Katzenjammer is a great folk/rock/pop band from Oslo. The Norwegian quartet is made up of Anne Marit Bergheim, Marianne Sveen, Solveig Heilo and Turid Jørgensen. I have major respect for this band because of their use of instruments, stating a goal of playing instruments they have never used before. Between them they have picked up and played 29 different and often unusual instruments, and their songs feature such as the accordion (you know I love it!) bass balalaika, ukulele, and melodica to name a few. It is my personal goal also to try to play any instrument I have never tried before which is why I have so many crazy instruments!
I first stumbled upon Katzenjammer on Youtube quite by accident. It turns out they had won third place in a contest for unsigned artists: the yearly Urørt competition, and their single A Bar In Amsterdam was made into a Youtube video. I have been hunting for an album since then and finally stumbled upon their debut, Le Pop. The album had favourable reviews: “songs all play to [Katzenjammer’s] strengths and, most importantly, are all instantly memorable”; “the album never lacks energy”. The album also won “Best Newcomer of the Year” at the 2008 Spellemannprisen (the Norwegian Grammy’s) and peaked at number 9 on the Norwegian charts.
The different instruments are obviously a huge turn on for me but the album itself is well written and fun. A Bar in Amsterdam remains one of my favourites – I knew once I heard it that I had to find the band’s album. Hey Ho On the Devil’s Back makes me think a little bit of Devil Went Down to Georgia in its folk-inspired devil-themed musicality. And Play My Darlin’ Play has a great folk-country twang to it! Another one of my favourite tracks is the dark accordion driven waltz – Mother Superior. Great stuff!! The album as a whole has a great folk feel to it; definitely very dark and Balkan while still having the energy and feeling of pop/rock. Something about it is also distinctly Scandinavian =) It really is a unique sound (and of course there is some great piano!). I’m still giddy that I finally found a copy of the album! Another CD to burn immediately. Check out their website: Katzenjammer and take a look at their A Bar in Amsterdam video:
Alina is a newer find of mine from Lithuania. I am really enjoying her 2008 debut album: Laukinis šuo dingo. The album has been described as a collection of short piano-ballads, and indeed the piano is prominent and the songs are mostly 3 minutes – several under 2! Yet I don’t mind their brevity: I feel like she has something to say and manages to do it without feeling the need to repeat a chorus a thousand times or superfluously add bridges. And yet I am amazed that the 16 tracks can all be of such quality. Orlova’s voice is unique, and has an older-world sound to it. Music critics write: ” Orlova has a high-trilling voice and a unique line in exhilaratingly dark, Baltic folk pop”. The album also makes use of great instruments such as accordion and glockenspiel, as well as dark strings on many tracks. Many songs are haunting (Paskutinio Mamuto daina) and others have a dancing drive to them – Žeme, sukis greitai has great percussion behind it. I am actually listening to this album for the first time at this moment and every track is a new pleasant surprise of unique phrasing, dark expressivity and instrumentation. I feel like I’ll be burning this album immediately!
(This is not an actual video but you can at least hear on of my favourite tracks, Vaiduokliai):
Iceland. I cannot even express is words the wonders of the incredibly rich music scene that has come out of Iceland. Years ago I stumbled upon a documentary that I had been meaning to get forever, and I finally have: Screaming Masterpiece. If you enjoy anything from Iceland this DVD is a must-have. It was produced in 2005 and directed and written by Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon. It attempts to explain why Iceland has such an incredible diversity and vast output in the music world. A lot of the DVD is bits of performances from many bands, including several of my favourite Icelandic groups (which are sure to be posted soon!). Icelandic music is really at the forefront I feel of electronic-rock and -pop music. Minimalism thrives (as the documentary comments because of their surrounding landscapes). Icelandic groups also are not afraid of non-traditional and experimental instrumentation which often creates sounds that are distinctly unique. If you begin to explore the music of this country you will undoubtedly find a plethora of talent that will blow your mind. It is a source of true inspiration and insight.
Elena Gheorghe is a singer hailing from Romania. She has been part of several Romanian groups, including Mandinga, and has released 3 albums throughout her solo career as far as I have found: Vocea Ta, Lilicea Vreariei, and Te Ador; though I have not been able to get a hold of these albums as of yet. But the important thing to share about Elena Gheorghe is her 2009 entry to the Eurovision Song Contest: The Balkan Girls. The song only came in 19th place during the finals with 40 points, but personally it is my – and several of my friends’ – favourite song from the year. It’s an upbeat, dance-inspiring, and fun song; even just a little dirty – those Balkan Girls know how to party. Another of the better Eurovision videos in my opinion as well:
Amel Bent is a French pop star who gained success after making it to the semi-finals of Nouvelle Star 2 (France’s answer to Pop Idol). Although she did not win the competition, she was picked out by producers and her debut album was soon to follow. This debut album, Un Jour d’été was number 3 on the French Albums Chart, and had the hit single: Ma Philosophie, which is one of my favourtie Amel Bent songs, and one of my favourite French songs. The album is a power soul/R&B collection with many superb songs.
Amel’s second album À 20 ans, is another one of my absolute favourite French albums. It’s another I keep in the car at all times. One thing I love about this album is its use of piano R&B – very sort of Alicia Keys style (only better!) The title track features Diam’s and is an amazing track. As I said, many of the tracks are heavily based around the piano which is a huge turn on for me! My favourite track off this album is undoubtedly Tu n’es Plus là, another one of those piano-featured tracks. The chord progression of the chorus is what really draws me to the piece, and Amel’s vocals are wonderful!!! It is really an incredibly moving song. There is also an acoustic version on the album which is pretty incredible as well. A fun surprise at the very end is a cover of “Eye of the Tiger” which I love to run to. It’s just plain fun!
In 2009 Amel released her third album, Où je vais, which I have just gotten my hands on and not yet been able to listen, but can’t wait! Then I can share the riches =) And of course check out her website: Amel Bent
Sarbel is a London-born Cypriot pop star. Like many others he came to my attention after my rediscovery of Eurovision. Sarbel competed for Greece in the 2007 Eurovision held in Helsinki. While his song “Yassou Maria” (Γειά σου Μαρία) only placed 7th, it is probably my favourite entry from the 2007 contest.
The song is incredibly catchy of course, and just plain fun. The video is one of the better Eurovision song videos I have seen and it doesn’t hurt that Sarbel is incredibly cute. Prior to Yassou Maria, Sarbel had recorded 2 studio albums: Parakseno Sinesthima (Παράξενο Συναίσθημα) in 2005, and Sahara in 2006, which I am desperately trying to get my hands on.