Stein Urheim & Mari Kvien Brunvoll: For Individuals Facing the Terror of Cosmic Loneliness
Jazzland Recordings

Any number of potential keys are capable of opening this charming outing by Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll, but one of them is surely the album's second song, “Lazy Philosopher.” In little more than four minutes, the song calls to mind everything from African juju to The Beach Boys' Smile, even if it evokes above all else the kind of bossa nova-styled lounge-pop one might have heard on a French radio station in the ‘60s. Much like that song, For Individuals Facing the Terror of Cosmic Loneliness is a mercurial creature that, without sounding like an incoherent jumble, references all manner of disparate musical forms.

Though the album title derives from Bertrand Russell, the thirty-four-minute collection is hardly burdened by philosophical concerns; on the contrary, the recording is marked by playfulness and a light heart. And if Brunvoll and Urheim sound cozy together, it can be explained in part by the fact that the alum isn't their first outing, it having been preceded by Daydream Community and Daydream Twin. The material feels relaxed and lo-fi in feel, as if the two recorded the songs in leisurely manner during long explorative hours in the studio.

As implied, “Lazy Philosopher” is a standout, not only for its stylistic richness but also the breezy quality of the duo's singing. Dub rears its head repeatedly, never more conspicuously than in the swinging guitar and bass parts in “For Now,” but so too do folk, blues, and Afropop, the latter in the rousing “That's What I'd Do.” With harpsichord-like flourishes and slide playing added to the mix, “Things I Wish For” plays like some unusual blend of classical and Hawaiian musical forms. “Trees” by comparison suggests some site-recorded African rumination voiced by kalimba, flute, and voices to which shimmering strings have been later added in the studio.

Just as it did on his 2014 self-titled Hubro outing, Urheim's guitar playing impresses, but the instrument is hardly front and center on For Individuals Facing the Terror of Cosmic Loneliness, sharing as it does the stage with a host of other vocal and instrumental sounds. The duo sings and plays guitars, bass, kazoo, zither, kailmba, percussion, flute, tamboura, and bouzouki, among other things, and are accompanied by Jørgen Træen, who's credited with modular synth, mellotron sample, and programming. The presence of singing on much of it gives the album a song-like character, but it's even richer in instrumental content. And while a sense of child-like wonder permeates the material, due in part to the vocal delivery, the music exudes mystery, too. When the two politely ask, “Are you glad that you came?” during the bluesy closer, chances are you'll respond with an unequivocal “Yes.”

October 2015