Hilde Marie Kjersem, the young Norwegian singer, projects a little hesitancy on her first solo recording for Rune Grammofon. It’s unlike the storied Scandinavian label to release anything straightforward, and though you might at first think that Kjersem’s jazz-pop warble’s sliding close to Celine Dion for self indulgence, take a break and listen again. True, over the course of eleven songs the repetition of hushed, aching singer-songwriter angst wears just a little one-note; but song for song Kjersem proves a handy innovator. Backed by the horn and woodwinds of Jørgen Munkeby and Sjur Meiljeteig, Kjersem’ll use bass clarinet instead of guitar, or will use autoharp in place of straight keys. The result is warm and organic, allowing her compositions the room they deserve. These are expansive pop songs, many running over five minutes; but they don’t feel stretched, and the singer proves easily able to maintain interest. There are occasional lively excursions—“Catch a Star” bounds from piano ballad to martial singalong, e.g.—but she’s most comfortable over soft acoustic instruments in sparse arrangement. Her voice is a captivating centrality—with its arresting words (in a song about “Marie Antoinette”, Kjersem describes “the knife [cutting] her flesh”). A sense of childlike innocence is undermined on a number of occasions, most successfully on “London Bridge”, which twists the classic children’s rhyme into something postmodern, and quite haunting. In small doses, A Killer for that Ache can be, in that Nordic way, quite spectacular.
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