This playful Norwegian electro-pop act offer up a dreamy autumnal record that makes up in textures for what it lacks in hooks.
In the wake of the sickening mass-murder that left Norway reeling in July, a glut of foreign editorials suggested that a "naïve" and "innocent" nation had been shocked into an inevitable process of growing up. Fueled by some condescending notion that the UK and US, with their intensive airport security procedures and formidable police presences, were appropriately getting to grips with the reality of the modern world, they conjured up an image of Norway -- its enviably high living standards and low crime rates presumably some happy accident -- as full of carefree spirits presumably hugging each other by fjords and picking pretty flowers, entirely forgetting that there might be wasps amongst the blossoms.
This knee-jerk supposition was patronizing, distasteful and absurd. If the extent of those journalists' exposure to Norway had been the playful tones of DIY electro-pop outfit Casiokids, though, it would also be entirely understandable. Over the course of two full-length albums, most notably last year's triumphal Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar, Bergen-based Casiokids have carved a distinctive niche out of "naïve", "innocent" and childlike. Concerts regularly feature puppets, lurid decorations and costumes and the band often put on special shows particularly for small children. Musically theirs is a palette of spirited squeaks and parps and lyrical themes include lost pets, exciting animals and candy. Kids with Casios, in other words. With all that taken into account, Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen, an archaism that roughly translates as "the revelation over the hilltop", undoubtedly finds the band musically maturing -- albeit without losing any of their childish magic.
In many ways this record could be seen as a backwards step, harking back to the whimsical meandering of unremarkable debut Fück MIDI instead of the catchy singles of Topp Stemning, but whilst Aabenbaringen is clearly not as immediate as its predecessor it is more thoughtful, nuanced and evocative. Topp Stemning was the culmination of a couple of years of EP releases rather than a block of studio time, and it showed. Each of the eight songs collected on the album proved to be a perfectly formed unpretentious pop gem, with the tumbling calling card of "Fot i Hose" giving Casiokids their taste of indie ubiquity. This time around production values, cohesion and a dreamy tone are in, and whilst only a couple of the tracks here reach the standalone heights of those on Topp Stemning, by and large it is a gratifying listen.
That this will be a more sedate affair is made clear from the off. The titular instrumental opener is all yearning flutes and pretty strings, before fluttering off into chattering birdsong. It is undoubtedly lovely, and manages to still be distinctively Casiokids, but it hardly gets the listener ready for the floor. Flagship single "Det Haster!" probably offers the record's most potentially chart-bothering moment, with a delicious stew of scrunching synths hurrying a relentlessly catchy, detached falsetto along. It's aloof indie-pop with a serious groove. The abrasive ska of "Dresingen", with its surf-pop "yayayaya" (a Casiokids hallmark) chorus is similarly propulsive, and the nostalgic glow of the aptly named "Golden Years", probably the album's highlight, keeps the momentum going with a blend of irresistibly echoing disco and oh-so-sweet plaintive harmonies. After this opening salvo, though, the big choruses have essentially been spent, and whilst Casiokids possess an ever-present knack for melody this is less directly exploited.
Not that Aabenbaringen ceases to enthrall. "Olympiske Leker", with its backdrop of chattering voices and array of tropical percussion, takes on a tribal texture, whilst the sprightly chimes and dainty vocals of "Selskapets Triste Avslutning", which inconspicuously features label-mates Of Montreal, have the feel of something off Damon Albarn's Sino-indie opera Monkey: Journey To The West. Wherever Aabenbaringen might travel for inspiration, however, it is consistently and coherently an autumnal album. The intertwining vocals are reflective and melancholic, whilst the increased care taken with the production means everything is far richer, more layered and detailed, rough edges rounded out. Despite their electronic foundations, Casiokids have crafted a warm and animated record, redolent with auburn hues and the fading rays of September sun. Where previous hits were sparse and direct, here the band takes the time to look around and revel in the journey -- the fact that you won't know what they are singing about continuing not to matter. Casiokids have perhaps been most aptly compared to Hot Chip, and this, then, would be their One Life Stand -- a heartfelt, sensitive and reflective follow up to a far more dancefloor-friendly set.
This collection of songs, and the Dano-Norwegian archaism of their ostentatious title, are "inspired by the story of adventurer Dr. Tarzan Monsoon, and his discovery of a hidden rain forest". They may not be abandoning their fondness for boyish fantasy, but Casiokids show with Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen that they have a rich taste for musical exploration. This record isn't a revelation, perhaps, but it is rewarding nonetheless. The album closer, "Aldri Mer Ska Me Ha Det Gøy", translates in their Bergen dialect as "we'll never have fun again", with the last words of the record being the echoing lament "never, never, never". Aabenbaringen proves, however, that even if Casiokids never never never go back to the brash infectiousness of their breakthrough, they will always find somewhere compelling to go instead.