Featherbrain is a risky album. Both dissonant and lyrical, it is music for headphones and notebooks. Its intimate, eccentric sounds demand your intimacy and your eccentricity, but the effort is rewarded: a personal and honest sonic world opens up, in fact, so sincere Hukkelberg had to toughen up to record it. Listen carefully.
Hukkelberg’s music has always been about personal sound. This has given her great artistic freedom to move effortlessly between genres, and her three previous albums are defined by utterly distinct soundscapes: debut Little Things (2005) was eccentric and adventurous, second offering Rykestrasse 68 (2007) warm and lyrical, and third album Blood From A Stone (2009) explored a huge, romantic indie rock canvas. The otherworldly take on pop, jazz and art rock has given Hukkelberg a wide audience internationally, and in 2010 she toured with Wilco. This was also the year she travelled to New York to write new material. The result is Featherbrain, combining the noisy guitars and heavy rhythms of Blood From A Stone with a more stripped-down, lyrical lightness. She explains: ”This album feels like the missing link, the record that concludes my first years as a solo artist...Featherbrain is its own beast, but it still has aspects of the other three in it.”
Several songs on Featherbrain sound like old home recordings. Every song has its own place, as if you’re wandering from room to room in Hukkelberg’s world – her kitchen and church in The Time And I And What We Make, a New York apartment in The Bigger Me. I Sing You, with a gothic harpsichord, multiple string instruments and mystical vocal, evokes a dark, old wooden house she has lived in. Accompanying her are a small family of musicians – producer/multi-instrumentalist Kåre Vestrheim (Motorspycho, Jaga Jazzist, Marit Larsen, Shining, Katzenjammer, Superfamily), guitarist Ivar Grydeland (Huntsville, Dans Les Arbres), vocalist Mai Elise Solberg (Ontz, VOM) – as well as Sigurd Hukkelberg, Hanne’s father, playing the church organ in her home town of Kongsberg.
The feeling of home recordings doesn’t make the album cosy – but it makes the music sound intimate, moving and imperfect – guitar notes distort, a piano moves in and out of tune. It sounds lived, not just dreamed. And this gives life to a new and more personal Hukkelberg – her voice is equally imperfect. She wobbles, improvises and confesses. First single My Devils opens with a few simple piano chords, before her voice breaks it all down with a snarl: ”HAH!” The track continues, shifting between a free-flowing, staggering verse and a melodic feast of a chorus, before accelerating into a flamboyant, razor-sharp vocal arrangement.
"they tear apart and reconstruct
my personal, inner pictures"
sings Hukkelberg, her voice layered in intensely beautiful dissonant takes, bringing to mind an experimental, aggressive chorus of Elizabeth Fraser.
Closing track Erik, sung in Norwegian, is a duet with Erik Vister, an 88-year old classically trained singer. The lyrics, sung to a detuned piano, deal with asceticism – owning little, appreciating the little things, being humble. This is an important theme on the album – being a good person, the human quality. Vister’s ancient, beautiful voice against Hukkelberg’s brings out the most beautiful quality there is: the imperfect, honest existence. This is Featherbrain’s biggest achievement – creating a kind of antique pop music, at the same time brittle and soft, powerful and fragile, but most of all overwhelmingly human.
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