It’s been said before but it needs saying again: nothing beats a good melody. That mantra grows ever quieter anywhere south of Scandinavia and top of the pops. Smart, serious and above all fun pop music is an increasing rarity according to some official-sounding Spanish scientists. It’s a shame because acts like Philco Fiction should be picking a more marketable band name and playing to venues bigger than the Lexington –Norwegian or not.
Following up on a brief UK and European tour of their March EP release Finally –which included a stop at the aforementioned London venue –the Scando trio’s first album Take It Personal, out on Something in Construction September 3, is everything homogenised pop music isn’t.
Launching straight into thrilling opener ‘Help!’, a whirling bass line and clattering rhythm supports a guttural male-female harmony that sounds like a cross between Björk and the Dirty Projectors circa Mt Wittenberg Orca and Mongolian throat singing. But the self-spun comparison with the Icelandic icon can be overstated because of her superficial association with weird pop from the colder climates. But beyond some odd slips in register for tracks like ‘Too Close’ it’s more the childish vocals of front woman Turid Solberg’s contemporaries from Scandinavia Proper that make Philco Fiction yet another example of a region that took what Kate Bush did and ran with it –rather than sinking her memory into the dynamics-free waters of over-compression and Katy Perry.
Instead, it’s the focus on interesting rhythm shared by the like of Sweden’s Jenny Wilson and Lykke Li or the off beat and courageous stylistic exploration of Finland’s The Dø that really forms a clear indication of where this band is coming from. And that’s not mentioning the similarities between Solberg’s high-pitched vocals with that of the latter act’s Olivia Merilahti. Although not as tryingly high pitched as that, Solberg’s voice is suspended somewhere between a whining child and divine creature in lumbering banger ‘I Want You’. That boost of melodramatic R&B (if there is such a thing) is a well-chosen, if odd, choice for a lead single. Even more so the video that boldly draws some easy parallels between US military and Chinese communist propaganda techniques –the song-title being a reference to the famous Uncle Sam recruitment posters of the two World Wars and perhaps, considering its ambiguous and perceivably apolitical lyrics, an unintended one at its penning.
While the string section of ‘Too Close’ and the building tension of the bass clefs of a piano piece in ‘Portrait of Silence’ might offer an overwhelming, though no less ingratiating, sense of emotional affectation, one won’t forget that Take It Personal is clever pop for clever people. There’s lots of room for the ballads sitting somewhere between the overwrought pomposity of Florence &the Machine and the weird lilt of The Dø. But most importantly Philco Fiction offers a healthy dose of melodrama and mucking about while reminding us that things can be fun without sacrificing beauty and, most importantly, credibility.
Philco Fiction’s Take It Personal is out on Something in Construction September 3, 2012.