Das Body – 'Peregrine' (album)
So who is the bird of prey, then? I take it they are referring to lofty, gangly-limbed singer and occasional bassist Ellie Linden, whose body shape suggests a builder’s angle measuring device. She could double as one, when she isn’t modelling. (I don’t know if she really is a model but she should be. The band’s name isn’t a coincidence).
In the couple of years since I first discovered Das Body, the Oslo indie electro--pop four-piece from the gritty, apartment complex dominated, blue collar east side of the city have released a number of excellent singles, one of them this year and which made the long list for my ‘Single of the Year’ award, and which is on this album (‘Scared’).While it didn’t make the three-song short list it came very close to it. I’ve also seen them live a couple of times and they are a very dynamic but tight bandwith an electro, synth + guitar style very much of their own.
On top of all that they’ve just been voted Norway’s ‘best new band’ by the newspaper Dagsavisen, which started life as a workers’ paper, a bit like the Daily Mirror, and which fits Das Body’s image as very much a band for the people, although as they point out, they aren’t exactly new.
So I’ve anticipated this debut album for some time and then contrived to miss it (it was released three weeks ago). Still, better late than never.
It’s a nine-track album, including three that I’ve heard them playing live (‘Scared’, ‘Against the Glass’ and ‘Taller than the Average Man’), together with six that I should therefore assume are new, by which I mean written this year. I was a little disappointed to find my favourite song of theirs, ‘Graceland’, wasn’t on the album but in fairness it is on their 2018 self-titled EP.
To say they are an eccentric band would be accurate; they’ve been described by their own label, Luminelle, as creators of ‘odd-pop’. Not eccentric like, say, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, but mainly encapsulated through the non-stop jerky movements onstage of front woman Ellie, the passion she puts into it and the strange faces she pulls. If any singer ever acted her songs it is her.
So the fact the first track, called, with great foresight, ‘Intro’, is just 10 seconds long and sounds like it was recorded at a party before a voice which belongs to Oslo’s equivalent of Coronation Street or East Enders yells “Shut up…you’re just like your father” isn’t a huge surprise. Will that be the intro to their live shows of this album? Is the Pope Catholic? Is wrestling fixed?
The next three tracks are marked ‘explicit’ on Spotify so put the kids to bed now. I’m not sure why ‘Better half’ is though, there’s no strong language although Ellie does refer to herself as “a bitch in heat waiting for nothing” (a favourite word of hers) which seems to be the crux of the matter here – the ‘other half’ isn’t up to the job, if you get my drift. Very American influenced, it cleverly references ‘Breaker 1/9’ the song and the terminology later used in trucking staple ‘Convoy’. Musically, while it lacks their usual catchy melody it will grow on you and benefits from some sterling synth work towards the end by Kim Granholt and a choral backing by a heavenly choir that is the band’s own collective work.
I haven’t a clue what ‘Living on in silence’ is about so won’t embarrass myself by venturing a guess although there might be a hint of a suicide pact in there? Another slow burner with the Linden vocal getting higher and more frenetic all the time. Having compared her in a previous review to Debbie Harry, on songs like this she could be Courtney Love.
‘Taller than the average man’ is an older song I think, and more representative of the style I tend to associate Das Body with as they integrate a church organ and a gospel chorus into a piece with a much stronger melody line and some imaginative percussion from Didrik Karsrud. Towards the end it has morphed into a minor anthem for the blond female giraffes of this world.
The lyrics to ‘Scared’ are very simple and repetitive but they are as difficult to interpret as they usually are with this band. This may be a sort of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ scenario, or even ‘Jane Eyre’ where she’s getting above her station with her beau.
“You live in a bigger room than me/You ask me if I like the way that you talk to me/You live in a bigger room than me/It's the look on your face.
You bring me down to my knees/It's the look on your face
Let me feel a little scared”.
Or – and I‘m really pushing the boat out here - even a ‘Story of O’ or ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ BDSM situation. I can imagine them crying with laughter reading this. But whatever the meaning the song is anchored on a great tune and that gospel chorus is back.
‘One night woman’ doesn’t leave much to the imagination, does it?
“I'm the one night woman you keep calling / You know how far it could go / But you don't see me walking after hours / If I do - and I won't - then reply”.
A ‘relationship’ with a prostitute which is in danger of turning into a real one? If so, other songwriters have explored that conundrum before, but not like this.
Vocally, Ellie channels Polly Scattergood so accurately here that I thought they’d co-opted the Essex girl as a voice coach for it. (Check out her ‘I hate the way’ for example and compare/contrast it).
But where it really scores is in the musical arrangement. From the second minute it changes into a synth anthem that I reckon is set to blow the audience away at live shows.
‘On Request’ is a different departure again, a guitar-led track that showcases the skills of Patrik Alm. Yet another slow burner which while pleasant enough seems to be drifting away to nowhere in particular and to a jackhammer of a bass line until it explodes, again about two minutes in, to the repeated line, “I’m gonna call up all my lovers/tell them like it is.” From that point on it reminds me of St Vincent during her eponymous album stage, during which she also called up all her lovers, if I remember correctly. The only thing missing is her trademark fuzzy guitar. And I love Ellie’s pronunciation of ‘you’ as ‘yer’. A dynamite track.
The penultimate track, ‘Against the Glass’ is again an older one and their recent shift in direction is emphasised once more. It gets into its stride more quickly, the melody is more in your face and it is dominated by multiple synths and drum machines. Lyrically, it could be interpreted as a variation on the scenario in the Human League’s ‘Don’t you want me’ where she has been successful, but it isn’t thanks to anything he has done and she isn’t up for sharing any of the spoils with him either.
And so to the final one, ‘Always Shitty’. Another example of latter-day Das Body where an instant melody rush isn’t deemed necessary, the track hangs on a subtle arrangement, with a seductive bass line and an equally seductive opening vocal from Miss Linden.
“Always shitty…/ And always, always smelly / But I still care for you”. It could be the mantra of the Oslo Social Services Department, OAPs Home Visiting Service, but is more likely to be a statement of desperation from one of those mistreated-but-still-in-love losers who appear on TV’s ‘Brit Cops:Law & Disorder’ every night. Indeed, one who could be the character portrayed by Highasakite’s Ingrid Helene Håvik in ‘Leaving no traces’.
This album wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought I knew Das Body and had neatly compartmentalised them as a loud, tuneful, atmospheric, synth-pop group with an engaging, energetic front woman; something that, to be fair, they are very, very good at. A genuine ‘live band’. To be honest I hadn’t even paid too much attention to their lyrics.
What I’ve learned from listening to this album is that there is much more to them than that, in their arrangements and smart, sassy words, and that in their short time together they have become the real deal. Perhaps their lengthy North American tour last year had some influence on their song writing.
This time last year, the country’s second biggest newspaper, Aftenposten, named Pom Poko as the best band in the country, which we wholeheartedly agree with.
This time it is Das Body’s turn for a meeja accolade and it is a well deserved one. Can they go on to be successors to Pom Poko in the slightly whacky musical world both of them inhabit? There is no reason why not.
Nordic Music Review 8/10