Originally self released late last year, the French micro label Soft Recordings, run by David Teboul aka Linear Bells, on June 10 released a physical 6 panel Digipak version with two bonus tracks and amended artwork in a limited edition of only 70 copies.
It is fairly easy to see why Soft re-issued this and fits in well with their stable of releases that have included Darren Harper, Kate Carr, EUS and of course Linear Bells. This release is just simply one of those that come along and captivate you from the start and you hope that more than a limited audience gets to experience it.
Drawing inspiration from forests, oceans and folklore, VARGKVINT is Stockholm based solo musician Sofia Nystrand who plays piano, vocals, harmonium, musical saw, zither, kalimba, glockenspiel and is joined by Jakob Lindhagan (who’s “Skörheten” Soundtrack reissued by 1631 Recordings will be reviewed in a few weeks time) on synthesizer and Linear Bells on the track “Varg”. The name Vargkvint translates to “Wolf Fifth” and comes from the dissonant interval in ancient tuning systems.
The label describes the album as a “highly evocative collection of songs, built haunting melodies and minimal lyrical fragments sung in both English and her native Swedish. Combined with playful arrangements and unexpected instrumentation , it results in something that most closely and we described as a soundtrack to artist John Bauer’s dark fairy tale paintings – as if the celestial tunes of the Icelandic pop music scene had been drenched heavy proportions of Swedish melancholic mindset.” I couldn’t agree more.
The opener “Utåt” which translates to “Outside” starts with a field recording of an impending storm which is best heard at volume to appreciate. A slightly mournful minimal piano melody comes into picture, delicately played with the occasional sound of the hammers. It is joined by a slight siren-esque sound followed by wordless vocals before it makes a retreat to leave the piano unaccompanied. This lasts for a short while before the squall and all the other elements return this time with layered vocals which all together build up and are joined presumably by the harmonium. The elements are then taken over by the squal and for a brief period of silence the piano and vocals (this time singing in Swedish) return. Before you know it the track is over, but it has whetted your appetite for more (indeed just hearing this track made me contact the label for the full album).
“Midsommer” opens again with storms and an almost nautical sound of parts of a boat crackling and swaying in the storm. A Minimal piano looped rhythm meets muted vocals and with a similarly styled kalimba melody that gives it a whimsical feel in contrast to the darker piano parts. The track is nice and concise in its 2 minutes 47 seconds length.
“Natten Kryper” which translates to “Night Creeper” starts off with Harmonium and the first singing of the album in Swedish. The track also features layered vocals to great effect that work together with the humming sound of the harmonium. Squal like electronic loops spiral around oh so subtly in this finely layered piece.
“Corners (of my mind)”, blame growing up in the 80’s for my disdain for vocals in music. Overblown vocalists ruin the art of singing. Thankfully artists such as Sofia (and the likes of Chantal Acda) breathe life into vocals with a subtlety and nuanced performance that a track like this can be based largely on the vocal performance and shine. The track opens with a reverse loop, a short bright drone and kalimba (although to be honest it could possibly be glockenspiel as I find it hard to differentiate the two) before Sofia’s vocals (in English this time) come in. The recording of them is so vibrant that you feel that she is in the room right next to you. Doubled vocals on the words “Mind” and “Hide” emphasise the chorus and for a section the vocals have 3 layers which add more melody to the song.
“Dimma” which translates to “Fog” is a piano piece which is quite melancholic with heavy bass notes, layered shimmering vocals that glide in and out, zither and kalimba before Swedish vocals accompany the piano. The piano is precisely timed to give the track a rhythmic beat. My only complaint is that it could be longer as it seems to end just when it starts to get really interesting.
“Brus” which translates to “Noise” starts with storm field recordings, minimal vocals, musical saw, what sounds like a need report with a male speaking in Swedish, zither, electronic loops likes those from “Natten Kryper” and other electronics is probably this most experimental track on the album. It comes more across as a sound collage compared to the other tracks and lives up to the name of the track.
“Varg (with Linear Bells)” which translates to “Where” is a collaboration with Linear Bells who is one if the finest drone exponents in my opinion and it sounds like the track is started by David with layered piano, Sofia’s vocals and drones and what sounds like synthesizer added. Effects are added to the vocals adding depth and making them part of the drone palate. This track sonically has most going on in it which makes it stand out from the others, but also compliments them as it comes after “Brus” aka “Noise” and builds in it. It is also a nice counterpoint to the way the album starts so minimally. The track ends with a winding down sound and silence for the last 30 seconds.
Overall this is a fine debut (the second time around) that I can’t recommend enough for people to hear. If I do the trend of what blogs do with a “Best Of ” list at the end of year I can see this easily making the list.
The original release artwork: