Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Erlend Oye. Unrest (Astralwerks, 2003)

"Wish I could tell you/ About the distance between/ How my life is unfolding/ And how I thought it would be."

Erlend Oye is one half of largely-acoustic Norwegian folk pop duo Kings of Convenience. In that outfit, he helps deliver elegant, melancholy, and supremely catchy ditties informed by northern isolation and the steady rains of his Bergen home town. It's Simon and Garfunkel as presented by Nokia, trading shaggy Americanism for a cool Nordic sheen, and it works nicely. See the stellar LPs Quiet Is The New Loud (2001) and Riot On An Empty Street (2004) as exhibits A and B.

Despite his folky leanings, Oye has a clear electronic yen. Kings of Convenience put out a great remix album, Versus, back in '01, which gathered a bunch of IDM and glitch-pop luminaries to try their hands at Quiet Is The New Loud's delicate treasures. The results were pretty awesome, in the way that good remix records can be: they retained the essential winning qualities of the original compositions and presented them in surprising, thrilling new ways. Plus, they added beats, propping up the pretty but at times anemic melodies.

Clearly (and justifiably) stoked by the results of Versus, Oye traveled the world in 2001 and 2002, getting together with electronic and dance artists to collaborate on an entire album of new tracks, 2003's Unrest. Drawing on the talents of knob-twiddlers and button-fiddlers from NYC, Rome, Berlin, Uddevalla, Barcelona, Connecticut, Turku, Helsinki, Bergen, and Rennes, Oye pieces together an unnervingly toothsome collection of only slightly -- but never distractingly -- Euro-trashy electro-pop winners, each one evidence of his steady eye for hooky tunes and intriguing atmospherics.

The guiding moods of Unrest are nocturnal, sadly romantic, and passingly sinister. There's a gloom hanging over the entire effort, redolent of the malaise that's often inherent in futurism (see: Blade Runner, Mad Max). But the overarching mopiness doesn't, thankfully, weigh these tunes down, a testament to their elemental catchiness and Oye's considerable skills as a tunesmith. Unrest unfolds smoothly, like a gentle buzz in a darkened backyard, nightsounds mixing easily with the rhythms of passing cars and headspace.

Unrest is best listened to as a whole, each track blending seamlessly into the next. Standouts include opener Ghost Trains, with its shimmering keyboards and skittering thump; the rousing handclaps and hi-hats of "Sheltered Life"; "Every Party"'s sly, obtusely infectious bounce and observationist lyrics ("Every party's got a winner and a loser/ One host who's gonna regret/ Telling all they could feel like home"); the glossy Eurorail push and lilting vocals of Symptom of Disease.

Unrest fits snug around your ears like one of those shiny space blankets: it's from the future, but cozy, too. It's a perfect record for back-to-mines and late night chill outs, curated by one of Norway's more gifted musical sons.