Although she’s best known as a Norwegian folksinger, Unni Løvlid refuses to play to type. Her excellent trio Rusk, with fiddler Vegar Vårdal and accordionist Frode Haltli, has made two albums of more or less traditional music, but I first heard her when she released her 2005 solo album Vita (Heilo), an a cappella recording made inside the Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum on which she artfully employs the eerie acoustics of the space to swathe her ethereal voice in thick, milky reverb.
Despite Løvlid’s penchant for experimentation, I was surprised by her new solo album, Rite (Grappa), where her original tunes are layered in appealing electronics and subtle orchestrations, creating a sound somewhere between Norwegian folk and hypnotic pop. Among those enlisted to play on the album were Haltli (who’s also a serious composer and experimenter), saxophonist Håkon Kornstad (Wibutee), French horn player and noisician Hild Sofie Tafjord (Fe-Mail, Spunk), and electronic soundscaper Helge Sten (Supersilent). This sort of stylistic duality seems widespread in Norway, and I don’t think the small size of the country’s population can explain it away–these folks have open ears.
Løvlid’s tender voice is the focal point, but the ingenious and richly varied arrangements help conjure a wide array of moods. The densely braided long tones on cello, accordion, and French horn in “Her Møter Eg Deg” remind me of a beatless Radiohead, but the vocals have such gossamer elegance and depth–Løvlid multitracks several contrapuntal parts–that the end result doesn’t sound like anything else out there. Even the textures and ambiences inherent to Norwegian folk styles seem slippery in this context–you can hear them in there, but they don’t make the total package any easier to figure out. Rite is a stunning piece of work, and it makes me anticipate Løvlid’s next album even more.
Seichi Yamamoto, NOA 2 (Alchemy)
Doug Sahm and Band, Doug Sahm and Band (Atlantic/Collector’s Choice)
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Hot ‘n’ Heavy: Live at the Ascension Loft (Delmark)
Wishful Thinking, Wishful Thinking (Clean Feed)
Nels Cline, Andrea Parkins & Tom Rainey, Ash and Tabula (Atavistic)