Perhaps the most iconic of all singer-songwriters, Bob Dylan, has for the past 50 years managed to string together a decent album or two every decade to keep the faithful bowing at his throne, and newcomers entranced by the fable of an legend they were too young to witness in his heyday. His album Time out of Mind from 1997 still stands tall in the dusty record collections of most music aficionados. Although more bluesy than his earlier works, it manages to reveal a new side of Dylan that nobody had met before. A man who caused a minor riot when he plugged in, caused a major revival by bluesing out. He proved that you can sustain a career by sticking to the formula, but also gain a whole new audience by venturing out into unknown territory once in a while. His travels have brought him from the simple beginnings of a harmonica and acoustic guitar, to the biggest stages on earth complete with top class musicians and a plethora of instruments and percussion. And yet, what holds most value in the eyes of the crowd, are those simple, heartfelt songs that need nothing with which to clothe their beauty.
Simen Tangen’s journey is about to begin.
With the album Fall/1998 recently released via the cult label Oslo Grammofon, his songs are about to be heard by those who missed his scattering of live performances the past few years. Together with Silje Høgvold who adds background vocals on most of the tracks, and backed by the higher echelons of Oslo’s alternative music scene, the album-recorded at Taakeheimen Studio- hits shelves on Feb 17th.
“Reunion” rumbles in ever so slowly, sounding vaguely like a closer with it’s odd structure, a long fade-in/vocal medley that melts into musicbox cracklings before the band slither in with an Elephant 6-esque summer tune sure to get the feet swinging. Slight Sufjan-esque horns, childish abandon, the carelessness of love and abundance dances through the melodies that ever change, so slightly.
“My Window, and University” summon the spirit of Brian Wilson, yet curve away into territory more reminiscent of Kevin Ayers and his whimsical approach to crafting perfectly strange pop songs. “Born In” showcases the importance of Silje’s vocals to the overall sound. Her voice sandpapers out the edges of Simen’s whiny-in-a-good-way exhalations. “School” rolls along with a summer exuberance, only overshadowed by the wonderful “Anytime” which must go down as one of the albums highlights. A song that could have easily stretched out and become a cheesy sing-along but remains beautifully restrained as Simen holds back from allowing the chorus to completely drown out the rest of the song. “Glow” sinks down into rapturous strings, lilting voices, still reflection and the undeniable pinnacle of Simen’s songwriting ability thus far. A song that evokes almost Dali vs Disney surrealist overtones, Linda Perhacs’ fragility wrapped in the falling leaves of an Autumn night. With the wind stilling and the embers slowly dying, the naive mood of 1998 settles the whole affair and brings longing to it’s temporary demise. “Fall” shimmers by with barely a rustle. Twin Peaks janglings provide a fine underbelly to the hazy pop of “Old Timer” which drifts seamlessly forth to the final songs, “Home Again” and “The Leaf That Never Fails”.
All makings of timeless art require processes that need tweaking, the vessel must be tested for water, and Simen’s hurdle to overcome will be a deeper grasp of written English. You can overlook a great many sins in the warm fuzz of summer, but winters shadows bring reflection and closer inspection, and this is where the cracks may appear. Overall the album manages to veer away from the simplistic lyrics enough to make you overlook them when they crop up. The flip-side of it all is, of course, that with that lighthearted manner of writing the album remains unpretentious and not drowned in silly prose or awkward poetry.
Finally the Norwegian music scene has an artist who can write achingly beautiful songs, without drowning in his bloated ego. A good old fashion singer who lives for the song and not for his cred. The winds of change may just be turning for Oslo.