posted on December 03, 2010 18:00
A review of the album 'Opticks' by Silje Nes
Review Snapshot: The Norwegian singer’s second album, Opticks, is a triumph in delicacy.
The Cluas Verdict? 7.5 out of 10
Full Review: Alongside flat packed furniture and, eh, I don’t know, fish, Scandinavia has also been exporting its fair share of singer songwriters over the last decade. And despite my blatant ignorance of the region, I do at least know that they tend to follow something of a formula. Scandinavian music, with notable exceptions of course, is often characterised by distant, dreamy voices and meandering musical pieces, usually involving minimal guitar riffs. And a fair amount of these folks have been classically trained. Ólöf Arnalds sophomore album received a glowing review on Cluas earlier in the year and she was classically trained in violin and singing. Silje Nes was classically trained in piano. The point is that these are talented and well educated artists.
Opticks is born of this great Scandinavian tradition, it is fragmented, deceptively simple and like a wardrobe from Ikea, it takes a little time to piece it together.
All crass Scandinavian conventions aside, this really is something of a hidden gem. The artistic strength - and consequently the commercial weakness - of the record is its subtlety. Nes’ voice rarely rises above a whisper and it has the rare ability to sound at once distant and at the same time immediately intimate, drawing comparison to the style of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. ‘The Grass Harp’ is the finest album opener of any album I have heard this year. It begins as fragile guitar picking and gentle humming before turning into a beautifully controlled chorus. Throughout the album Silje Nes shows remarkable talent for conjuring charming choruses out of nothing, ‘The Card House’ is a particular highlight.
Opticks is for a bus journey as you stare out the window, occasionally deep in thought but for the most part happily vacant. It is not quite the heart-on-the-sleeve brand of songwriting that has been prevalent in many of this year’s releases (Band of Horses, Kings of Leon, Midlake), preferring a more introspective examination of love, romance and escape. But it really isn’t about what she’s singing, rather how she is singing it. The romantic notions are amiable, though not all that poetic. What is poetic though is her soft voice over the lazy guitars and considerate percussion, lulling the listener into a trance like state, where the words no longer even matter.
‘Symmetry of Empty Space’ and the final track ‘Ruby Red’ are other highlights, though isolated from the album they would be diminished in their impact somewhat. After all Nes seems to be an artist who still reveres the sanctity of the album format and as a result this flows as a piece very well.
Opticks will not end up in many of the esteemed end of year lists that folks make. Nor will it likely make a killing on album sales, or even enjoy the fleeting popularity that alternative artists with softly sung songs sometimes achieve (like Bon Iver or Damien Rice). However it is a beautifully created album that deserves attention.
Silje Nes - Branches by FatCat Records
Silje Nes - Crystals by FatCat Records