Impressive Radiohead-inspired electro-balladry from Norway
Released recently on the Apollon Records label, Take All The Land is the debut solo album by Simen Lyngroth, a singer-songwriter with a burgeoning reputation in his homeland of Norway. But, despite his young years, this promising new talent is actually something of a veteran on the live circuit…
During his formative years, Lyngroth formed the folk-pop trio Ask with childhood friends Andrea Ettestøl and Karsten Tønnessen in 2005. Based in the lowly-populated municipality of Froland in Southern Norway, the close-knit threesome began their music career by performing Beatles and Coldplay covers, before eventually progressing to self-written material.
With Lyngroth on acoustic guitar and vocals, Tønnessen on electric guitar and keyboards and Ettestøl on lead vocals, the trio – plus assorted guest musicians – soon garnered favourable notices as a live act; even attracting the attentions of the Crown Prince of Norway (who invited the band to personally perform for him in 2011). The next logical step was the recording studio, and fate was to intervene in the shape of Bjørn Ole Rasch. A renowned musician and producer, Rasch was – crucially – also a professor of music at the University of Agder, where the fledgling musicians were studying. The band soon formed a good relationship with Rasch, and they recorded the 5-track Little Bird EP at his Kongshavn Studios (in Kristiansand) with producer Øyvind Nypan in 2011.
Bjørn Ole Rasch took the production reins himself for Ask’s debut album, Blinded. Ostensibly a showcase for the considerable talents of lead vocalist Andrea Ettestøl, the acclaimed 12-track album also highlighted the trio’s gift for melody and vocal harmonising (notable tracks included ‘You And Me’ and ‘Blinded’ – both singles – plus the gorgeous Ettestøl-Lyngroth duet ‘Hide’). But, perhaps more importantly, the album marked Lyngroth out as a potential artist in his own right. With his soft and crystalline tones, Lyngroth was a singer with strong commercial possibilities.
Indeed, by time of the release of Blinded in February 2016, Lyngroth had already embarked on a solo project, having already premiered the tender ballad ‘You Told Me’ the previous year. Aside from his work with Ask, Lyngroth had already worked with other singers such as Kristin Dahl and Oda Ulvøy from the band KELVIN (now known as I Am K), who encouraged him to expand his creative boundaries. He eventually assembled a new band that comprised I Am K’s Torstein Lauvvik Ørland (synths), Jonas Dyrstad Valberg (guitar) and Magnus Lygren (drums).
Drifting away from Ask’s more acoustic set-up, Lyngroth abandoned his routine of composing songs on guitar and switched to piano; soon amassing a number of new songs that didn’t quite fit in with Ask’s more organic template.
“The sound is colder and more distant,” Lyngroth explained to NRK. “And the lyrics have a different character.” Certainly, ‘You Told Me’ hinted at a new direction, building on Ask’s more introspective and melancholic side (‘Wintersong’, for example). Listened to as a whole, Take All The Land is certainly more thematic in its lyrical approach. The beautiful ‘You Told Me’, for example, hints at sexual adventure (“You told me to walk through the garden of hope/ You thought this was new to me/ But I’ve seen this garden before”), while the title track ‘Take All The Land’ – released as a single in September this year – deals with jealousy (“You already have the biggest house/ You’ve got the most jewels/ And you can have mine as well”).
Whilst Lyngroth’s songs have understandably drawn comparisons with acts such as Sigur Rós and Susanne Sundfør, there’s also a strong Radiohead influence threading through the 8-track album. The title track (which was also released as a single in September this year), certainly bears the Oxfordshire band’s hallmarks, with its subtle use of electronics, inventive chord changes and climactic guitars. Similarly, there’s the high-rise drama of ‘Buildings Bloom’ which sets vivid lyrical couplets (“Buildings bloom like flowers in the forest/ Reaching high above us”) against a bleak, glaciated soundscape. And then there’s ‘Wake Me Up’, which slowly builds from a dreamy, minimalist foundation to a crescendo of guitars, with backing vocalist Emilie Bjornstad heightening the tension.
Despite its grammatical quirks (“I still got the waves in my mind/ I hear the sounds from the years in disguise”), recent single, ‘The Waves’, is arguably the album’s most immediate song. Utilizing propulsive electronics and some expressive backing vocals (by Iris Marie Gusfre), it’s certainly the most commercial track. Elsewhere, ‘Day After Day’ employs a more jazz-like approach (melodically recalling Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder), while stunning album closer ‘Silence’ is another understated affair that exhibits both the fragility and vulnerability in Lyngroth’s distinctive voice.
Whilst a running time of just over half an hour doesn’t exactly represent great value for your kroner, this is nonetheless a beautifully well-crafted and intimate album, intelligently produced by Christer-André Cederberg (a former member of Norwegian rock band Animal Alpha). Whether it’s as a solo artist or a member of Ask – who are officially on hiatus – the future for Simen Lyngroth certainly looks promising.
Take All The Land is out now on Apollon Records
Many thanks to Inger Bråten at Killer Inc.
Sharing a birthday with singer Morten Harket, he felt a special affinity with a-ha from an early age, and has written several articles about the band and their members' various side projects. In 2018 he was personally commissioned bythe band's songwriter and guitarist, Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, to pen extensive liner notes for the special vinyl edition of Våkenatt, the near-mythical second album by Bridges (a pre-fame band featuring two members of a-ha).
His first book a-ha : Down To The Tracks, is due for publication in March 2020.