Tag Archives: Pop

The New Sound of Norway

Anna-of-the-North

Anna of the North

With all due respect to the nation’s strong metal tradition (see: Mayhem’s creepy pig-head-featuring live shows or the 1990s string of church burnings), Norway’s recent musical export of choice has seemingly been pop, as witnessed by the rise of AURORA, and the emergence of Sigrid. And with festivals abroad like SXSW encouraging discovery, and Oslo’s by:Larm Festival becoming a destination for anyone looking to unearth nordic newbies, it’s now easier to spot emerging talent. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Norwegian government has been known to invest in the nation’s artistic and musical talents.)

Is the Nordic pop legacy likely to fade? Probably not—it’s been 32 years and no one can get a-ha’s “Take on Me” out of their heads. Up until now, Norwegian pop has been viewed as shiny, radio-friendly fodder. (See: production team Stargate, who has worked with everyone from Beyonce to Demi Lovato.) But a new batch of musicians are poised to challenge that assumption. The guitars are big, the lyrics are English, and the electronics are everywhere. From Alexander von Mehren’s jazz-influenced soundscapes to Sløtface’s sonic assaults, here are 12 Norwegian artists breaking from tradition.

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SXSWatch: Brodka’s Haunting Songs of Love and Cannibalism

Brodka

Brodka, SXSW 2017. All photos by Daniel Cavazos.

It’s the day after her 29th birthday, and Monika Brodka—better known simply as Brodka—has shocked her fans with an Instagram post of her freshly shaved head. The Polish singer/songwriter laughs at the frenzy she’s accidently created while still in bed with her two cats in her Warsaw apartment. But perhaps it’s also the surprise she still has the ability to shock at all that has her smiling.

Brodka’s breakthrough in her home country came thanks to her 2004 win on Polish Pop Idol. Her first two efforts minted her as a mainstream commercial pop darling, an image she successfully began to subvert with 2010’s Granda, which she recorded using traditional Polish folk instruments, which she then remixed to create spiky electro pop. Last year’s Clashes (her first international release) further fiddled with the script, an exercise in eclecticism with its arms around both stripped-down, Patti Smith-style punk and melancholy folk. Over the course of 12 tracks Brodka manages a confessional sort of storytelling without actually revealing anything personal—her tales of sex, heartache, and breakups veiled behind images of cannibalism, funerals, and a girl dreaming about horses. (That last detail sounds like it owes something to Belle and Sebastian, but is actually a nod to Courtney Love.)

Brodka played an official showcase in Austin last week at SXSW, at the chaotic center of the festival on corner of Red River and 6th Street on the final Friday. Outside, roving packs of K2 zombies celebrated St. Patrick’s day while sophisticated Europeans with bejeweled faces played pop music. During a rocky soundcheck, the monitors went so out of whack that the ceiling shook and dust fell onto the stage, causing Brodka to proclaim, “It’s snowing in Austin.” The set began with a somber electronic organ and tambourine before a skull-pounding single drum joined in. Her stoic confidence and shaved head can’t help but conjure a comparison to Sinead O’Connor. But Brodka is her own brand of 21st century pop star, inspired by post-punk and a survivor of Poland’s answer to American Idol.

In person, the musician is incredibly forthcoming, recounting her struggles to focus, love of working in different cities, and that one time at SXSW when she embraced her inner rock star.

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SXSWatch: Noga Erez’s Fitful Dance-Pop Carries Potent Messages

noga-erez-9

Noga Erez, SXSW 2017. All photos by Daniel Cavazos.

Noga Erez is happy to hear folks compare her fidgety pop songs to M.I.A. and FKA twigs—who wouldn’t be, right?—but the singer/producer’s personal hero is PJ Harvey.

“The way she inspires me is beyond sound and music,” Erez says from her Tel Aviv home. “I wish I could be as authentic and brave as her. The artistic path she’s gone through is one of the most interesting I’ve ever witnessed.”

Erez is especially drawn to the way Harvey speaks her mind on rightfully-acclaimed records like 2011’s Let England Shake LP. Angry and accessible, soft and sharp, it’s a protest record that doesn’t spell everything out.

The first few singles from Erez’s upcoming Off the Radar album (due out June 2nd through City Slang) take a similar approach. With its pitch-bent vocals, pressure-cooked beats, and lumbering bass lines—all sounds that are more often found at dance clubs than political rallies—”Dance While You Shoot” tackles an elusive government that thrives on “manipulative media, ignorance, and bureaucracy.”

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Exploring Greece’s Lock on the Pop and Electronic Worlds 

Σtella

Σtella

When Americans think of Grecian pop, they might find that Greece stands out from the sea of Europop produced by its Mediterranean neighbors because of one flagship musician: Yanni. But even while the keyboardist continues to (soft) rock our worlds, numerous scenes have risen up to create a uniquely Greek independent pop sounds, from garage rockers Acid Baby Jesus to the sweet folk of Woolbear. Given the increased availability of electronic recording options at a decreased price point, it should come as no surprise that much of Greece’s current pop music output skews away from physical media towards ones and zeroes, manifesting itself in every shade of the digital rainbow. Σtella (pronounced “Stella”) only uses light embellishment on her disco-flavored guitar pop; Kid Flicks liberally cuts up old samples, slicing and dicing in order to make something completely new. From the sun-dappled to the dark to the downright divine (that would be Sarah P’s voice), here are nine of Athens finest pop genre-hoppers.

Σtella

With her sinuous lower register and winding disco guitar lines, Σtella could very be Athens’ very own Annie Lennox—an unfuckwithable and extremely glamorous presence. (See: single and slow-burning sensuality masterclass “I’ll Never Be.”) On her sophomore release Works For You, the multi-instrumentalist continues in the same vibrant vein, her breezy pop songs saturated with simple beats, sharp hooks, and synths backing explorations of gender identity, careless make-outs, and the secret sides of love. (Bonus: She’s also a member of Fever Kids, a nu-disco duo we’d be more than happy to hear more from.)

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Austra Imagines a Better World

Austra

Photos by Renata Raksha

“People have always been good at imagining the end of the world,” wrote environmental activist Rebecca Solnit. “Which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.” It makes sense that Austra’s Katie Stelmanis chose this quote to frame her third full-length, Future Politics; like Solnit, Stelmanis has a lot on her mind, and her music has deeper layers beyond its synth hooks and propulsive beats. Stelmanis is openly gay, and she wants Austra’s music to be a safe haven for the LGBTQ community and a vessel for Stelmanis’ progressive thinking. Future Politics plays like the party before the apocalypse, but Stelmanis isn’t going down without a fight. Its dancefloor-ready electropop belies an urgent wake-up call to the world, and an optimistic belief that social change is still possible.

Stelmanis is a striking visual artist as well (check out the hauntingly beautiful video for album single “Utopia”), and Future Politics is a glam package of hope in a time of darkness and uncertainty.

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