Review: Hanne Hukkelberg — Blood from a Stone
The first time I listened through Blood from a Stone, the third full-length album by Norwegian singer Hanne Hukkelberg, my headphones were dying and buzzing with some ear-tickling ferocity. For a good twenty minutes, I was almost convinced the vibrations were just part of the music, another one of Hukkelberg’s sonic experiments. After I adjusted the settings on my headphones, it was a relief to hear clarity in the vocals and arrangements, but that strange first impression had temporarily provided an interesting lens through which to view this collection of surreal, and sometimes disturbing, compositions.
The new album, in some ways, is a far cry from the crisp intimacy of 2006’s Rykestrasse 68; the jazzy quiver in Hukkelberg’s voice is mostly gone, replaced by a direct certainty, and so is the airy looseness of the songs. She’s still up to her old trick of using unconventional instruments for percussion, but there’s nothing here as obvious as the purring cats, street noise, or clacking typewriters of Rykestrasse 68. The pieces on Blood from a Stone, with their juxtapositions between organic sounds and dark tones, remind me strongly of Denmark’s Under Byen, but Hukkelberg’s songs are a lot more linear and tuneful by comparison. (Side note: I’m often compelled toward Scandinavian music, like a magpie to shiny things.)
This latest record contains a couple songs (the nearly radio-ready title track, and “In Here/Out There”) that are as close to pure pop as anything Hukkelberg’s written in recent memory, but she always throws a wrench in the proceedings to keep things from getting too harmonious; something’s off-key, or the beat lags ever-so-slightly behind. The lazy interplay of bass and the muffled thumping on “Seventeen” (a dark horse candidate for favorite song here) creeps under the skin as the song slowly builds to a surprisingly melodic finish. A small handful of songs, including “No Mascara Tears” and “No One But Yourself” get lost in melodies that have nightmarish twists and turns. “Salt of the Earth,” in particular, tends to meander through some sinister “movements” without ever gaining foothold. Truth is, the album never quite wakes up from the bad dream, and it leaves us with a lingering feeling of unease in the closer, “Bygd Til By” the record’s only Norwegian-language song. The slow space jam perfectly mirrors the album cover: a picture of a woman in a glass bubble, holding a glowing orb against a landscape that’s half-alien and half-familiar. It’s often the familiar parts that are the most unsettling.
Purchase the CD at Insound