It must be difficult being Sigrid’s brother. The Northern Queen of Spotify Hits has had a meteoric rise and even gets to sing on at least one of the tracks on her brother’s debut album.
That’s where the similarities end. There’s no danger of Tellef killing sis’s vibe. He has a deep voice to start with, like he’s been smoking Capstan Full Strength since birth, the sort that suggests that ‘Wandering Star’ and ‘There is nothing like a dame’ should be well within his capabilities.
On the first track of Idiographic, ‘Next to You’ it could even be A-Ha, with Morten Harket at the helm of a song that is delivered in a pleasantly pacey 4/4 and with a terrific 1960’s bass line and clever synth interjections that are a feature of much of the album.
‘Of Smith’s Friends’ appears to be a eulogy to Morrissey; one that the old Traffordian probably needs in the light of the critical panning his latest album is getting. In the song, which shares some of Morrissey’s own lyrics, he ‘speaks’ to Tellef, advising him to focus on “the songs that make him smile”, something that Tellef finds it hard to do, writing most of them when he is melancholic. Like peas in a pod then.
‘Flying on the Ground’, already released as a single, is a standard pop song and, apart from the chorus, in which there is the enlivening female contribution of Sigrid, a bit of a plodder though at least it has a more positive flavour to it, influenced as it was by a real life love affair.
As for ‘Sister’, dedicated to another one who lives abroad, the song doesn’t really come to life, belonging in a generic Neil Young-ish, category; another of his influences, but without that touch of genius. Much the same is true of ‘Dear Aphrodite’, in which he references Bowie, whose thoughts “are no longer potent…but that’s alright”. He certainly knows how to name-drop.
‘Faye Dunaway’, is more upbeat, partly because it has a very strong, rock-like beat. It ventures into risqué lyrical territory; “You might be the death of me / you twirl and move aside / you lay down and open wide”. It isn’t clear exactly what he is singing about but the suggestion is of a surrogate “affair” with a screen idol he can’t have and which has supplanted reality.
The next two tracks, ‘Collide’ and ‘Just Kids’ offer a return to the promise of the first two with a simpler, more definitive melody. Collide has a British 1980’s feel to it, for some reason Aztec Camera comes to mind, while ‘Just Kids’, a little shoe-gazy, benefits from some attractive bass, drum and synth interplay.
‘It’s Stranger than the Rest’ concludes the album with a track that verges on dream pop at first then expands into an inspired electronic feast that could be attributable to any number of top 1970’s-80’s prog bands. It certainly is stranger as it suddenly stops dead before resuming, after a pregnant pause, as a discussion in Norwegian about – and followed by a rendition of – ‘The Glory of Love’, seemingly through a megaphone. It is when you learn that part of the song actually features a recording of a conversation with his grandfather in which he asked if he (Tellef) wanted to hear a classic song he loved that it starts to make sense. But even without it, the first part is three minutes of brilliance.
Idiographic is certainly the work of an erudite individual. Tellef was educated at a private Sixth Form College in Wales that has been popular with Norwegians for years, known for its liberal, progressive and radical education and one that provides more entrants to Oxbridge and the Ivy League universities than just about any other. The word Idiographic is a philosophical (Kantian) one and refers to the meaning of subjective phenomena.
Perhaps idiography came into play in the final song here.
It is without doubt a learned piece of work, the sort of thing that would attract the likes of Björk.
But you can be too clever and after a promising start the ingenuity of the lyrics is sometimes lost on account of (with a few notable exceptions) songs that don’t quite do enough to capture and hold the attention of the casual listener. In other words, while students of Kant will be enraptured, your average Joe just can’t.