[3 April 2007]
There’s a temptation to describe Kate Havnevik’s music in terms of metaphors that relate to her native Norway. She sounds as cold, strange, and lovely as the view from a snow covered mountain. Her voice resonates with the bellows of a Viking princess in search of her roving lover. One can hear the jagged rhythms of babbling fjords underneath her dulcet tones, etc. But this is obviously crap. While a careful listener might be able to guess Havnevik’s Scandinavian origins because of her clipped English inflections and there is a suggestion of big open spaces in her sound, Havnevik is truly a world musician rather than one of parochial ancestry.
This global heritage is certainly evident in Havnevik’s debut American release, Melankton. The disc was recorded in five different countries (the cities of London, Bratislava, Oslo, Reykjavik, and Los Angeles) before being mixed and mastered in LA. The music bears the hallmarks of cosmopolitan internationalism through its electronic beats and danceable atmospheric production, but the singer is not a generic diva. Havnevik has a distinctive, breathy vocal style that makes each track instantly recognizable as a Kate song.
Sure, one can hear resonances of other female vocalists on Havnevik’s sound. “Nothing comes from nothing,” as culture critic Paul Goodman used to say. There are echoes of Kate Bush in the sweeping grandeur of the way vocals are layered over strings. At times Björk’s throaty gurgles make their appearance in Havnevik’s mysterious, sighing expressions. But Havnevik makes these traits her own by incorporating them in her larger approach to the music. She imbues each tune with her own personality, which comes across as someone weird, wonderful, and romantic. The cuts on Melankton are love songs from a beautiful stranger—and it doesn’t hurt that Havnevik is very physically attractive. Knowing she’s gorgeous helps the listener imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship with the singer.
Havnevik wrote or co-wrote the baker’s dozen tracks on the album. The lyrics tend to be simple and enigmatic. Lines from the various songs, such as “You cut me out in little stars / And place me in the sky,” “Sounds of airplanes in my head / Sleepless / I shouldn’t be here,” and “The vulture’s waiting / With the devil’s smile / Our love mistaken / Concealed in lies,” suggest much more than they actually say. Havnevik’s lilting voice make the words sound like the promise of a brighter future, even when they are dark. These hopeful insinuations are reinforced by the production, which uses silences to let Havnevik’s vocals hang in the air like a puff of vapor on a frigid day.
Speaking of cold evokes Havnevik’s Norwegian roots. While it may be silly to limit of her talent to a discussion of her native country, she doesn’t lose connection to her Scandinavian background despite the international aspects of her music. What does one expect from a song called “Nowhere Warm” anyway? The album title itself means “Black Rose” and is named after a character in a Norwegian book. It’s unclear why Havnevik uses this for a title. There doesn’t seem to be any particular track on the disc that concerns such a person, and being unfamiliar with the book it is difficult to know if any cuts are thematically related to the fiction. Nevertheless, the title seems appropriately romantic and mysterious. While the harsh consonants of the letters in the middle of Melankton seem to make the word passionless and unlovely, one can imagine Havnevik cooing it tenderly in one’s ear. The fact that one can conceive of this and it takes a real stretch to think of the word Melankton as amorous, reveals Havnevik’s remarkable talent.