Music for Moviebikers – POPMATTERS (Review)
The Magazine of Global Culture
Norwegian underground artist Kaada’s debut, Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time, was one of the most important albums of 2001 in Norway — in the whole of Norway, yeah. The album made it to the US in 2003, where it received a relatively positive (if on the whole, baffled response from critics) bringing together influences as diverse as ragtime, R&B and jazz into an electronic pastiche as goofy as it was funky, as personality-filled as it was hipsterishly ironic. As the final, title track fades out, Kaada repeats his farewell, “bye bye” over and over, and you’re left wondering whether you missed something, or whether the guy’s laughing at you.
This Avalanches/DJ Shadow/RJD2-like pastiche sensibility is totally drained for Kaada’s follow-up solo effort, Music for Moviebikers. To illustrate the difference, whereas the first disc was “written and produced” by Kaada, this one is “composed” by him, and where the first was driven by looped vocals, wacky samples and twisted beats, this is almost classifiable under the genre of soundtrack music. Now yes, Kaada’s on Ipecac, Mike Patton’s label, and yes, he did release a collaboration album with him last year, but Music for Moviebikers is understood most easily (despite the vast superficial musical differences) in relation to his other solo release.
So, soundtrack music for an imaginary film? In fact, that’s almost what Music for Moviebikers was called. Kaada imagines these pieces as accompaniment for whatever images the music itself conjures up, which sounds a lot like Program Music. Remember Year 3 music class, when they played Smetana’s Die Moldau and showed you how, yes, here was the storm and there the peasants’ dance, and in the end, the river reaches the ocean every time. No one piece on Music for Moviebikers has the length or the depth to communicate such a range of experience, but as long as you regard each song as a Program Music bonsai, a sketch or a single scene, it’s incredibly evocative. Take “Julia Pastrana”, perhaps the album’s serene heart, it winds its way around a twisting flourish of a melody. The tambourine taps a melancholy off-beat; as a soft choir hums out the melody and guitars bend and twist, it’s not difficult to imagine a touching farewell scene, or clouds, or the serene beauty of a winter lake. The best of is that the details are entirely up to the listener.
The album was recorded using live instruments, and turns out Kaada = innovation there, too. He’s come up with this new instrument (which he hopes will one day find its way into production), some piano string and springs contraption. This is all well and good, except that most of the purported innovations end up sounding like general folk music/Asian traditional music influences. “The Mosquito and the Abandoned Old Woman” is all dark waltz, brimming with Eastern European sensibility. “The Small Stuff” is more-sophisticated Beirut, with a folk cello line and echoes of electronic production adding an interesting, shimmering effect.
The most conventional song, and the one of the disc’s genuinely charming moments, comes early on in “Mainstreaming”. Nothing like “Mainframe” off Thank You, this is like a classic ‘60s tune, with double bass plucking out the bass line. It’s a simple gem of a song, and so shamelessly melodic that you think, why isn’t more pop music like this? It’s pop drained of attitude — just melody, just gorgeous melody.
Elsewhere, Kaada’s Morricone-worship takes the form of faint Western echoes, as in the twisting country guitars woven into the texture of “Daily Living”, or the accordion-waltz hurdy-gurdy of “Birds Of Prey”. In fact, most of the pieces on Music for Moviebikers are either waltzes or lullabies … which could have flirted with ho-hum/caffeine-lacking work afternoon nap time, but mostly avoids boredom with a flick of disdain. If there’s any complaint to be made, it’s on “No Mans Land”, which sounds a little too much like Titanic theme music, or “Celibate”, which stretches its welcome a little at seven minutes-plus.
This quiet, little release is all the more welcome amid the bombast accepted as atmospheric rock. And for those of you who are pining after the crazy sample-antics of Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time, I’m sure Kaada’s boundless invention will eventually cough up something similarly twistedly funky. For now however, it’s more than enough to bask in the warm atmospheres of our internal scenery.