We want to talk about subtlety today; admittedly not something that we’re perhaps best not known for, what with all the opinions and verbal machine-gunning that regular visitors might know us for. You see we really shouldn’t be into this artist. It goes against our otherwise consistent views about over-sized pop and the cliché minefield that today’s artist tiptoes through. Our first opinion when we hit the below play buttons was to consider this artist very similar to the band Hurts. This is not a good thing. A few years ago that same Manchester pop act initially earned their place on The Recommender too, following all the excitement around their début single, Wonderful Life. It was a delightful piece of noir pop that had us salivating at it’s classy understatement and style, however, a few months later their début album arrived and to suggest it was a let down was a massive understatement. Not only did the album of glossy clichés make us look like fools for backing them, but their desperate story unfolded in what turned out to be a slightly disingenuous third attempt at a career in music. Don’t even mention their ill-advised Christmas single! So if today’s recommendation are the new Hurts we should be running for the hills, right? Wrong, there is a subtle difference between them and the Manchester glory-chasers.
Around the start of the year we had nearly an entire month of posts dedicated to music that had all arrived from Denmark. At that time we had ourselves a useful source based in that country throwing handy tips our way. Here we are heading into the last quarter of 2012 and once again we seem to have Denmark back on our radars. Just a few weeks ago we completed a post about the exceptionally decent MØ, from Copenhagen, but today we turn our spotlight to yet another solo artist from Denmark. Asbjorn – full name Asbjorn Toftdahl – gives this blog it’s second spell of Danish dominance in a single year. No prizes for which country wins 2012 as far as The Recommender is concerned, as the Danes have absolutely smashed it this year. This 19 year old is yet another fine example of just how much Denmark does pop music better than any other country right now. It’s not that the UK, or the US, or Canada, or any other of the traditional pop giants, aren’t still churning out thousands of new pop artists each year, it’s just that it is only on the rare occasion that they have produced pop of this quality, and at this rate, in the same wonderful way Denmark has. It’s absolutely astonishing and Asbjorn continues the class.
But is he the Danish Hurts, and if so, then why would we spare him our time? Well, there are definite similarities, as this guy is undeniably very, very pop. He even cites Britney Spears as one of his major inspirations and his music reflects the grand designs and polish that pop requires. Like Hurts, he occasionally wallows in a dark gloom and occasionally he soars skywards, with productions that include strings and a choral backing. This is very much dramatic pop music, of the kind that requires big expensive videos. The subtle differences come when you step away from the singles to the album – his debut, Sunken Ships, arrived earlier this year, however, we’re pretty sure that you won’t have heard of Asbjorn quite yet. You see, he’s doing this without the major label involvement and we think that’s where the real differences are located. So often major labels will fuck around with a pop artist like this, forcing him into the teen markets that his obvious good looks will no doubt attract. Sure these labels do a great marketing job, as they get him to the audience that they believe he is set for, and the budgets they throw at videos run as skywards as his songs, so they can prove useful, but they demand tweaks and changes to the songs and something so often shifts in the artist’s integrity at that particular junction. Hurts got to that same junction and took the wrong path. They gave it up. Asbjorn’s path is still all his own.
Now you might argue that when comparing Hurts trajectory and current position to his – both have released their début albums after all – he comes off looking worse. That’s entirely fair, but we aren’t here to focus on his commercial success, we’re only focused on the music, and with Asbjorn it really is sublime. His track, The Criminal, is a great place to start, sounding like he’s covered the hit Robyn never released. It’s beat whip-cracks back and forth from the outset and his styled voice drifts between the scales so sweetly. It’s a great example of how to master wide open key changes in a pop song. He’s not afraid to break the song at it’s halfway point before the fizz is jammed back in. The album’s opener is Bones Bad Bones, which he picked as his latest single, having released it in recent weeks. It’s another example of how to do pop music that is pulled taut, although he knows how not to over-stretch it. It has drama played out over more of a percussive beat, which shows us he is able to deliver the same key changes and pop structure in a more organic song. Songs like I Am A Dancer, Hunger and Brushstrokes drift around your headphones as if he’s pushing an atmosphere between your ears. Just like The Criminal, tracks like Rainbow Chalk,Strange Ears and the impressive, climactic She Is A Hurricane continue the mature craft on offer, but over a faster beat, giving us his most pop moments. As brittle and emotive as his voice can be there’s a warmth among the melancholy tones. It’s like finding comfort in your own company.
We got in touch with his manager earlier in the year and he explained that Asbjorn had “ambitions to definitely release internationally, but the primary concern right now is to make the best possible album and establish Asbjorn in his home territory“. To back this up, he has been busy touring the album in Denmark and a handful of dates are still available over there as we run to the end of the year. His music is surely primed for a decent live show, with a confident front-man. He confirmed that all sounds are played live using an additional four musicians, so that will increase the percussive feel that he applies to his pop. He really has made a masterful album, incredibly strong for a début never dipping in quality or ideas. He plays it so cool, always taking the listener on an emotional journey. In truth, he has succeeded in delivering dramatic pop music of a kind that Hurts once made before the label interfered, but more comparisons with the likes of The Knife and a strong match with Robyn, should prove to be more accurate and useful, securing this corner of pop for the Scandinavians. We imagine that Hurts take their tea with so much sugar that they can stand their spoons up, and although this guy isn’t removing the sweet taste entirely, his audience demographic is much broader – if anything, this is Hurts for adults. (MB)