The Last Hurrah!!: Spiritual Non-Believers
Rune Grammofon

Credit Norwegian producer HP Gundersen with bringing a new genre, what one might christen “cosmic raga-influenced country-folk blues,” into the world with his new project The Last Hurrah!! and its debut album Spiritual Non-Believers. The band weds the respective instrumental and vocal talents of Gundersen (whose drone guitar playing is based on open, modal tunings) and Heidi Goodbye to a rich mix of violin, electric guitar, acoustic bass, tambura, harmonica, bouzouki, and percussion provided by guest musicians. The album features three pieces only, with two songs of regular length framing a massive, thirty-one-minute epic. In another sense, however, the album plays like a non-stop collagistic stream with no breaks separating the tracks and the longest one feeling more often than not as if eight or so song sketches have been sandwiched together.

A cover of a song taken from a 1970 album by obscure Norwegian outfit Oriental Sunshine, “Mother Nature” jumpstarts the album with an uptempo feel-good romp with ‘60s-styled fairy-tale lyrics chanted by a mini-choir fronted by Goodbye, followed without interruption by the album's half-hour centerpiece “The Ballad of Billy and Lilly.” A song cycle of rapidly mutating design, the epic wends its way through a patchwork quilt of trippy hoedowns, folk-blues chants, psych-folk instrumental bridges, rockabilly, and acoustic drones, with all of it crowned by an effervescent vocal front-line comprised of Goodbye and backing vocalists Karoline Skuseth and Lillian Samdal. A dark and strange saga about two childhood sweethearts lies at the heart of the piece, but chances are you'll be so dizzied keeping pace with the ever-changing musical scenery you'll hardly enough time and energy left over to grapple with the lyrical content (the exception being the song-ending “She wants to shoot the two of them and probably kill them both,” which lodges itself firmly in memory due to repetition). An occasional harmonica wheeze and trumpet bleat surfaces during the trip, but “The Ballad of Billy and Lilly” is at root a showcase for Gundersen's acoustic drone guitar playing and Goodbye's girlish chirp, not to mention an arresting vehicle for the former's fecund imagination. The breezy closer “Melodi Grand Prix 63,” a sunny, bossa nova-styled tribute by Gundersen to Norway's history in the Eurovision Song Contest, follows without interruption, with David Vogt's violin and Gundersen's pedal steel singing sweetly alongside Goodbye's jubilant vocal. In essence, what Spiritual Non-Believers amounts to is forty minutes of music probably unlike any you've heard before. The root elements aren't new, but the way they've been stitched together by Gundersen makes the music feel fresh and unfamiliar.

September 2011