Spotlight on Scandinavia: 3 Musical Gems

When it hits you, it hits you hard: more music is being made now than ever before. Arguably, more good music is being made now than ever before. Some people will disagree with this statement, but for me it boils down to a kind of demographic and economic necessity. With the world population clearing 7 billion, and music-making costing less than it ever has, and the Internet tidily destroying barriers of space and time, the math all but guarantees it to be the case. We’re in a musical golden age right now. Do we even know it?

I’m really digging Scandinavian music right now. We don’t get a lot of it in America, besides Björk’s dizzying peregrinations and the glossy anthems of Sigur Ros. That relative absence is unfortunate. Here are three Scandinavian compositions that, while not exactly pop, tug at my heartstrings like a Huldra.

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Theme

This elegant theme is part of an animated short called Varmints. It starts simply enough: descending thirds track the changes of a simple but powerful melody. When the piano and strings join forces, you know it’s going to be special. Jóhannsson’s insistence is borderline breathless, and not just because the resolution back to the theme feels like the friendliest punch in the gut. Jóhannsson balances out the hopeful and the heartsick perfectly. Only at the very end, when the gulls sing their lament and thunder cracks its whip, does the brooding begin.

Esbjörn Svensson Trio – From Gagarin’s Point of View

Yuri Gagarin was the first human being to travel into outer space in 1961. EST’s tribute to Gagarin feels, not unexpectedly, like a message trapped in a time capsule, hurtling through space. This is jazz at its most melodic and incantatory. Svensson, on the piano, develops a haunting theme, with bassist Dan Berglund plotting his steady course. Short interludes—transmissions from another realm—provide some distance from which to watch the saga unfold. But the song and the video are spooky for another reason: like Gagarin, Svensson died in a freak accident while still young. The ice and water in the video are painful reminders of his tragic drowning.

Johan Soderqvist – The Arrival

Soderqvist did the soundtrack for the superb Let the Right One In (2008)a swedish film about a young boy and his vampire girlfriend. The soundtrack is stunning, and deserves mention alongside OSTs of There Will Be Blood (2007), Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), and American Beauty (1999) as one of the most affecting original scores in recent memory. Soderqvist experiments with open space and anticipation in “The Arrival.” The bass flatlines in the beginning, sustaining a sinister monotone until nearly the end; the horns and strings carve into this undercurrent, both tragic and ominous, leaving space for new feelings to suggest themselves. It’s reminiscent of Wagner, and a good indication of how flat-out wonderful the film is.

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