This album is quite different from what I expected. Maybe I should have
done some research before I pushed play. Then again, sometimes it is more
rewarding to approach an album unprepared or simply ignorant.
Erlend Apneseth is a young master of the Hardanger fiddle player. From what
I can deduce, he is the vanguard of the instrument and maybe even
the chief proponent of marrying it with modern experimental music.
Accompanying him are other practitioners of traditional instruments - Frode
Haltli on accordion and Øyvind Hegg-Lunde on percussion – and the less
traditional - Stephan Meidell on samples and electronics. Pull them
together, and you have the rooted but foresighted foursome that recorded
this curious album.
I use the word “curious” as a complement. The music on Salikda, Molikda is developed and clearly comes from somewhere,
but I am not familiar with its immediate inspirations. It is eccentrically
poppy but harkens back to Nordic folk melodicism and ambiance. As much folk
music does, these songs involve simple melodic structures around which the
Apneseth and company improvise within certain melodic and scalar
parameters. Meidell’s percussion is heavy and entrancing. His interspersed
atmospherics and backgrounded bells, clicks, and whistles add depth and a
disorienting modernism. Haltli and Apneseth meanwhile produce the plucky
melodies and the billowing improvisations that dance upon the platforms
laid by Hegg-Lunde and Meidell. Tracks such as “Takle” are jaunty,
clattering dance numbers. “Salika, Molika” sounds almost medieval, even
with its ghostly overdubbed vocals and its disorienting flow. “Kirkus”
sound like a Masada String Trio interpretation of the village fair scene at
the beginning of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Other tracks, such
as “Mor Song” with an overlaid monolog reminiscent of Philip Bimstein’s
“Larkin Gifford’s Harmonica” and the pastoral “Solreven” (I can hear wisps
of Danny Boy in this piece) are more pensive and mournful. The final track,
“Kierkegangar,” is particularly emotive in its wafting harmonies and
plodding drums that give way to a shimmering soundscape.
Much of this album brings to mind Sequentia’s recordings of early Nordic
music, even if the pulsing drums – for the battle field, the communal
hearth, the mead hall, or the disco – somewhat belie that comparison with
modern, danceable rhythms. In other words, something quite different is
going on with Salika, Molka. It wears its roots unapologetically,
but also quite effectively blends them into a contemporary vernacular that
is, well, curious. I can parse out many of the elements, some of which on
their own might sound like mere novelties. But those elements compound. At
a little over thirty minutes, this album is short, but it has held my
attention and curiosity for a couple of weeks, now, and will keep me
listening for many more.
I am hesitant to make too broad of statements about the uniqueness of the
music. It is possible that there are other combinations exploring similar
musical territory elsewhere in Scandinavia. If there is, however, I haven’t
come across it.