Norway - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 26 - 12/03/98
Virgin Records Norway
Hailing from the far north of Norway, these guys moved south to Oslo
about three years ago, with more or less one sole aim in sight: trying to
get things happening for their band, which then was named Abby's Adoption.
Before that, they were the most focused band around Vesterålen for many
years, always reaching for better ways of expressing their melancholy visions.
With one notable exception, the line-up has been the same all these years
(guitarist and visionary founding member Marius Almaas Johansen left the
band a couple of years ago). And finally their stubbornness paid off.
After doing the occasional gig in and around Oslo, and recording a couple of
demos, they landed a deal with Virgin earlier this year.
Renaming themselves Madrugada (Spanish for "dawn") was probably a way of marking
this new era for the band, and I'll be damned: their music has also somewhat
switched, as they appearantly have become more roots-influenced,
at least judging from this debut EP, simply called EP. But the roots
we're talking about here are weathered and torn, and there are no cowboy hats
around. Except perhaps for Tom Skjeklesæther's then - Norway's #1
US Marshall, who is mentioned on the thank list.
He may (or may not) have threatened the band by gunpoint towards
their now undeniably more American roots sound. Rootsy in the vein of names
like Neil Young, Chris Isaak, Nick Cave and
Simon Bonney. Take the last-mentioned's (excellent US-recorded) 1992 LP Forever, meld inn some
Young-ish guitars, colour it Isaak-ish blue, lift the spirits with some Cave-in darkness, and you're closing
in on Madrugada (oh, I forgot - also add 1 rock unit). However, I must quickly add:
that does not mean that their sound is only a derivative one.
They certainly stand firmly on their eight
legs, with a steadiness wrought out from the many years of playing together.
The most recent member, guitarist Robert S. Burås, is likely
to have shifted some of the bands' focus from Manchester towards Nashville (so to speak),
as his rhythm guitar owes much to afore-mentioned Young, and when we're offered a solo
on Oceanliner, the same inspiration shines through. And while the
former guitarist had a crush on the wah-wah pedal, Burås instead brings in the harmonica,
which roots the band even further.
But drummer Jon Lauvland Pettersen also seems to have adapted a more straight-forward
rock drumming style, which I must say suits the band like hand in glove. And together with bass
player Frode Jacobsen they make out as solid a rhythm section as anyone
can wish for. But it is singer and lyricist Sivert Høyem who snags the listener's
attention for large parts of this EP. And more so because of his voice, which
is, simply put, quite unique, than his lyrics, which are not bad, but suffer from the
occasional cliche (especially evident on Strange Colour Blue).
The opening track, Belladonna, is slow but steady, with a carpet of
overdriven guitars, covering a beautiful melody. The added harmonica (played by Burås)
grounds the song, while the buried slide guitar (I think) makes for a pleasant blueness.
This song sticks like glue, and when it ends, you'll want to skip back for another
listen. Things mellow down with Strange Colour Blue which features Høyem
with some more or less talking sequences, over a daringly naked arrangement,
leaving the lyrics rather defenseless. On Oceanliner
Madrugada are as upbeat as they'll ever get, I guess, but we're
still far from major-chords-only land (if Madrugada went there they would most likely vaporize
instantly). Also here their melancholy aestethics are covered with warm
layers of guitars, and again I can't help thinking of Neil Young.
Highway 2.000.000 is a faster and more jangly track, reminding me of Nick
Cave and The Bad Seeds in many ways. They don't match The Bad Seeds'
looseness and intensity, but then again, very few can. The slide-guitar solo,
however, really is loose, and closer to Rowland S. Howard (Birthday Party)
in style, than a "skilled" slide guitarist. That is, playing out of tune in a wrecked
way, which is a difficult thing for accomplished guitarists to do convincingly. On this song
it sounds a little out of place, leaving me a little puzzled. Is it done
on purpose, or is it just a sloppy slide-job? Either way, it feels awkward.
But hey, I'm into superficial details here - the band is pushing the song forward
like a bunch of cowboys trying to steer a panicking herd of cattle.
The debut LP/CD from Madrugada is to be released early next year, and
I'll be waiting in excitement, with great expectations and some curiosity.
With great expectations because this EP grows every time I listen to it,
and the next time I get drunk I know I will long for Belladonna (like most men ...).
And I am curious to find out whether or not Madrugada can fill an entire LP
with equal high quality. I don't know if all the songs from this EP are to be
included on the LP, or if this is just a taster of even greater things
to come? I also guess that there are more ingredients
in the Madrugada elixir than what is found on this EP.
Copyright © 1998 Knut Tore Breivik