Tomas Andersson-Wij, Lars Winnerbäck, Sophie Zelmani (in English),
Peter Le Marc, and First Aid Kit (in English)
Continuing my “Music for Nordic Noir” series… Today, I’m focusing on five contemporary singers or bands. Most of these songs are in Swedish, though not all. I listened to them a good long while without understanding the lyrics–the music speaks for itself. However, I have described the lyrics and translated a few lines below. The unifying theme here is a noticeable Swedish love of melancholy, which I think may have something to do with the popularity of Nordic Noir in general.
Tomas Andersson-Wij’s “Sanningen Om Dig.” I sometimes think this could be one of the quintessential ‘Nordic Noir songs’ I’ve heard. It sounds remarkably similar to U2’s “Love is Blindness” (the last song on Achtung Baby) in terms of melody and voice, yet Andersson-Wij’s song is far less overwrought. Where the U2 song is about love that tends toward violence, Andersson-Wij’s is, I believe, about the loss of a parent–certainly not about detectives or murder. That said, the loss is described in terms vaguely similar to a missing persons case, or even a crime scene. “There are paths you made / which never disappeared, although the snow blanketed them, though the woods burned/ and you heard a cry…The woods keep silent/ but they don’t forget anything…” It’s not an overt connection, but I recently listened to this while reading Johan Theorin’s Skumtimmen (Echoes from the Dead), which is about a woman whose son disappeared, and now the association is fixed in my head.
Here is a Youtube link to Andersson-Wij in 2008 playing “Sanningen Om Dig.” There’s a little light chatter in the background, but that’s why you should support the artist and buy his song. The song is not on Spotify currently.
Lars Winnerbäck has a knack for stringing together dozens of songs that perfectly blend together melancholy, bitterness, love, and weariness. The melodies are beautiful, if often sad. It’s quite difficult to choose just one song, but here are two:
“Mareld” is my favorite. The word itself is interesting. Its literal translation is “seafire” which refers to bioluminescence on the ocean’s surface–fitting since the song ponders the sad, even loathsome superficiality of contemporary life. But the word also calls to mind “mardröm”, or night mare (‘mar’ can come from two different roots). The song begins with a mystery. Something is wrong with the singer, but he can’t explain what. The rhyming lyrics are woven tightly together. He is “gliding” and “losing [his] focus.” In time, he locates his problem in the superficial nature of modern life–the fixation with money, sensational media that just gives people “what they want.” But it’s not only disgust with the mindless masses that troubles the singer, it’s a sense of inner decay: “I had so many ideas/I had a clear path/I had a thousand questions/and a thousand answers/ Quiet lies the way/in redbrown rust/It’s like seafire on the surface/like ‘all saint’s frost’ “
Anyway, it’s a gorgeous, sad song: Lars Winnerbäck – Mareld (spotify).
A close second is “Elegi.” This is an elegy for a couple’s private, shared sorrows. “An elegy for all the sorrows the fall hands out / for a mother in her sickbed, a child never born / For the shade on the path never warmed by sun / for the strength that failed, you mourn mine, and I mourn yours…” If this sounds incredibly depressing, ultimately this ‘elegy’ is more of a hymn to the couple’s trust in each other.
Sophie Zelmani sings in English. While Zelmani has recorded many albums, she is mostly too shy to sing in public. I find this completely endearing, though I would never have guessed it from my pick for today – “So Long”. This song has a steely, relentless intensity. Hypnotic and rather addictive, it’s a superb song for someone determined not to give up (or embarking on a road trip). My Nordic Noir pairing for Zelmani: Åsa Larsson’s novels, since her heroines are steely and relentless too.
Sophie Zelmani – So Long (spotify)
Peter LeMarc was born in 1958 in Trollhättan. Yes, in fact, in “troll hat.” To translate loosely from his Swedish Wikipedia page, he grew up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and his first album was called “Buick.” His father died of cancer in 1977, when he was just 19; his sadness is a recurring theme in his songs.
In “Between the Moon and My Window” the singer commiserates with others who have known a terrible sorrow. “Between the moon and my window lies a bridge” he sings, and urges the listener to “let the night have its way, all the time it takes / it must rain, so that something can grow…” “I know how it feels, for I have been there,” he says, attempting to console. There is a sense of unbreakable tension in the song, yet the melody finds its way, here and there, to brief moments of peace. In the end, it sounds as though the singer is attempting to console himself as much as anyone else. Kurt Wallander would do well to listen to LeMarc.
Mellan Månen Och Mitt Fönster (Between the Moon and My Window) – a decent recording on Youtube
If you like LeMarc’s voice and style, try a few other songs of his on Spotify–many are similar.
Last but not least: First Aid Kit. Johanna and Klara Söderberg are sisters, and they also sing in English with “close vocal harmonies and woodsy, folk-influenced songwriting” (-Wikipedia). Their music often uses rolling, dangerous rhythms and minor keys to great effect; there’s also a hint of the wild west. They sing with a very light American “twang”that I find irresistible; they seem to relish this accent in a way only a foreigner could.
The most popular of their songs so far, I think, is “Emmylou,” but it’s only a little ‘noirish’. However, it’s a fabulous piece of pop music–try it out! Two songs that definitely make my list are “The Lion’s Roar” and “Wolf.” Really catchy, haunting tunes; I have cursed them at 3 am more than once because I couldn’t get them out of my head–in a good way, of course!
Spotify: First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Spotify: First Aid Kit – Wolf