner Hotel
Jamie Lidell has been experimental, white-boy soul’s poster boy for about a decade now, and with good reason. The Berlin-based vocalist’s work with Cristian Vogel in Super Collider – not to mention his own suite of solo albums for Warp Records – set new precedents in future-funk and neo-soul and saw him mash his prodigious vocal talents into the wildest of electronic soundscapes. On top of that, his one-man live show is legendary. Utilising a cache of samplers, microphones, cameras, effects pedals and general electronic flotsam and jetsam, Lidell will turn The Corner Hotel upside down and inside out. This squall of soul is not to be missed.