Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Foreign Language Music Week: Scandinavia

Welcome to the end of Foreign Language Music Week Fortnight. I got a bit lazy because I was daunted by the size of this post. I listen to more Scandinavian music than any other, because I study Danish and pop songs are a great way to learn vocabulary, and also because Scandinavian music is amazing.

Y’all know that fact. Some of the most amazing artists at work today – especially electronic ones – are Scandinavian, but they get excluded from this post because they sing in English (see: the Cardigans, the Knife, the Sound of Arrows, Robyn, Mew, Lo-Fi-FNK, Frida Hyvönen, Alphabeat, etc., etc.) It’s hardly surprising: travelling in Scandinavia is super easy, because everybody speaks perfect English. Nevertheless, it’s not quite native English, and so these artists often have interesting turns of phrase (see: Björk).

First off the rank is a dude many of you will have heard, though you may not know it: Jonathan Johansson, a Swede who sang on the Knife’s recent Tomorrow, In A Year album (and in the Danish stage version of the same that I saw in Copenhagen). He’s an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right, but his most popular song is understandably his Swedish language cover of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World. Ladies and gentlemen, Alla Vil Ha Hela Världen.

In a similar electro-pop vein, Familjen (“the Family”), the lovely Swede I saw supporting Ladytron in Sydney a few years ago. I had one of those nice moments when you walk into a record store and see a new release by one of your favourite bands the other week when I stumbled on Familjen’s Mänskligheten (Humanity). My favourite is still the title track from his debut, Det Snurrar I Min Skalle (It’s Spinning In My Head).

I had another of those nice moment’s with Säkert! (“Safe!”) when Last.fm informed me that she had released a new album, Facit (Looking Back). I haven’t tracked it down yet, but I’m looking forward to it very much. Säkert! is the Swedish language side project of Annika Norlin, who records in English under the name Hello Saferide. Hello Saferide is truly one of my favourite artists: she plays sweet guitar-based indie-pop, and writes some of the best lyrics I’ve ever come across. Each song is a perfectly-formed short story, and she beautifully charts the emotional journey of parenthood, romance, loss, high school, holidays, sex and…ugh, she’s just lovely, you really should check her out. This is her new single, Fredrik.

A little less brash is Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Järvinen. Her album Jag Fick Feeling (I Got The Feeling) is lovely late-night listening, especially for those who enjoy the likes of Martha Wainwright. This is the album’s closer, Kom Hem (and if you can’t figure out what that means in English, just get right out).

And, as a bonus, this is a link to the two previous artists performing an almost unrecognisable cover of Robyn’s With Every Heartbeat (in Swedish, natch – it’s just a link so this doesn’t get too cluttered with video boxes).

Now we cross the Øresundbroen to Denmark, a country which holds no small fascination for me. One of the most admired songwriters in the Danish language is Anne Linnet. In her career, she’s dabbled in hippie folk, electro pop, and variations on jazz and rock music. I’m a big fan of her extensive back catalogue, but my favourite is the lovely and affecting Smuk Og Dejlig (Beautiful And Lovely). “You are so beautiful and lovely, your eyes shine brighter than any sun.” The song has been covered many times, including one awful version by a “soulful” young contestant on the Danish X Factor. Stick to the original and the best.

Speaking of the Danish X Factor, Søren Rasted, formerly of Aqua fame, wrote the winner’s song, Det Bedste Til Sidst (The Best ‘Til Last). He also has formed an excellent pop duo with his nephew, Hej Matematik (“Hi Mathematics”). This is the clip for their single Du Og Jeg (You And I), one of my favourites. The clip is also quite good too, doing the whole singing-and-walking-backwards thing that Coldplay did with The Scientist, only, you know, fun.

My first Danish teacher,  (who writes an excellent fashion, food and culture blog), suggested this song by Sussi Og Leo (Sussi And Leo). I had never heard of them, and they are insane. They are some combination of traditional folk duo and dodgy pub covers band. Watch them perform Ååå Marie A Vil Hjem (Oh, Marie Will Go Home?) and be amazed.

And we’ve sadly run out of decent Danish language music. Damn their perfect English! I think Danish bands are making some of the best music in the world (hello, Mew; hello, Dúné). Unfortunately, their indigenous music scene is overrun by dodgy hip-hop and rock outfits. Now, sadly, I don’t know any music of note from Norway. The only artist I’ve picked up on is a teen caterwauler who goes by the name of Nordpolen (“the North Pole”). If anyone has some Norwegian music to recommend, please do.

We will skip right over to Finland. I have a few relatives living in Finland (an Australian-born uncle and his Finnish wife and children), and they always brought bizarre and magical cultural artefacts with them when they visited. My favourite was the world of the Moomintrolls, which I remain fascinated by today. It seems to be one of Finland’s most successful cultural exports, if only because I found the theme song below in its Danish, English, Swedish and Bulgarian incarnations before I found the original Finnish version. Perhaps some of you will remember these sweet and odd little characters.

Lately, though, I have been interested in the Finnish freak folk scene. It has been very difficult to research, if only because I find Finnish one of the most difficult languages using a Roman alphabet to get a small grip on. (Not surprising: despite some similarities to the languages of the nearby Baltic nations, it remains one of the world’s most unique languages. My favourite reason for this is the languages resistance to loan words. Finnish has made just one notable contribution to English – “sauna” – but they don’t borrow words from English either, they make up their own. Hence, a computer is a “tietokone” (literally “knowledge machine”) and a telephone is a “puhelin” (“chattering instrument”). Adorable.) Anyway, like I said, the words in Finnish tend to slip out of my mind, which makes researching artists difficult.

Nevertheless, my favourite is Islaja, who makes creepy circular songs that sound like Nico going to town on a detuned ukulele. In their rambling form, they remind me of the power of nature, and it’s barely hidden ability to hurt us. I don’t know what she’s singing about, but I find her music both enchanting and unsettling. This is Rohkaisulaulu (Encouragement Song) from my favourite of her albums, Palaa Aurinakoon (Return To The Sun).

Islaja has done some work with Kemialliset Ystävät (“Chemical Friends”) because it is, by all accounts, an insular and collaborative music scene. They have a more energetic and inorganic approach to their musical explorations, with many of their songs blending into each other in a delightful mess.  This is the band in a more subdued form: Tässä Maassa Kun Näin Makailen (I have no fucking idea what that means). This song was included on a split 12″ with British artists Sunroof!, and saw a wider distribution through the English-speaking world. It’s a nice introduction for an international audience, but some of their other material gets fucking weird. And awesome. Did I mention awesome?

This last clip is from the enduringly popular outfit Värttinä, who mix Finnish vocal folk music with rock and experimental influences. It’s like some fucked-up version of Clannad, but I’ve enjoyed it. This live version of Äijö is sedate but sinister (check the Diamanda Galás-style growling from around the 03:25 mark). Some of their other material has a real wicked gypsy beat to it.

I think we’re all sufficiently exhausted. Finnish freak folk in particular is a rabbit hole I’m still falling through: one artists leads you to another artists leads you to another artists, and on and on. It’s strange and exciting. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the music here. Your recommendations are always welcome – especially when it comes to the music of poor neglected Norway. (If you mention Alexander Rybak, however, I will hurt you.) I know I missed Iceland, which is often lumped together with the Scandinavian nations, but it’s not an area of real expertise for me. I suggest y’all go hassle my friend Joshua Brown about that. Hey, Josh, make me an Iceland mix CD, I feel I should hear this Ólafur Arnalds girl…

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2 Responses

  1. ahahaha, I just totally lost all my street cred vis a vis music!
    xx

  2. James says:

    Loving Värttinä, Säkert and many others. Jag lyssnar på svensk musik också

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