Ungdomskulen: Cry Baby

[5 December 2007]

By Rajkishen Narayanan

Ungdomskulen. Supposedly, the word means “middle school” in Norway. Supposedly. The band Ungdomskulen has taken that word and transformed it into something much more, however. It’s through their debut release Cry Baby that they are reinventing the music dictionary and the compass, thus melding the worlds of the musician and the explorer. Thus, in the creation of their music, they are also destroying all sense of direction. Still, it’s very easy to listen to two minutes from this album and cast Ungdomskulen aside as a dance-punk band or just another indie group hopped up on speed and happiness. It’s a little too easy to do this and if you do, you’ll probably be regretting it for a long time.

Art and especially artists come in many different forms and it isn’t always the depressed, brooding ones who are totally devoted to the music. Ungdomskulen are three guys, Kristian Stockhaus on vocals and guitar, Øyvind Solheim on drums, and Frode Kvinge Flatland playing bass. The three-piece is proof that quantity has nothing over quality. These guys sound like a plane nose-diving from 30,000 feet in the air, while a train is derailing and a fault line is shifting. Yes, this is an image from a Calvin and Hobbes comic, but the sheer adrenaline and unpredictability of it all are the only way to describe Ungdomskulen.

Cry Baby is an album that jumps out at you from the first listen. Actually, because this is Ungdomskulen, I’d say the album will more likely kick you in the throat, won’t apologize, then in its own distinct way make you forgive it and let it take you on one hell of a roller coaster ride. All extended metaphors aside; this album and this band are not something to be taken lightly. They know their stuff. Cry Baby opens up with the track “Ordinary Son”.

Its catchy, distinctive melody riff is only a taste of what’s to come. The guitars and Stockhaus’s vocals provide a jam that will get your head grooving. Then the drums kick in. Then your legs go and suddenly your whole body becomes a tool to shake every muscle and tendon in your body. Then quiet. The momentum, the inertia stops. The song takes a different direction, almost unrecognizable but still franticly excited. This is where we see Ungdomskulen in its true shape. And what you soon realize is…there is no shape, no formula, and no order, just pure, unadulterated chaos.

A line from the third song, “Feels Like Home”, sums up this feeling pretty well. “I don’t care if you see me/as long as you are shameless”. It’s not that they don’t give a damn about any one else, but they’re playing to make music that fits their spirit and they want to have a good time while doing it; that is ultimately their aesthetic. And just to remind their listeners about their philosophy, Stockhaus sings, “Better yet, let’s mix things up and make some love together”.

Aside from spreading their philosophy on music, the lyrics on Cry Baby are strikingly poignant and don’t beat around the bush. On the song “Ungdomskulen”, Stockhaus refers to their own frustrations and hopes, although in a somewhat pretentious way, with the line, “It’s absurd that we’re unknown, and it feels like we’ve outgrown this town / ‘Cos we’re leaving now, and we won’t be back until it’s rained out”. But again, as arrogant as that sounds, you have to forgive them because the tension in the guitar and Stockhaus’s highly controlled falsetto work so well together in painting their angst and readiness to keep moving.

Cry Baby is an album that starts and stops and starts again. Some of the songs, like “Modern Drummer”, have such intensity and originality that you wonder why these ideas, riffs, melodies, and songs haven’t been thought up before. It’s just more proof that Ungdomskulen are not pioneering a new genre of music, but they’re piling genres upon each other, dissecting and inverting them. They shift from jazz to post-rock to metal in a flash, leaving everything else around you stale.

This chaos is pretty much the core of their sound. Ungdomskulen is all about movement. Not always forward movement; at times the songs fly upward towards the sky at astonishing speeds. At other times, the music doesn’t rise above a shiver. Mind you, that shiver never stops, but that extreme still exists in the album and it makes you crave the diversity in their sound and the chemistry of the musicians involved.

If you still aren’t sold about this band, then let this final thought be a guide to you. There is not one boring song on this album. Case closed.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/ungdomskulen-cry-baby/