Plenty of new bands arrive on the scene with the purpose of imitating one or two specific artists with the hope of finding immediate success. For Norwegian super-group, Strange Hellos, they choose not to be pigeonholed. Instead, Martin Skålnes (of O. Martin and Aurora), Birgitta Alida Hole (Lumikide), Fredrik Vogsborg (The Megaphonic Thrift and Casiokids), and Even Kjelby (Great News) scour the music landscape and across time periods on their excellent debut album, Chromatic.
From Teenage Fanclub to Wolf Alice, from Belinda Carlisle to Alvvays, from the Cocteau Twins to Beach House, Strange Hellos cover 40 years of music. The result is a record that is simultaneously nostalgic and refreshingly modern. It’s like a family union, where three generations come together for one harmonious day and celebrate the best of what there is to offer. In this case, the family’s history revolves around pop.
The exact heart of Chromatic is where its centerpieces are found. The soaring pop number “Monumental” is exactly how it sounds. Right out of an ’80s, coming-to-age movie, the song soars immediately with shoegaze-y guitars and a titillating keyboard melody. Front woman Birgitta Alida Hole’s vocals echo the memorable chime of Belinda Carlisle, and her story is how exhilarating endless love can be. Immediately after is “Broken Teenage Heart”, which is a summery and smile-inducing song. This time, though, Strange Hellos take us by the hand and guide us through the difficulties that come with heartbreak.
“Any day I will get over you.
Any day you will fall over me.“
A similar retro vibe – this time beckoning of the carefree indie-pop of the ’90s – fills “We Are Trouble”. As the jangly guitars and brilliant bursts of the keys, the song takes on the feeling of sunshine after the passing of a storm. It is bright, warm, and uplifting, giving one the feeling she can do anything. Can achieve and overcome anything.
“Gold for the Golden” is a shimmering number which would perfectly fit in the middle of The Breakfast Club soundtrack. Like that great ’80s movie, the song addresses how chance encounters can lead to surprise opportunities. Meanwhile on “The Prime”, the Bergen-based quartet dial up the reverb, intensity, and edge. Musically, the song possesses the power of The Cure and How To Bury Strangers while Hole’s lyricism matches Ellie Rowsell’s (of Wolf Alice) in its poignancy. The song is essentially one big middle finger at all the doubters.
The album’s most unexpected songs are the ones that diverge from the album’s cinematic approach. The acoustic pop ballad, “Albert”, blends Fleetwood Mac and Sixpence None the Richer (the band who sang “There She Goes”). On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Wake Me Up”, a modern-day electro-pop song that echoes Lorde and Ladyhawke. Meanwhile, “Shere Khan”, the one track that does not have Hole doing lead vocals, is a synth-driven melodrama that has touches of MGMT and Empire of the Sun. The three songs feel a bit lost within the grandiose spectacle of the rest of the album, but they also demonstrate the band’s ambitions and creativity, which is nothing short than brilliant. It’s also the way to describe Chromatic. That is, it is a wonderfully unique album by a band whose visions and limitations are boundless.
Strange Hellos have a few shows coming up in November, and in December they will return to London. Information is available here.
Featured photo by Øystein Grutle Haara.
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