Proper Music [Release date 25.10.19]
The third album by Thea Hjelmeland, KULLA, is the definition of artistic freedom. Hailing from Norway, Hjelmeland is a singer, writer and a multi-instrumentalist and demonstrates a genre-hopping confidence that suggests an artist completely at ease with her identity.
Opening track, ‘Hands Off’, is infectious pop underpinned by Chris Holm’s toe tapping bass and a hooky chorus begging to be chanted by the audience in a live setting. Hjelmeland effortlessly flits between dreamy Regina Spektor-esque vocals and Siouxsie Sioux-style chest voice.
Endearingly Thea’s breezy melodies are juxtaposed against some meaty lyrics covering heavy subjects; often eliciting a mental double take at what she’s just snuck past the listener in her deceptive pop package. Take ‘Happen Go Stay’, which boasts the lyrics “climb a tree befriend it and then tell her how we’re gonna kill her slowly”, against catchy rhythm guitar and drum loops. No more is this gloriously surreal approach in evidence than ‘Placenta’, that finds Hjelmeland describe giving birth and ruminate on her impending motherhood; “Let me do it all by myself! God, give me force – the strength to go on”.
Just when one thinks they’ve got the measure of the soundscapes at Hjemeland and producer Jørgen Træen’s disposal, another left turn is made; consider ‘Born’, a just over a minute a cappella in Norwegian that is pleasingly incongruous to the densely orchestrated tracks around it. Similarly ‘Kvardag’ uses an acoustic guitar, echoing vocals and diegetic sounds to absurd effect. In fact there is a distinct sense that as the 16-track album progresses, things are getting more surreal and off the rails.
On paper lyrics like “I’m a fever, I’m a nasty dream, I’m your sleepless night, I’m your itchy STD” may look bizarre but somehow it all works in Thea Hjelmeland’s quirky dreamscape. KULLA finds an artist that can be discussed alongside the Kate Bush’s and the Björk’s, the upper echelons of artists who are completely free. ****
Review by Phillip Beamon
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