TRALLSKOGEN - Trollskogen
Band name and cover artwork might let you expect Scandinavian black metal, but you couldn’t be any further from what this strange yet great band is offering on their debut album Trollskogen. Swedish-German singer Annika Jonsson grew up bi-lingual in Rhineland-Palatinate, and after getting her degree in mathematics, she decided to add another one in jazz singing. Last year, she released already an album with her jazz pop band Caleido Club (English lyrics) and an EP with her indie pop band Nika & Karambolage (German lyrics), and now this incredibly busy artist is back with her new band Trallskogen, changing to Swedish lyrics.
The idea for this band came to her after a visiting a museum in Sweden about travelling folk singers, known there as trall singers. Their lyrics deal with trolls, elfs, the magic of the wide Scandinavian landscapes etc., and Annika Jonsson wanted to transfer the mood of that music into a hybrid between jazz and folk music. Her band consists of a pianist, a drummer, a double bass player and an electric guitarist. Apart from the electric guitar, we get a really jazzy acoustic instrumentation. But that doesn’t mean that you should expect any standard approach to songwriting. Let’s start with the seven-minute long intro that begins very minimally. You might think that hardly anything will happen here. There are a few notes played on the piano, the double bass is played tentatively with a bow, the drums resound from somewhere in the background, and the guitarist seems to be tuning his instrument. Then, four and a half minutes into the song, Annika starts her incredible vocal performance that reminds me a little of a less arty Björk. Her vocal range is impressive, and will make sure to elevate the music to the highest levels.
The following Trollskogen is even longer at seven and a half minutes, and is also my personal highlight on the album. The guitar introduces this song, to be soon accompanied by the glass clear vocals, and then by the rest of the band, turning this into a mesmerising exercise in pop jazz folk that also flirts with progressive rock sensibilities. More than once the band’s approach reminds me of Robert Wyatt and other Canterbury greats, especially Hatfield and the North. The last one and a half minute of the track consists of a drum solo. So early into the album, this shows that these guys don’t give a damn about conventional structures. Weirdness ensues with Bergtrall which begins like a friendly piano jazz tune, but soon enough this song turns into an avant jazz monster of the most nightmarish proportions. The end of the song features some ethereal vocals, and then we’re treated by Vad nu, another long track starting with a bass solo that leads into one of the band’s most progressive tracks. It’s here where Annika’s vocals will really break your heart. This is the stuff that makes me cling to the hope that good music is still possible nowadays.
The second half of the album starts with the more upbeat Älvdans, an unusual track and at three and a half minutes the shortest piece on the album. The vocals do this scat thing together with the tingling piano, and after so much drama throughout the album’s first half, it’s really refreshing to hear the musicians having a good time. Therefore the following Han drack feels like a hammer. This song feels like a dirge, and comes with a melancholy that few artists can muster with such authenticity. Goosebumps inducing, I tell you! And back to happiness with the quirky Bitar, at four and a half minutes the second shortest track. Farväl ends the regular part of the album. This is a beautiful ballad and a fitting album to one of the best and most original albums I have heard in a very long time. The hidden bonus track Intercity Mood strays from the folk music from before, and offers a more traditional take on jazz funk.
Lately there have been some female performers that really made a stir in the music world. Myrkur’s strange brand of folk black metal may not be to everyone’s taste but is original. Anna von Hausswolff’s last album was a revelation. And now make room for Annika Jonsson, the math-music wunderkind whose forays into pop jazz may be quite traditional, but what she did here with Trallskagen is a true work of genius. It doesn’t get any better than this!