Nordic Music Review Favourite Albums 2016
A list such as this is always going to be a matter of personal opinion, and we deliberately call it our 'Favourite' Albums list for a reason. Other opinions are available, and as always we welcome yours, so feel to drop us a line to tell us what you liked, what we missed and what we maybe shouldn't have included. Thanks for reading this and we will try to bring you the best of Nordic music in 2017. Best wishes to everyone for the New Year.
25 The Hallway -'Vestad'
OK, so this only just about qualifies as an album with just 6 tracks, but it is hugely rewarding and it is one of my most listened to releases of the year. Huge tunes, with a whole range of instruments thrown into the mix, Simen Schikulski's (formally of Team Me) new band offered an excellent debut, and I have no doubt that they will be a big live hit at festivals in 2017.
Highlights of 'Vestad' include the brilliant 'Million Ways' and the anthem like 'Stay and Grow Old'
24 Select Captain - 'Strings and Feathers'
I get so much pleasure from listening to the reassuring vocals of Kristian Gaarskjær, and his album 'Strings and Feathers' is a real success, combining soft Americana with some British indie influences from the 90's.
His songwriting is mature and his style really suits a long play album perfectly, this is not 'throwaway' music but traditional well written tracks that have longevity. Highlights include '40 Nights' and 'I Hear, I Hear'.
23 Juha Kujanpää - Kultasiipi (Goldwing)
We’ve done our very best to review a wide range of different styles of music this year, and Finnish composer Juha Kujanpää released an extraordinary instrumental based album called 'Kultasiipi' combining Nordic Folk, modern classical and some rock influences towards the end of the year. Some of the tracks such as ‘Impromptu’ are just the most beautiful compositions and positively compare with the likes of Max Richter and Arvo Part. This is well worth its inclusion in our favourite albums list.
23 Elin Ivarsson - 'Elin Ivarsson'
There is a real natural warmth about Elin Ivarsson's songwriting that instantly appealed to me, she writes stripped back songs from the heart. The Swedish singer has lovely vocals, and her debut album contains a real mix of tracks, from the 'impish folk charm of 'Luka to the more intimate and melancholy strains of 'Another Day Will Come'.
Brighton based, we'd love to see Elin perform 'up North' in the UK, and we hope that will happen in 2017.
22 Katzenjammer - 'Rockland'
Not forgetting we’re a review site aimed, in the first instance, at increasing awareness of Nordic music in the UK, we almost always get a really great reaction when we point people in the direction of Katzenjammer, and their album ‘Rockland’, released back in January (I think dates may have varied across countries), is packed full of outrageous tunes, whilst their live shows in the UK have been excellent, and great fun too.
22 Matti Jasu and the Loose Train - 'Gone to the Dogs'
Oh I do like this album that was released so early in 2016 I had to double check it wasn't the previous year. Matti Jasu is such a good songwriter, and he is able to create and structure really fine songs with big melodies. Bands such as this don't get the attention they deserve, which is a really good reason to keep championing them on this website. Great to see them on the Finnish music website 'One Chord To Another' top Finnish Albums of the year list too.
21 Susanne Sundfor - 'Ten Love Songs'
Susanne Sundfor’s album ‘Ten Love Songs’ has appeared in many peoples ‘Album of the Year’ lists, and this was another excellent release from the Norwegian artist, with a diverse album based around a very simple theme.
21 WESEN - Wall of Pain
The Icelandic duo released their 'Wall of Pain' album later in the year, and its a real success, with a lovely subtle mix of electronic and acoustic sounds. The vocals are dreamy, laid back and never feel harsh, and as a result the album is really easy to listen to and like. Highlights include 'Virgin Eyes', partly because of the lyrics, but tracks such as 'The Low Road' and 'Beachboys' hit the mark too. I have no doubt we'll be hearing more from these guys.
20 Mew - '+ ='
Danish band ‘Mew’ followed up their No More Stories…. (etc)’ Album with a simpler titled release called +=, and its a triumphant return which is big, bold and full of confidence. Their live shows in the UK were very well received and they sneaked back at the end of the year to do 2 in London too.
20 Swaying Wires - 'I Left A House Burning'
We have to go right back to the beginning of the year for the Swaying Wires Album 'I Left A House Burning', a beautifully constructed album which is so soft on the ear. The style is Nordic Folk with an Americana influence, and at the heart of the album Tina Karkinen's vocals are seemingly effortless. The Finnish band have a really good reputation back home, and if you want a couple of tracks for your playlists try 'Nowhere' and the lovely but simpler 'Ways to Remember'.
19 Canigou - 'Now'.
I'm just so pleased to include this album amongst our favourites of the year, as I just have so much time for this Swedish band who raised some of the funds for their album through a Crowdfunding style appeal. 'Now' is a weighty album, which mixes Cocteau Twins style vocals and complex rhythms and muted brass, and the textures wave patterns of intricate and dreamy music. For a 'small' band like this to release such a compelling album is a huge achievement, and I really hope more people will discover their sounds.
18 David Åhlén - 'Hidden Light'
It took me a while to get to David Åhlén's extraordinary 'Hidden Light', and I felt so guilty I hadn't got to it sooner. The Swedish singer released an album in September which will take a while to seep into your consciousness (as the Canigou album does too), but it is all the more rewarding for it. I love the range of musical effects, every sound is so precise, and Åhlén's voice is spiritual and powerful. Try 'Heal Me My Love' and 'Recapulatio', along with opener 'Morning Prayer'.
17 Suð - Meira Suð
After a long absence, Suð from Iceland returned, and 'Meira Suð' is just such a good album - a real band just playing well written indie punk influenced songs with guitars and tunes. The album has a lo-fi style, and it is performed with a vivacity and energy that becomes infectious after a while. Clearly liked and respected by musicians back in Iceland, this is such a welcome return from Suð - and there are just too many good tracks on a consistently strong album to name some highlights.
16 Code Elekto - 'Wolf'
After the successful 'Superstrings' released last year, Code Elektro return with a more developed and expansive sound in 'Wolf'. In an absorbing cyberpunk album, Martin Ahm is able to create such vivid imagery through his analog and digital space aged sounds, and the addition of the occasional electric guitar and saxaphone sounds add an extra dimension to the music. This is a hugely impressive album, with a real depth to its sound.
15 Exec - 'The Limber Real'
The album from Exec (Danish musician Troels Abrahamsen) is intense, emotional and challenging, but ultimately hugely rewarding. The album is based around just piano and vocals, and to build an album like this based on such spare instrumentation is a real achievement in itself. Lyrically too there are some clever and thoughtful moments, particularly in 'Full of Knots', and I have such a high admiration for this album - as have others I've passed it on to.
14 Junius Meyvant - 'Floating Harmonies'
Icelandic musician Junius Meyvant's album was highly anticipated, and he delivered a masterpiece of sumptuous soul pop sophistication, with refined polished tracks with a great use of strings and breezy brass. These are well written tracks that I've liked far more than I ever dreamed, and it is an album which was well received by all involved with Nordic Music Review. 'Floating Harmonies' is musical composition of the highest order.
13 Pyke - 'Detox'
Norwegian duo 'Pyke' released an album which we only featured in December, but as soon as I heard it, I knew we'd been sent something pretty special. Years in the making, it feels like it has been carefully handcrafted, and I still find it difficulty in believing it is the creation of a duo, so expansive is the sound. With post rock and shoegaze influences, this is a band who's sound I think will appeal to many, and the positive reaction of many other blogs backs up this view too.
12 Svankropp - 'Svankropp'
I'm delighted to include Norwegian / Swedish band Svankropp in our Favourite albums of the year list. I realise that the music will not appeal to everyone, but to me this a sensational album, so different and interesting, with a range of influences so diverse from Noise Pop to Post, Progressive and Gothic Rock. Complex guitar and drum noise open up into glorious sublime vocal melodies, and I love 'Super Power Girl' and the most accessible track 'So It's Made of Fire'. I have no doubt that there's loads more to come from these guys.
11 Cats of Transnistria - 'Divine'
One of our major 'fails' of the year was not being able to do a full review of Cats of Transnistria's 'Divine', but we have featured the Finnish band a couple of times and 'Divine' is an album which has continued to grow and grow on me all year. They create the most extraordinary soundscape and visions through their music, and tracks build with intensity and beauty. Highlights of the album include 'Let It Happen This Way' and the beautiful 'Displacement.
10 Ólafur Arnalds - 'Island Songs'
Ólafur Arnalds has been involvement in so many different amazing projects in the last 2 years that it is difficult to keep track of everything. His Island songs project over the summer was particularly special, travelling across 7 different locations in 7 weeks recording with different musicians, The stories behind the songs are as special as the music itself, but in particular I love 'Raddir' featuring the South Iceland Chamber Choir.
9 Giant Giant - 'Giant Giant'
I think it's compulsory to include a lo-fi hidden gem of a Finnish band in our favourite Albums of the Year, and the trio Giant Giant delivered a blistering album at the beginning of the year which has big raw sounding guitars and plenty of great tunes. There are so many highlights on the album but start with 'All you need is more', then head to 'Skylab' and the more subtle 'I Shot the Porcupine'. More recently they released a great acoustic version of 'I didn't know' too.
8 Frisk Frugt - 'Den Europæiske Spejlbue'
Frisk Frugt's album ‘Den Europæiske Spejlbue‘ is utterly outstanding, brilliantly conceived and totally original. To many I realise it's probably a bit overly complex and even indecipherable, but to me there is so much in this release that I have remained entertained all year. It's also Kavus Torabi’s (Knifeworld, Cardiacs) Album of the Year, and he really does know what he’s talking about.
8 Bob Hund - 'Dödliga Klassiker'
The highlight of my presents from Santa this year was a classic Bob Hund t-shirt, a reflection of the fact that I'd been slowly working my way through their back catalogue for a number of months. Their release this year has been 'Dödliga Klassiker' and it just has so many great, quirky warped folk rock tracks, from 'Rockabilligt' to the sing-a-long version of 'Blommor på brinnande fartyg'. Less well know in the UK, probably due to them singing in Swedish, but I keep returning to this album time and time again.
7 Pascal Pinon - 'Sundur'
We are well amongst some of our very favourite albums, and Icelandic twins Pascal Pinon delivered a lovely album over the summer which is well worth everyone listening to, if you haven't already. This is an album which is as mesmerising as it is remote and raw, and it does take some listening to, but it is worth the effort. So many rich clever harmonies, and all so understated, stripped back and beautifully delivered.
6 Moddi - 'Unsongs'
This was a truly mammoth project, with Moddi rewriting 12 tracks from a shortlist of over 200 songs that has been banned across the world for one reason or another. I spent many fascinated hours reading the stories behind 'Unsongs', and have far more rounded views on subjects I knew little about previously. Musically I particularly love the instrumentation in tracks such as 'A Matter of Habit' and 'Open Letter'.
5 Frokedal - 'Hold on Dreamer'
'Hold on Dreamer' is a folk pop album with style, class and charm. A highly enjoyable listen, with it's main strength lying in the consistent high quality of all the tracks, but with a depth of feeling in it's lyrics too. Packed full of good melodies and well constructed songs, Frokedal delivered exactly what we expected, a high quality album which was easy to fall in love with. This is such a charming album.
4 Agnes Obel - 'Citizen of Glass'
A stunning album, Citizen of Glass' is intense, sometimes dark and also very beautiful too. As expected the vocals are gorgeous but it is the wider musical arrangements that give the album such depth and character. Cellos dominate the early tracks and they convey darkness as well as opening up with beautiful shards of light, whilst the use of harpsichord and a trautonium add different textures to the tracks too. Loved by everyone involved with Nordic Music Review..
3 1900 - 'Tekno'
Tekno’ is an extraordinary composition that I've listened to so so many times - instrumental music which feels so personal, but is also diverse in its output. From the beautiful opening 'Den modernitet som aldrig kom', to the sad but uplifting 'Ljuva Mekaniska Jag', and the incredible 'Anti 1900', Christian Gabel's creation is such a success.
2 The Culture In Memoriam - 'History's Dust'
This is such a 'personal' favourite, a hard hitting album both lyrically and musically, and from my perspective it seemed perfect in it's timing both socially and politically. It is a glorious treasure trove of ideas and complex instrumentation, and whilst it might almost be too much for some people, this is my type of music, and I love the tone, the style and the delivery. 'History's Dust' just means so much to me, and all the hard work, labour and angst of keeping a Music blog such as this going is worth it for an album like this.
1 CeaseTone - 'Two Strangers'
We head back to Iceland this year for the 2016 Nordic Music Review Album of the Year, and an album which is a completely magnificent achievement in many ways.
CeaseTones Two Strangers' is packed full of extraordinarily well constructed songs, surprises at every corner,and the mix of electronic and acoustic instruments weave a delightfully complex web of sounds that is both clever and interesting to listen to over multiple listens. There is an emotion and intensity in the vocals too, with genuine 'goosebump' moments in tracks such as 'Humble History Song' and 'Full Circle'.
There is a real precision in the song writing and use of instruments, and a subtle beauty in tracks such as 'Sight of Your Life' which is outstanding. This is such a good album, and whilst CeaseTone are getting recognition within Iceland in particular, they still deserve far more attention.
We really hope you will like this as much as we do.