Norway’s Flunk offer up a brand of hazy, hypnotic downbeat on their debut For Sleepyheads Only that is easy to admire, but difficult to love. In fact, most of the tracks would feel right at home on any number of chill-out compilations now gracing the bins of your local mega store’s electronica section. Moods come and go in an amorphous haze of folk-tinged trip-hop, Björk-like chanteuse Anja Øyen Vister croons, and Craig Armstrong-style strings-and-beats come and go effortlessly. It’s all rather perfect for a sushi-laden dinner party or an “all back to mine” style get together, but as a stand alone album it doesn’t quite hold its own.
“I Love Music” starts things off with guitarist Jo Bakke (formerly of Happy Campers) supplying a repetitive wah-wah riff, accompanied by the obligatory William Burroughs-style samples opining “I love music . . .”, etc., etc. All well and good and certainly nothing to offend here, but there’s also nothing particularly striking about it.
On to track two and it’s a cover. Now, there are a myriad of ways in which to open one’s debut album, but a forgettable “vibe piece” and a cover are not examples that come readily to mind. However, Flunk make quite an impressive go of it nonetheless, turning New Order’s pop classic, “Blue Monday”, into a Mum-like folktronica ballad of understated beauty. This is the listener’s introduction to the previously mentioned Miss Øyen Vister, and she does a nice job here, taking a song that is familiar to millions and confidently making it her own.
Unfortunately, the following track, “Miss World”, is a bit of a disaster. Imagine a really bad Gavin Friday impersonator singing with well, no reason not to state the obvious, Björk. The lyrics don’t help, with all sorts of nonsense being thrown about such as “the chemistry” of one’s kiss and whatnot. Jo Bakke once again adds his acoustic strumming and it certainly adds a dramatic vibe to the proceedings but, really, anybody that has heard Friday’s Shag Tobacco or Björk’s “Play Dead” will have no use for this.
Then out of nowhere comes the absolutely lovely, “Honey’s in Love”. Far and away the high point of the album, “Honey’s in Love” is a beautiful amalgamation of all the Flunk ingredients. Everything really comes together here as Anja Øyen Vister and Ulf Nygaard duet on a track that calls to mind Freur’s ‘80s synthpop masterpiece “Doot, Doot” in its vowel-stretching vocals and stunning pseudo-chorus. Really, just a beautiful song.
Unfortunately, Flunk has a hard time sustaining that high and they don’t even come close to matching “Honey’s in Love” until the closing track, “Distortion”. Along the way there are half-cooked pop songs that just don’t quite go anywhere (“See through You”), neo-dub goofiness (“Magic Potion”), and just plain knob-twiddling boorishness (“Sunday People”). “Kebab Shop 3am” has its moments but, really, you want a little more out of your hard-earned cash than moments, don’t you?
Which leads us to the quite competent closer, “Distortion”. If you liked the Avalanches’ Since I Left You album, you’ll no doubt enjoy this. Øyen Vister’s weary vocals again wrap beautifully around a Mother Goose style sample going on about choo-choo trains and “very special lullabies”. It sounds silly, I know, but it really comes off well and Flunk end the album on a wistful, “now it’s time to say goodnight . . .” kind of vibe that works so well on albums like Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and The White Album.
All in all, there’s nothing particularly bad about For Sleepyheads Only. If you’re looking for a kind of chill-out, downbeat album that you can throw on and ignore, then you could do far worse. But Flunk makes it difficult to recommend their album only because it seems that they could have done far better. Too many songs leave you with the feeling that they just couldn’t really be bothered to work on them any longer than they already had. A pity too, because “Honey’s in Love” and “Distortion” prove that there really is some talent at work here, just not enough to turn the ordinary into extraordinary.
// Notes from the Road
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