A little bit of background, I normally start these reviews with a piece introducing the band and frequently I will name check individual band members to highlight parts of their performance. There’s a slight snag this time…. the editor sent me a link to the press blurb (which is where I get most of the information) with one additional line of text: “You’ll need to use Google translate”….. the press release was in Norwegian! Being a luddite, I couldn’t work the translator out – so this review is brought to you “naked” of band information. It’s an interesting experience, listening to a piece of music without knowing anything about it – even if you stumble into a pub to hear a band playing songs you’ve never heard, you at least have the visual of looking at the band – I didn’t have that, so the following is all about the music.
The album opens with “Springtime” which is a short acoustic piece that sounds absolutely perfectly titled. Not the dynamic opening that you would think most bands would want to have grabbed the listener’s attention. Not unpleasant but not really anything special either – it does however introduce you to the vocalist. Next up is “Woodlands” which is a full band effort and is another gentle song with lots of “ooh” vocals and a really nice laid back vibe. There is some very inventive drumming, rather than the usual “4 on the floor” from most drummers. The song changes tack about three quarters of the way through and builds to a decent crescendo. A fairly pleasant offering. Track 3 is “Wedding Song” which opens with just acoustic guitar and vocals – it makes me think that possibly the “band” is actually either one man (a la Simply Red or The The) or the singer/guitarist are the “main man”. The band kick in about a minute in and again it’s a decent folky, acoustic song. The lyrics aren’t as bad as some Scandinavian bands’ efforts. Already, I am beginning to think that this wouldn’t be a bad listen at a picnic, in a secluded area on a decent day. “Redwood” similarly opens with just acoustic guitar and vocals but the band join in much earlier and this song bounds along in the well-mannered form of the other songs but this one features a lovely acapella section. The vocals on this record are very tastefully done and the stand out feature of this band.
Similarly “Dark Horse” opens with an acapella section before the band gently makes its entrance. Guitars gently pick away and the drums make their presence felt gradually building under a polite bass line. This is characteristic of the album, in that not much happens but what does is fairly inoffensive. The next song – “Straight From The Top” is the longest song on the album and isn’t lead so much by the acoustic guitar – but a fairly clean sounding electric guitar (don’t worry folky folks – the acoustic is there in the background). The guitar solo has a loud opening and then almost apologetically quietens down. It’s a great solo which proves that emotion can be as effective as a million notes per second, when constructing any solo. “If You’re Going To Let Me Down” opens up with what could be a mandolin (but is more likely an acoustic guitar played quite high up the neck) and is the most “rocky” that the band get – but is in no way “heavy”. Another decent song and probably one of my favourites – again featuring a decent guitar solo but with no real “pyrotechnics” but enough musical chops to let you know that the player can play. There’s also some Hammond Organ to boot!! “Lady Nightingale” opens with – gasp – the electric guitar! Don’t worry the acoustic is still here and in fact the usual moods and stylings of House In The Woods (which it turns out is the perfect name for a band playing this type of music), are still very much present. Great harmonies – check, acoustic guitar – check, subtle but clever drumming – check, verse of growling – er…..no! Closing song “That Great Ocean Sound” is laid back – strange decision not to finish with the proverbial bang – but it still works, in the typical House In The Woods way.
The first few listens to this album initially made me think that I wasn’t going to enjoy it – further listening rewards you and you start to hear new things, despite the sound being fairly sparse. It’s not normally something that I would choose to listen to and I’m not sure I can recommend it that widely unless gentle acoustic pop folk is your thing. Having said that, I really enjoyed “Woodlands” and if you were looking for something inoffensive to play at a party/barbeque then give this a whirl – even your mum would like it.
For information –I finally worked out how to use Google translate, so can tell you that House In The Woods were started as a studio project in 2009, by singer, songwriter and guitarist (see I told you after Wedding Song!!!) Sondre Strandskog Arnesen. In 2013 he was joined by the rest of the full line up - Guitar, Pedal Steel and vocals – Mats Halvorsen; Bass - Jorgen Stangeland; Drums - Jarle Haland and keyboards - Anette Kathinka Servan. The press blurb likens the band to Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, Midlake and Bon Iver – which to my eternal shame, I’ve not heard anything by any of them!
Review by Adrian Grainger