wears the trousers magazine


hanne hukkelberg: blood from a stone (2009)
May 14, 2009, 10:00 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,

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Hanne Hukkelberg
Blood From A Stone ••••½
Nettwerk

Hanne Hukkelberg has always been an odd and unconventional songwriter. Unlike some other Nordic artists, she has never been satisfied with expressing melancholy alone. Daring to experiment with instrumentation and verve, her debut album Little Things was a calm yet playful work of real substance given a human touch through the use of found sounds (bike wheels, wine glasses, raindrops etc.). Her second, Rykestrasse 68, showed more of a rock drive with uneasy, slightly schizophrenic vocals, intense gradation, little technical figures and interesting turnarounds, all incorporated into a relaxed, jazzy mood – a setting that suited her well, providing space for her vocal modulations, while the folksy traces in her work added an element of traditionalism. 

Third album Blood From A Stone was written during a 7-month self-imposed exile on the remote island of Senja off the coast of Norway. While isolation is nothing too out of the ordinary for Nordic folk, Hukkelberg’s return to nature provoked a strong and bold reaction. Blood From A Stone is an ambitious body of work that reveals an artist of strong individuality, one who confuses listeners with changes of ambience and instrumentation and isn’t afraid of transformation. A helping of bravery, a bit of newfound cynicism and a good deal of darkness add up to create a uniquely atmospheric album. It’s difficult to say what Hukkelberg might have gone through while writing and preparing the album, but her metamorphosis seems to be more of a natural evolution than the result of answering to the desires of reviewers or fans. Blood From A Stone exudes a sense of intuition and ease with the material. The folksy touches and pure acoustic intimacy have almost disappeared to make room for the new Hanne Hukkelberg. Or at least the old-new (Hukkelberg’s experimental roots included a stint in doom metal group Funeral).

The album begins discreetly enough with ‘Midnight Sun Dream’, but change is in the air even by the first refrain in which Hukkelberg bravely declares that “there’s no despair”, later adding that “there’s no tender voice”. The most significant parts of the song alert the listener in advance as to what the rest of the album contains. Hukkelberg is neither warlike nor aggressive in these songs but her voice is often intractable and uncompromising, and this is mirrored in the instrumental arrangements. The minimalism of her previous albums has all but vanished. The usual array of traditional instruments (guitar, bass, drums, cello, flute) is present but there’s a new electronic edge to the songs that mixes in well with the familiar use of incidental sounds. Here, kitchen noises, train doors and the cries of seagulls are inseparable components of Hukkelberg’s musical fantasy.

The first half of the album is surprisingly optimistic; the songs have a radio-friendly length and their richly melodic ease seems to predestine them for alternative channels. On first listen they can seem simple, almost too casual, but the beauty of the many subtle details emerges given a few more spins, for example the percussion in the serene ‘Seventeen’ or the gorgeous cello in the background of the catchy ‘Bandy Riddles’. The full attention of the listener is caught absolutely by the vibrant ‘Salt Of The Earth’. The song’s eclecticism emerges clearly through the hustle of the inventive percussion and the gradation of electronic noise. Paired with ‘No One But Yourself’, which finds Hukkelberg shouting about “no shelter” both near to the mic and far in the distance simultaneously, these two songs provide a fabulous climax to the album, where the raging sound fades into a raw noise that intensifies the feelings of hopelessness. As evidence of Hukkelberg’s epic ideas on this album, it’s truly beautiful stuff. Not that the album suffers thereafter. Penultimate song ‘Crack’ is another highlight. Here, Hukkelberg sings resignedly that “this must crack” simply because “it’s the way it is”.

Ending the album with its longest and slowest inclusion, ‘Bygd Til By’, Hukkelberg bids us a mysterious farewell with Norwegian lyrics, bells, endless bass and swelling emotional waves that build until everything meets in the song’s climax where suddenly we’re running fast alongside her into lands of ice and silence. It’s difficult to pinpoint any real weaknesses of Blood From A Stone. Hukkelberg has made complex progress in all areas, found a new direction and preserved her uniqueness. Some people may miss the jazzy spark of Rykestrasse 68 or the folkier stylings of Little Things, but these pseudo-deficits are compensated with some truly  impressive songs. Hukkelberg’s creative fearlessness and attractive introvert nature are key to her success, and the way in which she instils life into each song through her uncanny alto always keeps things interesting. This disconnect between her ambition and perceived fragility is compelling and renders any comparisons to more famous singers pointless. With her first two albums Hukkelberg established herself as a real force in the singer-songwriter genre; Blood From A Stone elevates her into its elite.

Tomáš Slaninka
UK release date: 04/05/09; www.myspace.com/hannehukkelberg

[adapted from the original Slovak on SME.sk]

 

 


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[…] Hanne Hukkelberg – Blood From A Stone [Tomáš Slaninka 14/5] 12 Maria Taylor – Ladyluck / O+S – O+S [Alan Pedder 12/4] 13 Björk […]

Pingback by Q2: 50 most read reviews « wears the trousers magazine

[…] What we said then: “[Hanne] Hukkelberg’s creative fearlessness and attractive introvert nature are key to her success, and the way in which she instils life into each song through her uncanny alto always keeps things interesting. This disconnect between her ambition and perceived fragility is compelling and renders any comparisons to more famous singers pointless. With her first two albums Hukkelberg established herself as a real force in the singer-songwriter genre; Blood From A Stone elevates her into its elite.” ••••½ Tomáš Slaninka […]

Pingback by best of 2009: readers poll results #50–41 « wears the trousers magazine




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