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Erling (And The Armageddonettes)
Fraillaments Wyndham Wallace , July 10th, 2013 05:58

As American chat show host Jimmy Kimmel said earlier this year (in a clip that soon went viral), "music fans in general love knowing about bands that no one else has ever heard of". He was introducing a segment called Lie Witness News, in which his team interviewed fans at Coachella about some of the up-and-coming acts they planned to see that week. "These bands," he said, "are so obscure that they do not exist." Get The Fuck Out Of My Pool? Shorty Jizzle and The Plumber Cracks? The Obesity Epidemic? "They’re innovative and they’re new," we were told by members of the public arriving on the festival site, keywords for a media and community often desperate enough to prove their credentials that they’ll dig so deep into the underground they fail to notice they’ve tunnelled into their own arses.

Admittedly, searching for new music is what keeps our enthusiasm alive. The desire for something fresh and inventive is not only natural in a world in which the majority of the music we’re presented is predictable: it’s vital. At times, however – especially in England, if acts who’ve broken through into the mainstream are to be believed – this provokes a kneejerk reaction that insists established artists are banal, and that only unknown ones can be indispensably creative. Fortunately, this could be to the benefit of Erling Ramskjell. A specialist in songs written in his local Northern Norwegian dialect, his face hidden by a beard that would scare even Josh T. Pearson, he lives amidst a small archipelago off the coast of Bodø, making a living – when he’s not touring Scandinavia – as a fisherman. You want obscure? The Quietus owns obscure!

In actual fact, Ramskjell isn’t entirely obscure in his homeland, though even there he’s hardly a household name. Abroad, however, he’s perhaps handicapped himself to a degree by insisting, until now, that he release his solo records under the name Æ. In truth, the most significant reason he’s come to our attention is that he lives on the island of Husøy, the home of one of The Quietus’ favourite festivals, Træna. Additionally, your correspondent admits that he’s spent time with Ramskjell, and is credited on this, his first English language album, with 'English sparring,’ an intriguing definition for what was essentially a couple of short English grammar and spelling lessons. But, though this means you’re being asked to trust the integrity of a man who once defended Simply Red’s debut album on this very site, we wouldn’t toy with your patience if we didn’t think Ramskjell was worth the effort.

So, if you can handle that, read on, because Ramskjell has earned his small yet devoted local following, as well as respect from other cult artists in the region, including renowned Swedish troubadour Stefan Sundström. Fraillaments is unlikely to trouble the front pages of hipster bibles, it’s true, but it operates in a world that, much like its creator’s insular environment, is both recognisable and strangely alien. It’s built upon familiar singer songwriter and indie rock foundations, but these are tweaked and teased into unfamiliar shapes, perhaps due to his decision to work with musicians whose names are even less familiar than his own (at least to those who don’t holiday in Eastern Europe): Armenian folk/punk/ethno glam heroes Wattikan Punk Ballett and Hungary´s biggest drum & bass band, Brains. Are these bands "so obscure that they don’t exist"? Apparently not, though believing unquestionably in the deity we call The Internet might be the most convincing method available to most of us to confirm their existence.

Whoever his band might be, their collaboration, recorded largely in Budapest, is a frequently satisfying one. Ramskjell’s voice – which at times, oddly, recalls Fran Healy with a sore throat, or perhaps a nervously shy Scott Walker – displays an unusual restraint that borders upon reticence, but it’s a quality that becomes increasingly endearing the more one familiarises oneself with his technique. This is especially true within the context of such dry production: there's little of the glossy reverb familiar from recordings that require a little bonus atmosphere to persuade listeners of their majesty, none of the gritty, faux amateurism one’s come to expect from bands that need to prove their authentic street-level credentials. Instead, Fraillaments lets the notes do the work in an unflashy fashion, shooting off in unexpected directions and defying most of the coffee table conventions that generally ensure music finds a wider audience.

The evidence is in the songs: 'unmagic’ is a skittery jumble of restless snare drums and staccato guitar lines in which Ramskjell admits to "getting tired of myself and my complaints" and invents the word "disillusiopaths"; the delightfully named 'Soulslipperism’ boasts a subtle Middle Eastern tinge and the grudgingly melodic qualities of a Eurovision tearjerker performed by a band of stoned, MOR-loving gypsies; 'Der Tankstelle Blues’ has hints of Nick Cave were he stripped of the ponderous self-importance that’s plagued his more recent records. Then there’s '…and such’, a flighty little number with rattling drums that, out of the blue, breaks into a joyful chorus of "Happiness, happiness" before defining it more precisely: "Bliss is blistering /A tide of sweet serotonin".

Ramskjell’s unafraid, too, of working up a sweat, as 'On Repeat’ proves, its fury capable of giving a whole bunch of skinny-jeaned youngsters a run for their money, and he’s no Scrooge with the arrangements either: a sweet mandolin, for instance, lies at the heart of 'Kosmonaut’, a distant, less morose cousin of R.E.M.’s 'Hairshirt’. Bringing in Gaya Arutyunyan on 'Dream’, meanwhile – she’s a vocal dead ringer for (former Lemon Kitten) Danielle Dax – is a masterstroke.

Ramskjell’s use of English as a second tongue has also allowed him to manipulate the language in an often fascinatingly unselfconscious fashion: "Words grow in my mouth," he sings on 'Soulslipperism’, 'wild venomous worms refuse to come out /Wriggling towards my brain instead". Similarly, on 'Bent By Rain’ he writes of how "The sky’s bent by rain / The colours outglow sunshine". He also explores vocabulary that rarely makes it into Dalston’s seedier dives – "And we see angels, princess / Where there are only trolls, frogs, witches" ('On Repeat’) – and he’s not scared of playfully sinking to sea level on 'Island’ as well: "I’m an island / You’re a continent / The sea parts us /The sea can fuck off."

Fraillaments is, all told, a little bit of island treasure. Like a forgotten currency, it’s not going to make anyone rich, but it’s valuable, nonetheless. That’s not just because it allows us to boastfully ask if our friends have heard about "this guy who lives on a tiny island in the Arctic and makes this cool, beardy-weirdy, Nordic folk-influenced indie-rock." No: Ramskjell has a genuine talent for awkwardly shaped songs that wriggle under the skin, something that may irritate some but is just as likely to tickle others. As he eloquently sings at the album’s very start, "I’m a master of at least one single game / How to make my little audience go tame".

So, go on, then: no one else has heard of him. And Erling Ramskjell (and his living, breathing Armageddonettes) deserve to be heard.

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