Monday, April 19, 2010

Listening Mode : Stina Nordenstam, "This Is"

Stina Nordenstam is not only Swedish, she’s also my favorite female artist ever, and please, please, don’t bug me with your Lady Me-Me, Joanna Nothing, ImoHeap of Shit or, Jeebus forsakes, Björk… we’re talking serious here.

So, who’s Mrs Nordenstam, you ask… Mrs Nordenstam doesn’t do TV, she doesn’t do gigs, she doesn’t video blog and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t twitter.

Every now and then, she releases an album, then disappears again.

What separates Mrs Nordenstam from the vacant lot I’ve just mentioned is that Mrs Nordenstam is, at heart, a songwriter. You know, songwriting, that thing you’re supposed to do BEFORE you start monkeying around with the studio gear. And she writes some of the best songs, music and lyric-wise, I’ve ever heard.

I first encountered her music while idly browsing a record bin some 16 years ago, running across the intriguing cover of her second album. I was intrigued by the pensive, childlike figure of this singer I had never heard about, and even more so, was enthralled by the music, an odd combination of melancholy pop, jazzy moods and this peculiar, high voice.

She then went on to release more lo-fi, electric gems (“Dynamite”, “People are Strange”), and combined all influences in her outstanding 2004 “This Is” album.

The opening track, “Everyone else in the world” is the perfect introduction to Stina Nordenstam’s style : the subdued yet sophisticated arrangement, the intimate, upfront, whispering vocals, the beautiful lyrics and that very European, film d’auteur feeling.

There’s something magical about the way Stina Nordenstam dynamically orchestrates her songs. Take “Circus” : it starts with a muffled, treated guitar, and a lone, fragile voice, then suddenly builds up to a eerie chorus, flourishing like a fountain of ice : “I will be what’s left of longing on this earth…”.

The economy of means is remarkable, everything falling into place in a most delicate way. The diffuse melancholy of such “Stations”, “So Lee”, “Sharon and Hope”, and the poignant piano tune “Clothe yourself well for the wind”, is enough beauty to feel mandated to own that record, but then you’ll also find odd poppy diamonds like “Keen Yellow Planet” (in duet with Brett Anderson), “Lori Glory” (Beatlesque upbeat ditty) or “Welcome to Happiness” and its stark mix of filtered guitar and drum machine.

Stina Nordenstam’s last album, “The World is Saved” was released in 2004, and is quite a great one as well, but my all-time favorite, and one you should definitely check out, is this 2001 masterpiece.

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