On an unrelated note, I’m sure you know this feeling: you’ve just spent a whole evening writing an assignment (in this case a review of a great new mix CD of Norwegian dance music) and your now-temperamental, ageing computer crashes your word processing program. When you re-open the program the auto-recovered version of the 95% complete document is sitting there like a recalcitrant child—and as soon as you command-S the bastard crashes again. Only this time, when you re-open the program the whole thing has disappeared. Our relationship with electronics can be so rewarding, can’t it?
Gripes aside, you probably want to know something about this CD I’m supposed to be reviewing. Trust me, the review I just wrote was eloquent and on-point (a rarity, I know). But stiff-upper-lip style, let’s try again. Smalltown Supersound is one of those small labels with a disproportionate influence among the small group of people who account for a large proportion of the music-related writing going around—yeah, a small-town record label with a super sound. The label’s got 120 Days, the “buzz band” that achieved blog-based and critical acclaim on the back of a widely distributed MP3 last fall; they have Serena-Maneesh, a band that has continued to increase in recognition through stringently-adhered-to introspection and a blistering live set; and they have Lindstrom, the young electronic whiz-kid on the leading edge of minimalism’s cerebral expansion. So it’s no surprise that Sunkissed, the obligatory label compilation, has as its centerpieces songs by these three artists.
Sunkissed is not just a neat name for the album’s light atmospheres, but is also a club in Oslo, the feeling of which this compilation attempts to capture—for the sake of which it’s mixed by the club’s resident DJs G-Ha and Olanskii. Whether a result of the tracks themselves, or the remixers’ and selecting DJs’ homogenizing influence—it really makes little difference to the listener—the album has a nicely-tuned duality. If you think about it, 120 Days and Serena-Maneesh make an easily understandable unit that might not necessarily fit into an electronic mix—heavy on the cosmic atmospherics. But the remixes present a different story: Komische’s remix of Serena-Maneesh is pulsing industrial techno with the inevitability of a train; and the Mental Overdrive of 120 Days’ famous “Come Out, Come Down, Fade Out, Be Gone” easily reminds the listener of how the track catapulted the band to fame—the song has an undeniable kind of chugging inevitability.
The rest of the album manages to transition into and out of these heavier moments with grace and ease. A number of repeat listens reveal the craft in these moments, but there are obvious pleasures to be found even in a casual listen. A series of tracks in the middle of the disc hit hard: Blackbelt Anderen’s “Sandoz” is all glacial movement, with a skimming techno beat, until a robot-electro theme worthy of the Presets blows the track apart. Following immediately, Wekan’s “Brownbred” is an entirely appropriate and entirely effective kind of minimal funk. Near the beginning of the mix, a number of minimal songs set a cerebral mood—Felix Laband’s “Whistling in Tongues” is a small-scale wonder, all micro-space percussion and steel drum sounds, and the track that follows (via an expertly handled transition) is tropical ice-land, at once hot jazz and theoretical minimalism.
It’s not often a compilation like this really gets it right, but Sunkissed comes close; it effectively captures both the cream of Norway’s space disco crop and the country’s dirtier, more industrial brand of electronic music, combining them in a way that, while not necessarily revelatory, is at least patently fascinating. The compilation’s a great advertisement for the bands, for the label, and for Norwegian music—check it out.