Stockholm, Sweden’s Small Feet has begun their career with From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like the Ocean (Barsuk), the latest in a canon of albums recorded by solitary, elusive men in bedrooms, cabins, or other intimate spaces. It’s the delicious, engrossing “cabin myth” of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. It’s indie-folk-hero Tim Showalter recording the first Strand of Oaks album in between nights sleeping on park benches, wreathed in cloudy blog-myth.
There’s always a little bit of backtracking done by the artists: Justin Vernon tamping down the mystery in an interview on Jimmy Fallon, or John Darnielle writing to PASTE Magazine to oh-so-john-darnielle-ish-ly put some of his lo-fi myths to rest. In the case of Small Feet, the mitigating characteristics are right up front, side by side with the romantic backstory.
Simon Stålhamre, Small Feet‘s central figure, has plenty of mythology ripe for the pitchforking: From Far… was recorded in an 18th century cabin on a huge island in the center of Stockholm. However, this cabin in part of a group designated for protection by the Swedish government and leased specifically to artists. Stålhamre dropped out of school at 15. But he didn’t immediately get swept into music. Listen here to WFUV’s Russ Borris’ interview of Stålhamre:
“…the pull of music was so strong?” [Borris]
“No. I was just in a bad place. It was a non-decision,” [Stålhamre]
Stålhamre spent several self-destructive years bouncing between jobs (nurse, flyer-poster, cafe worker), and he was on the verge of taking the exam to be a city bus driver when Small Feet began to germinate. But his debut album didn’t appear fully formed, bursting forth from the center of an indie-rock nebula. With a workmanlike, completely un-romantic style, he practiced singing over the years, recorded himself and listened back, like a baseball player studying film, until he was satisfied with how he sounded. Stålhamre speaks like the pragmatic, hardworking 33-year-old dad he is. He talks about his kid, his therapy sessions, his friend Jacob who plays bass in his band and pushed him to finally finish his first EP.
He sings, however, like the ragged, self-destructive teenager he once was, with the insistent high notes of Ben Bridwell and the throaty wail of Jonathan Meiburg. He sings of regret, feelings of displacement, confusion, and letting himself down. Why don’t you do what you said that you would? He asks himself. Vocal harmonies swirl. Jacob Snavely’s bass thumps prominently throughout, building stolid patterns beneath all the pain shouted forth by Stålhamre.
The music feels orchestral, even theatrical at moments, but nearly every song breaks down at one point or another to Stålhamre’s voice, bare, hoarse, barely holding it together.
The strength to be who he wants to be is building. Hope is no longer on the horizon. It is here, inside of us, ready to fill our sails and send us forth.
I like to think of myself in terms of a gathering storm,
or that I’m recruiting an army of heathens from the North
Simon Stålhamre sings. Then he explains:
To raise our voice ’till it can’t be ignored
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