Wendra Hill ~ Ungdomskilden

Ungdomskilden is odd in all the best ways.  The entry points are spoken word samples: a woman hawking the praises of laminate, a man counseling comfort around snakes.  But beneath these lie the artistry of improvising collective Wendra Hill, a Norwegian duo (Jo David Meyer Lysne and Joel Ring) that has become a trio with Øyvind Hegg-Lunde on drums.  Adding to the oddity is the brevity of certain tracks: 30 seconds, 55 seconds.  But once the translation is revealed ~ The Source of Youth ~ it all makes sense.  The musicians take glee in their instruments, and the exuberance of youth shines through.  The trio is having fun, so the listeners are too.

The first “full-length” track, “Bergsjøstølen,” is named after a hotel on a lake, and unfolds like a happy winter vacation, the rhythm of tires on transverse cracks followed by the shimmer of cymbal snow.  One might call this post-rock, or the edge of rock experimentalism.  Two taps on chimes are a harbinger of bells to come.  The hammered strings of “Puffpuff” are vaguely Asian, an invitation to a higher state of consciousness.  But just as quickly, expectations are turned on their head.  Honoring its title, “Hammer’n i Tokyo” starts like “People Are People” before Hegg-Lunde leans into the avant-garde.  Garbled voices go in one speaker and out the other.  The hammers return, only to topple into the aforementioned bells.  The intricacy of sound battles the draw of melody.

And then of course there is “The Beauty of Laminate.”  The spoken word lasts only a few seconds, after which the cello takes off into uncharted territory, the 12-string guitar turns pastoral, and one can imagine, if only for ninety seconds, how wonderful that laminate will be when applied to one’s own home.  Don’t hesitate; call now!  Once upon a time, its tidy length would be perfect for filling the side of a mix tape, its topic unique enough to warrant inclusion.  Next up, the title track sounds a lot like a person high on energy drinks chopping vegetables as fast as he can.  And then, snakes, with light singing, quacking and tap practice.

After this watermark, the next four tracks race by in six minutes, like miniature eclairs that one eats in one bite.  The collective seems to be racing toward its conclusion.  Our only quibble is that some of these pieces seem like sketches on their own and might have been better served as pieces of a whole.  The muted finale makes us think there’s a lot more left in the tank, and as we’re still not sure how to classify the collective, this leaves us happily wanting more.  (Richard Allen)

Available here

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