By Gareth Watkins
CALGARY — It may be the case that the fondness Northern Europeans have for electronic music is all down to the climate. Much like Canada, for half the year the weather is miserable enough to confine the population indoors, moving between heated apartment complexes to office blocks to shopping malls in boxy, efficient cars. Technology isn’t just a fact of life in Sweden, where Lust for Youth was founded; it’s what makes life possible. In the grim Northern English cities where much of what became ‘synth-pop’ (roughly speaking Lust for Youth’s genre, at least on their most recent record, 2014’s International) originated, the only good things in the lives of the members of New Order (from Manchester) or The Human League (Sheffield) were televisions, record players and later, synthesizers.
For Hannes Norrvide, for two albums the band’s sole member, the decision to avoid acoustic ‘rock’ instruments was simple.
“It’s fun to work with synthesizers and electronic instruments and see what kind of sounds you can come up with.”
For LFY’s first two albums, it didn’t sound like anybody was having any fun. 2012’s Growing Seeds and 2013’s Perfect View, both released on the taste-making, ultra-cool Sacred Bones records, didn’t owe much to the polished, populist electronic music of the mid ‘80s ‘second British invasion’, but to the earlier, stranger synthesizer experiments archived on Stones Throw Records’ Minimal Wave Tapes (remember Ohama? Martin Dupont? Linear Movement? Didn’t think so).
Unlike the early synth pioneers, Norrvide wasn’t aiming to capture the polished sounds of professionally recorded music. The recordings are thick with bass-expanding fuzz and a tape hiss that renders the treble as a sharp white noise, with Norrvide’s vocals reverbed to the point of being impossible to decipher. It’s minimal wave produced like it was the lowest of lo-fi indie rock.
For International, Norrvide bought in collaborators so there was “three brilliant people with brilliant ideas working together.”
Malthe Fischer is formerly of psychedelic pop act Oh No Ono, while Loke Rahbek has played in Vår, Damien Dubrovnik and Sexdrome and is the founder of the Copenhagen-based Posh Isolation record label. Norrvide also relocated from his native Gothenburg, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark. It has seriously changed LFY’s sound and their method of recording.
“We spend more time on writing songs now than before. The old way of working was with the mindset: ‘first take is the best one.’ Just press record and play it, and if there was any mistakes I just let them be there, because I was recording on cassette at that time so I had to accept the mistakes or to re-record the whole track.”
Take the first track from International, dubbed “Epoetin Alfa.” The initial synth stab is glorious and huge, like the THX sound effect used to show off what cinema speakers are capable of. Distinct, clear guitar lines mostly free of effects save for a dab of reverb follows. Within 23 seconds Norrvide’s vocals appear. After the extensive processing he put them through on his previous records, this feels like the first time we’ve ever heard him sing. The song is about Lance Armstrong, the cycling legend who went from being his nation’s pride to its shame overnight when it was discovered that he was doping with the drug from which the song takes its name. On the chorus Norrvide intones ‘he crossed the line/this time, crossed the line,’ referring to both the finish lines and the moral lines that Armstrong crossed in his career. Coming after albums of murky, indistinct electronica that showed evidence of Norrvide’s links to Sweden’s harsh noise scene, “Epoetin Alfa” is jarring.
If “Epoetin Alfa” is a sharp left turn, the song “Armida” is where Norrvide transfers to a different form of transport entirely to continue his journey. He enlists electro-pop vocalist Soho Rezanejad to sing about moving her feet and losing control. Not losing control because of the alienation of late-capitalist society, not moving your feet to run from your problems, but because it’s fun to dance. On the next track, “After Touch,” a return to miserabalism comes like a breath of fresh air, with Norrvide channeling Morrisey and Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch over a waltz-time beat.
The shift in sound between the records feels like less of a stylistic U-turn and more of a thawing out, revealing what had been frozen in Norrvide during his career until this point. He’s not just a happier person (during our interview he jokes about being influenced by R. Kelly and the band adopting a seal at Helsingborg zoo), but he’s more confident of his abilities as a front man. Reviewers had remarked on how beneath the static and reverb there were synth melodies that could be in accessible pop songs – now they are. His goal for this album, and the new three-piece band, was “To try something I didn’t feel comfortable with and to challenge myself, it was about time that something should change.”
See Lust for Youth on Friday, August 7th at the National Music Centre with Rhythm of Cruelty, Tigerwing, Poison Wave and Melted Mirror. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. They play in Vancouver at the Hindenberg on Saturday, August 8th.AB, Alberta, Lust For Youth, National Music Centre, The Hindenburg