Stay Under the Stars

by Jason MacNeil

20 December 2006


Sometimes there are interviews with artists that are funny and memorable, while there are others (who shall remain nameless) that you cannot possibly get off the phone with quickly enough. Fortunately, Teitur Lassen, better known simply as Teitur, falls into the former category. The Icelandic singer, actually from the Faroe Islands, came to prominence in the glutted singer-songwriter niche with an impressive debut entitled Poetry & Aeroplanes. It was during this same time and he was on the cusp of a North American tour. The final few moments of the Q&A revolved not around his future plans, but the North American climate. He was packing for the trek and wanted to know what he should bring with him. Fortunately, this latest record should ensure that his trek across the pond won’t be his one and only time.
Not quite wholehearted pop, but not entirely in the folk or roots realm, Teitur’s songs often sound like a laidback and somewhat less produced Sondre Lerche. The first song off the record is a very hushed, cozy and comforting melding of folk pop that gently steers some orchestral touches into it. Think of a song that Travis’s Fran Healy might do for a solo album and the picture should become quite clear—a great but simple hook that would sound as charming around a campfire as it would at some small theater setting. Canadian musician Danny Michel has a similar timbre that is warm without being terribly sweet or earnest. From there, Teitur keeps things on an even keel with the melodic, quasi-groovy “Louis, Loius”. It’s the sort of tune that could have fallen off some ‘70s folk pop album, yet still consists of contemporary hooks and pop sensibilities. Again the strings are used, but it’s not to the point of overkill.
Teitur often brings to mind a cheerful, happier Nick Drake, particularly on the mid-tempo, pensive and piano-driven “You Got Me” that would have Chris Martin and his Coldplay posse hunting Teitur down for the melody. Although it tends to lean more towards a dirge, it is simply gorgeous and yet soulful along the lines of Ron Sexsmith’s best work. And it slowly grows over the course of nearly five memorable moments, just getting a hair too flighty or airy near the homestretch. This is almost one-upped with “I Run the Carousel”, a slice-of-life story that has a rather hard-driving piano and bass line during the brief chorus. This soft and then hard approach makes for an interesting and inviting listening experience.
Teitur also knows when to change gears somewhat, with his pipes shining on the waltz-y, minstrel-like “Thief About to Break In” that is rich but not too layered or slick. It has a lot in common with an early Simon and Garfunkel, especially the Simon element, as he hits some pretty high notes from time to time. Perhaps the true oddity of the album is an extremely bizarre, “what in the hell was that” head scratch in a haunting, eerie cover of “Great Balls of Fire”. Yes, that Jerry Lee Lewis signature is here performed before a live audience. It seems to take the song to a totally new, solemn extreme, with the lyrics juxtaposed against the minimal, Phillip Glass-like arrangement. It’s perhaps the highlight of the album, and one of the year’s true original covers!
Dreamy is a word that often comes to mind with these modern day “pop classics”. Another example of this is the romantic, retro-sounding “Night Time Works”, which could have fallen off a Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra record. The lone departure from this is the hip-shaking, somewhat jazzy “Boy, She Can Sing!” that relies more on the rhythm section to drive the old-school Lee Dorsey-like pop rock ditty home. And Teitur seems to follow this area or territory a bit more with the punchy “Hitchhiker”, which takes off right from the get-go. It’s a darker, rockier domain he’s tread with this number, and it’s one of the album’s sleeper picks.
The record ends with a rather lengthy “All My Mistakes” (oops, strike that, there’s a hidden bonus track) that is Teitur alone on piano and doing what he does best, singing that all his mistakes have become masterpieces. Well, if that’s the case, there are some stupdendous horrendous miscues here.

Stay Under the Stars


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