Swedish electro-pop/Urban-Indie threesome: two adroit producers; one stunning singer/songwriter; create a scintillating and dizzying slice of (intoxicating) gold: “It’s your heart/It’s alive”…
Pumpin Blood is available at:
FOR today- and hopefully not just today- I am thinking about European…
music. Over the past few weeks, I have presented a veritable nomenclature of U.K. and U.S. act-stating during each review the positives of each-whilst referencing one distinct cousin: Europe. Most of my attention has been drawn to the home-grown British acts- it seems to be where the media draw your attentions. Whilst at times I have been ambivalent, I contest that there is a great deal of fascinating and excellent music to be found on these shores. Music magazines and publications tend to have their particular tastes: NME: Indie; Q: Pop/Rock-orientated etc., they have their own meritocratic regime: proffering the very best, whilst giving little credence to the remainder. Some of the broadsheets and less-discerning music websites can be more inclusive- taking time to investigate other genres and types of acts. There are, however, a few issues and roadblocks that one faces (in this country). Music influences music, which means; should a new act be looking for inspiration, parental guidance comes in the form of existing acts. If a particular nation is beholden to a certain limitation- in the U.K. a lack of adventurousness- then how to you foster and encourage diversity and fascination? At the same time, outlets such as the music media (radio stations, magazines etc.) are responsible for leading the way; showing the newcomers what is available: training their ambitions to the skies. I guess that in a sweaty pub; in a compact garage, or back-alley venue, exciting and truly unique movements and sounds are being created; but the issue really boils down to this: what is happening at the core (the mainstream)? A lot of my recent focus has been on existing acts- the big-time players- still going strong; turning in the finest albums of their career: The National, Laura Marling and Queens of the Stone Age are my referential Holy Trinity. Our ‘Father’- The National- is a group of men in their 40s; yet are turning in albums that are filled with youthfulness and impish winking. They have been on a glowing trajectory (ever since their self-titled debut); turning in L.P. after L.P. chocked filled with lyrical majesty; deep and quote-worthy snippets on the uncertainties of life; maturity, responsibility and depression. Helmed by Matt Berninger’s chocolate croon and poetic verses, the U.S. band have been enlivening the scene,- simultaneously seducing critics and music-lovers- with persistent aplomb. In a music scene that has a beguiling (and unhealthy obsession) with age- drooling at teen troubadours and 20-something bands- they are showing that men; grown-up and mature shoulders are turning in some of the most stunning songs of this century. Similarly, the U.K.’s own ‘Daughter’ (‘Son’ may have been bit cruel) is doing Britain proud (although she currently resides in L.A.). Marling is another example of a stunning lyricist- imbued with some similar cynicism, yet more ‘upbeat’ on her 4th album. Marling’s folk-tinged anthems are filled with maturity and potency. Although she is in her 20s- bear with me here…- she is unconcerned with the issue of age; wanting people to focus on her music and work, and nothing else- she will be producing work for years to come. The intrepid ‘Holy Ghost(s)’ Queens of the Stone Age- helmed by Josh ‘Ginger Elvis’ Homme- have perhaps turned in their finest work to-date, in the form of the statuesque ‘…Like Clockwork’. Packed with dark, crawling strangeness; heavy-hitting desert rock; slinky, sexy/scuzzy jams, and glistening gems- it is an album that will top the ‘Best Albums of 2013’ lists. My point is this: this trio are probably the best music out there at the moment. Yes, the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, Daft Punk and Adele are still making music; yet the aforementioned three are the current sound of what music should be- and what the public respond to. The U.K. and U.S.- between the two nations- are the busiest music-producing clans in the world. Because the music business is so over-crowded (especially the band market), it is near-impossible to separate the good, from the bad and ugly. Too many bands in the U.K. are producing Indie stylings; most sounding pretty much the same as several dozen other bands. It may be what is popular at the moment, but given the potential: the range of genres and sounds one could proffer- why do the same as everyone else? The media hardly help: highlighting and profiling these bands hugely; sparing little attention on more diverse acts. The U.S. are less culpable (they are making strides to promote a wealth of diversity), yet my point is well-founded. I know for a fact that there are electro-swing acts out there; indeed we have doo-wop, blues rock and Grunge bands; but when the hell do you ever hear about them? We (in the U.K.) are lacking a certain ‘fun’- a bit of sway and kick to the step- and it depresses me. The likes of Marling and The National are ignored (by new acts): there seems to be less emphasis on sharp and intellectual words; less it be deemed ‘uncool’. Likewise, the winding and snaking stings of the U.S. ‘s Q.O.T.S.A. are near-unheard of in the larger picture: some bands ‘sound like’ them; yet precious few take their spirit and quality on board. In spite of financial hardships and fickle media outlets, we here have all the resources, time and influence available; yet it is being passed over; ignored you see, for strange reasons. Unless there is a pull away from Indie/Rock predictability- and a move towards diversification and ethnic blending- then the music scene seems likely to hit an ice block- that it may not recover from.
It seems like a long-winded rant; yet it is a prescient and ever-relevant thesis. You don’t have to copy the established guard in order to obtain a semblance of their relevance and majesty- simply take little bits and pieces and pepper it into your cooking pot. Alas, the U.S.A. seems to be cottoning-on to the idea behind progression: having an identity but aiming big with it- as well as not being bogged down into a predictable quagmire. Ever since I reviewed the band HighField, I have been fascinated by foreign diversity. Their (large) membership contains Norwegian, Singaporean, British and Canadian D.N.A. Their songs are infused with high-octane merriment; a myriad of complexities; sharp and bustling colours, and an overall quality that is hard to match. The words and music on display has a richness and intrigue for sure: the resultant whole is stronger and more authoritative than most music out there. I think that they are amongst a small number of acts that ‘get’ the idea: having a brilliant identity; mixing fun with introspection, and aiming for the big boys of music. It is European influences that seem to be making the biggest splashes. I have surveyed examples from France and Germany a while ago; yet more recently a lot of Swedish influence is making its presence known. Disco duo Club 8 are making their point well known. An epitome of summery and sun-kissed swathes of electronica and disco stomp; they are showing that success is much more palatable (and obtainable) if you break away from the norm.- although Sweden and Scandinavia have always done things this way. Before I present NoNoNo, I want to wrap up my point. Whilst I have been pecking away at the keyboard- keeping our featured band in the front of my mind- I have been listening to some rather anthemic tracks of the ’90s. It was a decade synonymous for diversity: the music scene changed seemingly by the month. The likes of Britpop, Grunge and pop would be up front; yet plenty of acoustic solo brilliance, classic rock and soon-to-be-legends were readily available. To my mind, that era (as well as the early years of the ’00s) was the last great time for music: an age where quality ruled the land (of course there was quite a few turkeys here and there as well!). Too few current bands will take heed of the moral of the story: revisit the past; infuse fun and exhilaration; keep the quality/individuality high; gain success. It is a parable which Sweden’s NoNoNo (they are sometimes represented as NONONO; sometimes nonono- hope I have got it right) have struck upon; rekindling my enthusiasm and longing in equal measures. Hailing from Stockholm, the three-piece are an electro-pop outfit. I have always hated the mainstream pop output: if you consider Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Katy Perry and their ilk- they are the low end of the barrel; scarping around with lazy lyrics, trashy imagery and plastic sounds. Pop in general- electro or otherwise- can produce some great sounds (if you ignore the hyped-up nonsense I have just listed). Even if some of the trashy and insubstantial pop gibbering is Scandinavian-produced- so too is a lot of the top end as well. Artists such as Robyn have made us well-aware of Scandinavia (and its limitless potential); as well as the producers and hit-makers The Guardian have just featured NoNoNo- heaping huge praise on them (a rare positive outpouring from Paul Lester). As much as he has got it right about the trio: about their quality and potentiality, he has mentioned the likes of Gaga and Rhianna too much; and Capital F.M. I am going to distance the trio from such horror show. Capital is okay if you like your sugary and trash pop: the young female demographic makes up practically the entire audience. NoNoNo are so much better and more worthy than such names; so it is unfair to lump them in with the likes of Jessie J and Ke$sha (unless, God-forbid that is your bag). I am going to let a particular pet hate of mine slip today; considering that it is a small niggle in an otherwise brilliant whole (I shall mention it when reviewing the track). Our trio consists of two male producers: Tobias “Astma” Jimson and Michel Rocwell. They are hirsute, handsome and moody; and the nob-twiddling, electric-infusing brains behind the sound: the guys whom make sure that every note and inflection digs into your hippocampus. At the front is an alluring and striking Stina Wäppling (whom is actually the songwriter). Possessed of Swedish beauty, she is a pin-up and girl-next-door idol, yet has a curious double existence. By night, she is the lead of NoNoNo- the voice behind those infectious and ubiquitous sounds- but by day she is a psychiatric nurse. Perhaps it is not a shock that a proportion of Wäppling’s lyrics border on the dark and dense- and in fact a lot of Pumpin Blood is steeped in shadows. Paul Lester labelled Pumpin Blood as “Capital-worthy”; yet the track- and the trio themselves- are much more respectable, universal and savvy; able to strike chords with the likes of me- songwriters more in love with the likes of Dylan, Marling, Cohen, Homme and Mercury; than the Rhianna-Gaga-Beyonce-Jessie J-Ke$sha paradox. They (NoNoNo) have the dance-able and effusive explosions that can draw in the Capital market: female; 13-20-year-olds (more-or-less); yet are better-suited to the likes of Absolute Radio, BBC Radio 6 and Xfm: the most respectable and unimpeachable stations in the U.K. The likes of Lykke Li and Annie have proved what Scandinavian princesses can achieve in music: both artists are held in high esteem by most critics and reviewers- so it is with those names where I shall place NoNoNo. But anyway… let’s get down to the song itself, shall we?
The title gives you an insight into the song’s hallmarks: hard hits; rushes of essentiality and heady excitement. On YouTube, the video has already collected over 103,000 views- with over 1,200 ‘Likes’, and a host of effusive and salivated commentators contributing their thoughts. The initial moments are made up of an electronic coda: a plinking evocation that brings to mind Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars. It is the briefest of passages- a slight and tender foreplay- before an explosion of multi-coloured, whistling sunshine is unveiled. Backed by subtle but propulsive percussion, the atmosphere is bathed in an infectious electronic glow- sounding like bird song-cum-robot whistling- that makes you smile and sway your head: the part juvenilia evocation; part dizzying kiss captures your attention and heart imminently. In the video for the song, we see our trio walk towards a huge lake (perhaps it is in Sweden, but I am not sure); as the sun sets. Thick jumpers, rabbit-stroking (yes, a rabbit) and moodiness are abound; displaying a juxtaposition and healthy dose of good humour. Before any words have been sung, you are gripped and riveted by an unusual-sounding, and thoroughly stonking introduction. Our heroine lushly sings of being “on the road again”; where “We’re in a car/On the highway”. Wäppling’s voice is tender and come-hither; uplifted and steeped in Swedish inflection, sexiness and playfulness. Before I continue on with the song, I am going to present a slight…’disclaimer’ I suppose. There are Auto-Tune vocals– the group employ this technique in their tracks. Whilst normally I would rather have Wolverine give me a prostate exam, than praise an Auto-Tuned vocal; it works perfectly within NoNoNo’s aesthete: the electro-pop sounds welcome and suit an electronically-treated voice. Wäppling’s breathy coo is seductive and splendid- she could perform acoustic folk or solo pop and take your breath; sans electric treatment. Pumpin Blood’s roadmap scenes and itinerant themes build images in your mind: the sun is setting; our heroine (and an unnamed beau) are driving along; wind in hair. Whatever is going through our singer’s mind; one thing is for certain: “It’s so magical”. The electro beat that is laid down by our heroes is reminiscent of the classic electronic acts of the ’80s and ’90s: there is a (for want of a better phrase) an ‘Old Skool/old school’ sound to it- your mind is taken back to better, happier times. The sensations- which the group themselves call ‘Urban-Indie’- is fresh and bubbling with life; getting under your skin and energising your senses. As the chorus comes into life, the energy (and underlying tension) reaches a peak; as our heroine announces: “This is your heart/It’s alive/It’s pumping blood”; her voice coquettish and striking all at once (in the video, there is a depiction of two lovers arguing fiercely: material tatters lie on their homestead floor, as- at a table- the woman presents to her boyfriend a rabbit- those wacky Swedes!). Just when you think the mood is going to become uber-sombre (lesser acts may become needlessly self-reflective at this stage), NoNoNo ramp up the delight again: that whistling and smile-inducing intro. is re-introduced- it is both fist-pumping and uplifting, and sagaciously dreamy. When the insatiable coda ends; our heroine is back on the mic., recounting tales and presenting (vivid) scenes: “See the stars won’t take his course” begins a new road trip (previously it has been “See the stars won’t break the bones“); our lead entrances with her seductive tones; she is “Feeling like nothing can go wrong”. Whilst the Swedish trio does have a dark half to its soul (Like the Wind has a sombre and languid creep to it); Pumpin Blood is a merry, distant-cousin; as that insatiable coda continues to enthral and entice. Before the chorus comes around, our gorgeous heroine teases: “Hear the sirens, the world/You catching on“. When that chorus does come back around, the energy is still high; our male half wrack the excitement up to 11- our heroine (in the song’s video) grips the microphone; sways her head, and lets her words (and beautiful voice) seduce. She is an exulted priestess of joy; and wants to make her words stay in your mind and heart for a long, long while (“And the whole wide world is whistling“). Just past the 2:20 mark, a tribal and bare-boned drum beat is elicited: your head will sway and your feet will tap relentlessly. The final minute of the track returns its soul to the highway, as our alluring front-woman is back on the road: “Hey heart, won’t you run again/On the highway, on the highway”. Before we are through with Pumpin Blood, that too-catchy-for-comfort chorus is unveiled again (I guess the missing ‘g’ in Pumpin could stand for ‘gravity’- as it is the synonym one readily visualises, when the chorus arrives). Once the song has finished, you almost have to collect your thoughts- scattered and shot as they are by the track’s relentless majesty.
Pumpin Blood is not officially released until September, yet has been garnering some terrific reviews. If one looks at the ‘Comments’ section for the video on YouTube; it is awash with praise and open-mouthed surprise: no hyperbolic rhetoric or over-exaggeration, considering what has just been heard. Tobias “Astma” Jimson and Michel Rocwell are sharp and expert producers; deftly able to weave a waterfall of sonic sunshine and electro-pop wonder. Stina Wäppling’s anthemic track is filled with thought-provoking and simple brilliance: both catchy and intelligent. It is unsurprising that such lust-filled professions should be levelled at a Swedish outfit- the likes of Likkye Li have proved what a strong music industry the country has. Historically, Sweden have produced their fair share of inspirational and varied music (from ABBA and The Cardigans; through to Swedish House Mafia); and many of the producers behind some of pop’s most popular songs, are Swedes. NoNoNo are another name that can seamlessly rank alongside the all-time greats (of the nation). It may be early days; yet the steps they have made so far (check out Like the Wind to see the contrast that the band are capable of) have been enthralling and faultless: hinting at a rather prosperous and wonderful future. The unique formation of the group: two male producers and a female singer-songwriter (and employee of a psychiatric hospital for that matter) is something that sets them apart instantly; but it is the quality of the songs themselves that supersede ‘novelty’- making them a serious name to watch out for in 2014. It is uncertain whether an E.P. or L.P. will be the next move (or whether a few more singles will be preferred). If they were based in the U.K. (let’s hope one day they are), then they may have had a hard time rising above the huge stock of middle-of-the-road Indie bands- buried under the sheer number of acts we have in Britain. They are- for us here it seems- a foreign delicacy; an act whom can blow away the electric guitar-based ‘anthems’ that make up the core of our music scene. NoNoNo have the luxury of time and choice; able to dip into their impressive arsenal- and decide which weapon they will deploy next. Our Swedish trio have curiosity and mystery in their imagery (the Pumpin Blood video has a rabbit used as a bartering tool; a sweater-clad protagonist dancing on a cliff-top, and our trio spellbound in a gusting storm). The group have only been in existence for a year; yet are already challenging (musical) orthodoxies. In a current scene which (aside from some diversity and brilliant sounds) is too reliant on guitar bands (of the Indie variety) and unfocused and uninspired solo acts; we need more (a lot more) examples of NoNoNo’s kind. The bass-heavy beat and electronic wizardry on Pumpin Blood is unlike anything you will hear this year. Forget Mr. Lester’s Capital F.M. opinioning: the song is too good to be lumped in with the Rhianna/Jessie J/Rita Ora sub-par woefulness- it will be welcomed- open-armed- by the credible stations such as Xfm and BBC Radio 6. As much as I have heard some wonderful U.K./U.S.-based acts (as recently as yesterday); it is the European patrons whom are making the boldest and most ethereal sounds. I started this review by talking of the greatness of certain bands (and certain decades). With the likes of Queens of the Stone Age and The National showing the new talent how it should be done; it is a huge relief that my faith is being restored (if briefly) in new music’s potential. The trio describe themselves as “Melancholy yet hopeful“; which goes to show that they have darker and more brooding shades (contrasted with Pumpin Blood’s constant invigoration). I also mentioned that the ’90s/early-’00s produced the last great swathe of music (Hell, I miss that era!)- it was the last period where the charts seemed actually relevant. The Scandinavian way of music-making seems to be more enriching and life-affirming than most- and it is a region which will produce a lot more talent to come. NoNoNo have plenty of ambition and firepower as-yet unexplored; a positivity and energy that is lacking from the U.K. Indie-centric scene: something acts and wannabes here can (and should) take note of! Anyway… it’s been one hell of a ride, and quite a special and unexpected song. The band dynamic of NoNoNo works surprisingly well. With Jimson and Rocwell filling the roles of (as The Guardian ascribed) “Sure-fire hit-makers“; and the alluring Siren Wäppling up front: presenting her songs with a limitless supply of bonhomie, sagaciousness and mystique; it works perfectly. I suspect that 2013/2014 will continue its trends and promulgations: ’90s/’00s U.S. legends great; new U.K. acts inconsistent; European musicians producing better intention- it is note-worthy that NoNoNo have arrived when they have. Hopefully, their undistiled blend of electro-pop/Urban-Indie can inspire a resurgence in the overcrowded and lipid scene- we need more fun and fewer narratives of the woe-is-me variety. Music’s phylogeny has possibly peaked- we need to back-track to the ’90s/early-’00s majesty (not literally; rather recapitulate its hallmarks). The ontogeny of the fledgling musician is subjected to critical expectation; a preconceived ‘norm’, and inherent blunder: lack of variation and wing-spreading; too much copy-cat music-making. I for one am tired (and exasperated) by the lack of shock and surprise in the music industry- don’t we all want that sense of excitement and hopefulness? With the Stockholm trio- although they cannot achieve this single-handed- hope and restoration are possible. Fingers are crossed; sights are set, and a baited breath is held (imagining what is going to come from this three-piece):
GET on board now… and prepare to be excited.