7/10 Immediate surroundings seem to have a powerful influence over Hanne Hukkelberg’s state of mind, and certainly her music. Her impressively lovely debut Little Things was recorded in the warmth of her own home, giving the impression of a naturally playful artist secured and impressed by the subtleties of found sounds and everyday things. A rawness crept in around the edges for the follow-up, Rykestrasse 68, which documented a temporary to Berlin, while isolating herself on a remote island in northern Norway brought much braver, colder edges to her songwriting, as documented in the audacious jazz-rock experimentation of 2009′s Blood From A Stone. Hukkelberg’s belief in a concept and willingness to constantly reimagine her approach to her art provides an implicit hint of what not to expect from her fourth album Featherbrain, and that’s something we’ve already heard.
Conceived following her relocation to New York in 2010, Hukkelberg’s main focus here appears to be on rebirth – or, to be truer to her own words, on washing away “the slovenly untidiness, my featherbrain,” as she sings in the chorus of the title track, which opens the album in a burst of unnerving percussion and repetitive guitar strikes. The crowded, almost overwhelming nature of the song is an evolution from Blood From A Stone: bolder, more ironic and, somehow, less emotional, as if some of her essential softness had been scrubbed out in the cleansing process.
Instead, there are tremors of confusion and inner mess woven into the album’s DNA and influence its syncopated and dissonant essence. Take ‘Too Good To Be Good’, where synth bass, handclaps, vibraphone and banjo pour over a drawn-out procession of ecstatic shouts and clamours reminiscent of some lighter free-jazz outfits, and ‘You Gonna’, the album’s rockiest piece. ‘You Gonna’ documents Hukkelberg’s voice in a fatal combat with the heavy guitar of Ivar Grydeland and wild percussion work of long-term collaborator / producer Kåre Vestrheim. The never-ending intensity of this song is true to its lyrics that “There is no end, no stop, no terminus / it’s a circle and it’s about finding your own pace,” but the pace here is too warlike for the peaceful message she delivers in the midst, as if the noise were shoehorned in to satisfy no purpose but its own.
Featherbrain has gentler pieces, too, like the minimalist ballad ‘I Sing You’ with its stunning breathy climax, and the closing ‘Erik’, a duet with her octogenarian neighbour Erik Vister that draws on Norwegian folklore with what can be presumed to be a fragmented happiness expressed in her native tongue. These contrasts to the rest of the album are somewhat off-putting but that’s surely Hukkelberg’s main intention: to express her own chaos through confusing the listener a bit too. It’s tempting to glorify her braveness in this regard, since Featherbrain must have been a difficult album to put together – mastering those many layers of freestyle rhythms and unrestrained percussion could not have been easy – but the end result is a bit too all over the place to satisfy completely.
The rapidly morphing lead single ‘Noah’ is perhaps the album’s most representative expression of Hukkelberg’s current passion for intense emotions of decay, and is one of her best songs to date. There’s a true masterpiece still to come from Hanne Hukkelberg but for now everyone can pick their favourite part of Featherbrain, which is everything and at the same time nothing that she has recorded before.
Tagged hanne hukkelberg