The end isn’t generally the most logical place to start, but for Hanne Hukkelberg, it’s the clarity of hindsight from which new beginnings sprout. Perhaps it’s not even as cut-and-dry as “beginning and end”, but an on-going orbit that finds one of Norway’s most acclaimed, influential and vital artists entering her fifth album cycle – and ending a five-year absence – with new LP ‘Trust’, out October 20 via Propeller Recordings.

‘Trust’ was first conceptualised in 2012, at the release of Hukkelberg’s fourth studio album, ‘Featherbrain’: “This album really started with the last,” she explains. “I decided that I wanted to make something more than, and something very different to, ‘Featherbrain’ and was writing with [longstanding band member and collaborator] Mai Elise Solberg.” Together, the pair experimented with 90s rave and club music, flirting with “hardcore rhythms and big bass melodies” of dubstep and trap.

Their collective output resulted in ‘A Machine’s Heartbreak’ – an (at the time) instrumental track commissioned by a US music library, which now lies at the mechanical heart of new album ‘Trust’. Its influence transcends production – a ramshackle, no-limits approach to synths and sampling, spanning mouth sounds, cutlery, metal, wood, anything remotely audible – and extends the conceptual core of Hukkelberg’s new album, which explores the duality of human life in the digital age.

Elements from ‘A Machine’s Heartbreak’ feature in album opener ‘Europium Heights’ – a dystopian, but hopeful, “letter to the future” largely inspired by writers, scientists and philosophers including George Orwell, Zygmunt Bauman, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Yuval Noah Harari and Simon Sinek, alongside the more pop-cultured forecasts of sci-fi series Westworld and Black Mirror. “This is where everything started,” Hukkelberg says of ‘Europium Heights’, “it’s the planet the whole album is living on and orbiting.”

The narrative continues with back-to-back singles ‘The Whip’ and ‘IRL’, serving a combined study of cyber society and virtual reality. Featuring the signature vocal of Highasakite’s Ingrid Helene Håvik, ‘The Whip’ observes the filtered pursuit of perfection, while ‘IRL’ cautions constant connection and the loss of self to cyber: “I’m so social, baby, but I don’t know myself…”


“The album is a combination of personal experience and a wider observation of society and how I feel people are living their lives,” Hukkelberg says. “It’s strange to think we are the last generation to have experienced the world without Internet. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task – you have to create your own community. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You feel in control.”

But #IRL, Hukkelberg couldn’t feel less in control: “The Internet and social media have such an impact on my life, and I’m often made aware of how addicted I am to this ‘digital beast’. How can something that is not part of our basic nature be so consuming? I experience hollowness, emptiness and overexposure, which is offset by superficial fun and distraction,” she says.

Yet still, somewhere beneath the doom, dread and data lies a glimmer of hope – of ‘Trust’ – turning Hukkelberg’s dystopian drone into more of an empowered plea for society. “Trust is something that will never expire, it’s a quality that we’ll retain in both real and virtual life.” It’s a common thread that extends all corners of the album, with ‘The Whip’ urging trust in others (What a loss it would be to be everything all alone”) and tracks like ‘Embroidery’ and ‘Silverhaired’ encouraging trust in self.

‘Embroidery’ was written for revered Norwegian singer/songwriter Emilie Nicolas, who also features on the track, after Hukkelberg noticed similarities in their person and process. “It’s about us, and our friendship; about how difficult it is to hold on to this profession and to be strong and patient in your music, and your work, and your life.” ‘Silverhaired’ is a more internal inflection – a note to self, both in terms of lyric and method: “I actually started writing and recording this song more than ten years ago, and many of those original elements remain on the final recording today,” she says. “It’s about being young, and how frustrating and painful that can be. Given the chance, I’d travel back in time and just tell myself everything is going to be OK.”

Then there’s ‘Fall’, which is nothing short of triumphant (“And I fall, but I’ll rise, I’ll rise again”) and ever so slightly ironic, given it’s tech-savvy iPhone origins: “This song came to me when I was sleeping. Quite literally, it was the alarm tone on my iPhone,” she jokes. “I was slowly waking up, and had the whole song and lyric in my head, ready to record it. It starts with a kiss from Albert, my youngest son, and the lyric is simply about getting up again and again, and to keep hanging on.”

Despite the album’s more simulated sensibilities, Hukkelberg – alongside collective co-producers Mai Elise Solberg, Martin Langlie, Eivind Helgerød, Thomas Hukkelberg and Kristoffer Bonsaksen – took a much more organic approach to production, which includes a selection of field recordings and samples spanning back as far as 2005. Among its many quirky credits are: “an owl-ish sound from my son’s animal book”, “didgeridoo synth”, “Brooklyn bathtub”, “shitty handclaps”, Hukkelberg’s grandmother’s piano, and an almighty door-slam that closes ‘IRL’.

‘Trust’ signals a real life renaissance for Hukkelberg, emerging more than five years since the release of ‘Featherbrain’ – a time in which she wrote music for a film (It Was Mine, based on a short story by Paul Auster), produced an album (‘What Comes After’ by Racing Heart, in conjunction with Jenny Hval), toured extensively (including European dates with Wilco) and collaborated alongside Norwegian heavyweights Todd Terje, Jaga Jazzist, Bernhoft and Morten Qvenild.

’Trust’ joins Hukkelberg’s nationally adored and internationally acclaimed back catalogue, including ‘Blood From A Stone’ (2009), Norwegian Grammy Award-winning LP ‘Rykestrasse 68’ (2006) and breakthrough debut ‘Little Things’ (2004). Spanning more than a decade, her career is celebrated by the likes of Pitchfork (Tightly orchestrated pop), BBC (Steadfast individuality), The Guardian (Finely crafted pop), Metro (An elemental pleasure), Uncut (Delicately anthemic), The Quietus (No less than epic) and Drowned In Sound (Truly remarkable).

Beyond the album’s virtual veil, lies Hukkelberg’s most personal – though no less universal – offering yet. It culminates in five-minute, acepella closer ‘Duper’, which is performed exclusively in Hukkelberg’s mother tongue and harmonically inspired by the Norwegian liturgical psalms on which she was raised. “This is just me and my Roland VT3 Box, sitting in my studio feeling very emotional,” she says. “I had a fight with my son, and came to work and just wrote this song instantly. It became more about life cycles, and watching others grow while still growing myself.” And therein lies the essence of ‘Trust’: “We have to be human, and we have to stay human”. We can’t just replace everything with technology and be immune to life, and joy, and suffering. We need to value, and fight for, these things that make us real.” | |