Armed with an impressive array of obscure and worldly instruments and an astounding vocal, Norwegian artist Sturle Dagsland has crafted an album that is extraordinary, compelling and undoubtedly idiosyncratic. That it is his debut, makes it all the more remarkable.
When I reviewed “Kusanagi”, the album’s lead single back in October, I remarked that it was unlike anything I had heard, and so removed from my usual listening habits. Yet, four or five months later, I’ve found myself hooked in by Dagsland’s compelling and otherworldly soundscapes.
It’s an album that is full of intensity, but it’s also quite a playful one, with Dagsland hard to pin down, and frequently leaning towards experimentation. The record is made up of ever-changing soundscapes, with Dagsland leading the listener, pied piper-esque on a journey through the many different aspects of his musical self. Certainly, he seems equally at home amongst the more primal “Kusanagi” and “Waif”, as he is inhabiting the serenity of his most recent single, “Belonging”.
The record’s biggest draw card, is perhaps Dagsland’s vocal performance. He’s described it as his most important instrument, and listening to the album in its entirety it’s easy to see why. His vocal range is extraordinary, but perhaps more impressive is his vocal versatility; employing a whole range of techniques from throat-singing, screaming, animal sounds, to joiking – the traditional singing style of the Sami. The vocals, especially the more extreme primal screams and howls, might prove polarising and off putting to some. But, there’s no denying he’s got a set of pipes on him.
With a run time of only thirty minutes, the listener never gets to sit with any particular soundscape for any great length of time. This I’m sure will be of some comfort to some listeners during those more wildly abrasive songs. Notably, though, not one of the album’s eleven tracks feels too long or equally too short. And, whilst I’ve been quick to single out Dagland’s vocals, the instrumental backing for each track is perfectly pitched. And, with each new listen, I think I’ve found some new element, some new instrument, that I hadn’t managed to pick out before.
Thanks to TV shows like Vikings and The Last Kingdom, and perhaps to a lesser extent films like Frozen, a certain type of Nordic music has jumped into the spotlight. Dagsland, could undoubtedly, tap into that popularity, but there is, for me, an experimentality that sets him apart. This is certainly true in the way he plays with and explores traditions and tries to push the limits on what can be achieved through joiking and throat singing. There’s also the sense that recording and singing also allows Dagsland to explore and get closer to his own cultural roots.
Sturle Dagsland has delivered a debut album that is wonderfully idiosyncratic and completely captivating. From the primal to the serene there is always something to capture and hold your attention.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)