Ivar Grydeland: Stop Freeze Wait Eat

Kim Myhr: Bloom

Stein Urheim: Strandebarm

Many Hubro releases feature multi-member bands, but there also are some featuring a single artist playing all of the instruments involved, cases in point recent collections by Stein Urheim, Kim Myhr, and Ivar Grydeland. Of the three, it's Strandebarm, Urheim's third solo album for the label, that's the most accessible, in large part due to the presence of vocals and generous amounts of solo guitar playing, the latter so blues-drenched it sounds like it might have risen from some Southern swamp. That the recording is so accessible nevertheless comes as a bit of a surprise, considering Urheim's eclectic sensibility and his avowed interest in everything from Norwegian folk music to the electronic sounds of early Kraftwerk and the blues of Lightning Hopkins. On this seven-song set, he distills such catholic influences into physical form by augmenting his guitar playing with flute, harmonica, tambora, bouzouki, Turkish tanbur, mandolin, langeleik, banjo, pocket-cornet, and percussion, and by including modular synth playing by producer Jørgen Træen.

And though they're not dealt with heavy-handedly, there are ecological and political dimensions to the album, too, as evidenced by the inclusion of the two-part “Water,” whose lyrics question its ownership, and Urheim's belief that everyone on the planet should have access to it. Such concerns came to occupy his thoughts whilst basking in the clean air and water of Strandebarm, one of the places he's called home in recent years, and thinking about how woefully different circumstances are for citizens in less fortunate countries. It's clearly no coincidence that the extended instrumental he titled after the locale exudes such a peaceful and pastoral air, especially during those bucolic passages where his acoustic guitar musings appear unaccompanied or enhanced by a softly shimmering backdrop.

Initially arising as a shuddering dronescape, “Water - Part 1,” the instrumental half of the two, becomes an acoustic blues-folk roller replete with striking slide flourishes, whereas the infectious second half bolsters its rolling blues-folk groove with chanted vocalizing. His voice also surfaces during “Oh So Nice,” with this time words by Kurt Vonnegut nicely complementing the tune's sing-song vibe. Also memorable are a meditative, delicately rendered treatment of the traditional “Fjellbekken” plus “Berlin Blues,” a light-hearted travelogue that showcases Urheim's musicality and prowess as a guitarist. To his credit, he makes his position clear on the album's ‘serious' matters without losing sight of the need to be musically engaging, not the easiest balancing act to achieve but one he manages well.

Though Kim Myhr has established himself as a leading figure on the Norwegian experimental scene as a composer and guitarist, Bloom is hardly what one would call a typical guitar album, even if the majority of the sounds featured were guitar-generated. That's because Myhr explores the instrument's textural possibilities rather than using it as a vehicle for soloing. He initiated the project by recording sketches for two weeks and then, after a break, dedicating six more weeks to it until he was satisfied; evidence of that methodical approach is heard in the careful deliberation with which the material develops on the thirty-eight-minute set. And as his acoustic twelve-string guitar music can be physically demanding to play, Myhr also decided to adjust his working methods, which accounts in part for the presence of electronic and acoustic sounds. To that end, his customary arsenal of acoustic and electric guitars has been supplemented by zither and electronics on the five tracks.

Myhr's decision to exploit the guitar's textural range is evident from the beginning when “Sort Sol” blossoms from a slow electric guitar figure into an electroacoustic blizzard. That being said, the track nonetheless straddles multiple realms in featuring a plenitude of guitar-generated effects whilst also pursuing a resolutely experimental examination of abstract sound possibilities. Arriving as it does after two intensively explorative workouts, “Swales Fell” immediately entrances the ear with placid pools of zither strums, the effect as soothing as it is enchanting, while the acoustic and electronic realms coincide during the eleven-minute closer, “Milk Run Sky,” when Myhr scatters scrapes and other noise treatments across a base of acoustic strumming. As stated, while conventional guitar soloing is eschewed on Bloom, a considerable amount of energy is dedicated to exploring the instrument's sound potential, such that during some episodes its raw and scabrous sides are highlighted whereas tremolo effects and atonal treatments are explored in others. One visualizes Myhr applying any number of objects and manipulations to the guitar as he diligently coaxes from it any number of alien sounds for this experimental set.

Of the three releases, it's Ivar Grydeland's Stop Freeze Wait Eat that's the least captivating, though the concept driving this follow-up to his 2012 solo debut Bathymetric Modes is a promising one: originating out of a project developed at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Grydeland, using acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, electronics, rhythm devices, and pocket piano, aspired to replicate an ensemble's sound by improvising on top of sounds generated ten to twelve seconds earlier. The material as presented exudes a lo-fi, micro-sound character that invites comparison to the music produced by figures such as Loren Connors, Mark Fell, Oren Ambarchi, and Keith Rowe.

“Stop Freeze Wait Sing” opens the release with a dozen minutes of amelodic ambient drift punctuated by carefully considered guitar stabs, plucks, and strums and the loping stumble of a drum machine beat. Others, such as “Lag. Accumulated” (both A and B) and “Eat After Me,” largely strip the instrumental resources down to spidery skeins of electric guitar that when woven into multiple layers assume a density befitting a multi-member outfit. That Stop Freeze Wait Eat is subdued in pitch isn't in itself objectionable, but, frankly, it's just not all that interesting, certainly less interesting than the music he makes as a member of Huntsville and Finland. Presented as a series of subdued guitar-based explorations, the thirty-three-minute album only truly springs to life when a banjo's jangle energizes the atonal creep of the seventh and final track, “Stop Freeze Wait Sleep,” but by then it feels like a little bit too little, too late.

December 2016