Phaedra: The Sea
Rune Grammofon

By its own admission, Rune Grammofon hasn't been so taken by a debut since the appearance of Susanna and her Magical Orchestra all the way back in 2004, and it's not hard to understand why the moment Phaedra's The Sea starts playing. Ingvild Langgård, a new presence on the Norwegian music scene, possesses a voice that exerts a Siren-like effect on the listener (the choirs cooing behind the lead vocals during “The First To Die” and “Black Dog” only makes the Siren connection all the harder to deny), and the songs themselves are enchanting gothic-folk incantations and medieval hymns that imprint themselves upon one's memory.

The incantatory “Death Will Come” casts its spell immediately, with Langgård's crystal-clear voice navigating the song's lilting melodies in hypnotic manner, and the mysterious, fairy tale-like character of her material surfaces when her singing is reversed during “Oserian.” The title song is also the album's longest, but not a moment is wasted during its eight haunting minutes. Faint echoes of other artists occasionally surface in Langgård's music: “Sister” wears its mournful heart on its sleeve so nakedly, one could easily imagine Morrissey doing his own stirring version of the ballad, and a little bit of Siouxsie Sioux seeps into the harpsichord-laden “The Darkest Hour.”

Langgård shows unerring judgment in her handling of the songs' arrangements. While a multitude of sounds are at her disposal (instruments as diverse as saw, zither, mbira, glockenspiel, accordion, harmonium, and vibraphone appear alongside the more conventional acoustic guitar, saxophone, and keyboard sounds), she exercises remarkable restraint in not allowing the songs to grow cluttered. If anything, they're minimalistic in make-up with her voice and acoustic guitar often supplemented by a small array of accompanying instruments. “Honeydewed Autumn,” for instance, complements her voice and acoustic guitar with little more than violin and viola but their presence is all that's needed to make the arrangement feel complete. We're told that The Sea is the first part of a planned trilogy, so let's hope the following chapters end up being as strong as the debut.

April 2011