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Juni Habel
Carvings Irina Shtreis , January 19th, 2023 09:26

The Norwegian artist’s second album is a powerful invocation, finds Irina Shtreis

Rakkestad-based Juni Habel released her first record All Ears in 2021. Most of the album was produced on Garageband in a minimalist fashion, with Juni playing acoustic guitar and her relatives accompanying on additional instruments. Although slightly more intricate, the artist’s second offering shows her boldly stepping further into the do-it-yourself territory where a sense of home plays a major role.

The world of Juni Habel is tempting and soothingly real. The album cover depicts her family home – a traditional Norwegian building that used to be a schoolhouse. This is where the musician resides with her husband Emil and grandmother Inger, who can be seen in one of the house’s windows. Just as the debut record did, Carvings reveals that for Juni Habel, musicianship and kinship are intertwined. The album features Emil on guitar and the artist’s uncle Sverre on double bass.

The idyll suggested by the artwork is counterbalanced by the complex meanings behind the title, implying the marks and traces that people leave in each other’s lives. There are hints of death and attempts to connect to loved ones through music and beyond it. ‘Valiant’ is dedicated to Habel’s teenage sister who passed away in a car accident. Gentle strums on the guitar produce a zither-like sound. Along with feelings of longing, the lyrics deliver a sense of presence: “Your kisses are still red on my cheek”.

The borderline between the physical and the intangible is explored in other songs. The haunted sound of the opening ‘Rhythm of the Tides’ underlines the spiritual journey. Pervading the impressionistic texture of the song, a soft hum attunes to meditative listening. Standout track ‘When We Awake’ feels cathartic. It takes off with mild waves of guitar plucking and pitter-patter piano, gradually coming to stillness. Throughout the album, there is a balance of inward and outward motion: the sound that has absorbed the surrounding environment as well as immersion and appreciation of the here and now.

Seemingly in harmony with the scenery, the team of musicians invoke the spirit of the place. Some tracks are pervaded by, perhaps, incidental, ambient sounds such as crackling wood or the mild wind howling. Instrumental – predominantly string – arrangements mimic forces of nature. Rivulets of guitar plucking on ‘Little Twirl’ create a perfect soundtrack for an escapist.

It’s hard not to be aware of the potential influence of Ane Brun, a critically-acclaimed Norwegian singer, on Habel’s chirping vocals. Yet, her bold approach to composition and arrangement seems to come from a unique world, a distinct place akin to that on the cover.