Hanne Hukkelberg has been singing and playing instruments since the age of three and has a solid background both in academia and in jazz, having been a jazz vocalist.
But it’s a quantum leap from jazz to doom metal, which is one she made, joining the band Funeral in high school as a vocalist, contributing to their second album, the upliftingly titled ‘In Fields of Pestilent Grief.’
Fortunately, she got that nonsense out of her system and went on to make a series of albums of her own which might be described as experimental electronic art-rock. ‘Trust’ is the fifth of them, five years in the making, and tackles what has become a common theme amongst songwriters during that period, namely how people live their lives in the age of the internet, and how it can be so detrimentally consuming.
With the potential therefore to be dystopian in nature, Trust actually isn’t for the most part; rather it salutes the human quality after which it is titled and its capacity to subdue the digital beast.
Take ‘The Whip’ for example, which was released as a single earlier this year. It’s an unusual and fascinating mix of styles, a sort of high-speed electronic funky hip-hop jazz, or jazz-hop as it is now being referred to, held together by off-beats that, as they intensify and gather speed, verge on trap beats.
In it, she sings about the constant search some people need to engage in to find perfection and have “everything”, and that the need for someone rather than something is far preferable. Not a million miles removed from the sentiments on Arcade Fire’s ‘Everything Now.’
The second voice belongs to Highasakite’s Ingrid Helene Håvik, who has worked with her before and who complements Hanne Hukkelberg rather well.
‘IRL’ (In Real Life) meanwhile mocks the unreality of that acronym and warns of how a constant connection to the cyber world can lead to self-imposed exile from the real one.
‘Embroidery’ apparently was written for another rising Norwegian star, Emilie Nicholas (who, again, also features on it), and has a more positive and unusual premise; that friendship – and patience, a quality that has fallen out of fashion – can help people through professional difficulties as well as personal ones. Musically it is one of the more abstract and experimental tracks, stuffed with bizarre samples, some of them dating back over a decade (even her grandmother’s old piano makes a fleeting appearance) and devoid of any recognisable form, which is at odds with the lyrical content.
Many of Hukkelberg’s compositions are highly technical, almost mechanical in nature. ‘Europium Heights,’ for example, opens with a sound not too divorced from that on Pink Floyd’s ‘Money,’ possibly quite deliberately. The track started life as a instrumental one, ‘A Machine’s Heartbreak’, embracing, metal, wood, cutlery and even mouth sounds, and was conceived as an (environmentally dystopian) letter to the future, influenced by a raft of philosophers. Referencing the River Nile, Machu Picchu and the Great Barrier Reef in what could easily be interpreted as an anti-tourism rant, she proves that she can manipulate words as easily as musical notation with some wonderful lines, like “all I see is a Kilimanjaro of aluminum, rising high…”
‘Silverhaired’ specifically underlines the importance of trust in self, although you’d never know it. The strangest track of all, after a rapid repeated introduction in German, a male voice drones on about “37 trips around the sun”. Make of it what you will.
‘Fall’ is a sort of Groundhog Day story about getting up and facing the world day in, day out, which seemingly had its origins – ironically within the concept of the album – in Hukkelberg’s iPhone alarm tone. Of course, Bill Murray only had a wind-up alarm clock to prepare him for meeting Punxsutawny Phil every morning for eternity but just as he hung on in there until a triumphant conclusion so does Hukkelberg, with fighting language: “And I fall, but I’ll rise, I’ll rise again”. Chumbawamba’s cover is awaited with interest.
‘Raindrops’ is different, the nearest to a dance track on the album and similar to the direction Ingrid Helene Håvik took on some of her more recent material. Perhaps it suggests the future for both of them. ‘Alone Together’ is a poppier re-run.
The closing track, ‘Duper’, is delivered in Norwegian and has the sound of a Lutheran hymn with an Australian aboriginal backing, and played with traditional instruments, totally at variance with the rest of the album, though a vocoder is used. Inspired by a row with her son and musings about life cycles and personal growth it evolves into a summary of the album, an examination of the meaning of Trust and a commitment to the values of what makes us human, over those of technology, if that doesn’t sound pretentious.
Hukkelberg certainly isn’t. There is genuine emotion in this album albeit expressed through an electronic medium that one would not usually associate with it. Not everything quite comes off. There are a couple of splutters but there are far more exceptional tracks than duds, and a few pleasant surprises along the way