You can always count on the Nordics to channel the harsh beauty of barren skoger and icy chill into song form. It’s either serene or engulfing fear depending on how you look at things. Post-rock band Spurv are all about capturing both moods together in their full-frontal soundscapes, made all the more grandiose and mythical since songwriter Gustav Jørgen Pedersen upped to the polar reaches of Tromsø, home to the uncanny Northern lights and mountainous terrain which folklorists would have us know can have their own musical discussions.
The origins of Brefjære, in fact, take patches from Pedersen’s pre-Spurv days and fabricates them into a quilt by enlisting Norway’s classical specialists, all under the watchful eye of only-constant producer Jørgen Smådal Larsen. As Krokete, rettskafen opens, the strings of Kari Rønnekleiv and Ole-Henrik Moe are equal parts ominous and beautiful, setting the stages for Pedersen’s glittery guitar harmonies that overlap fluidly unlike the crooked connotations of its translated title. While film music tropes find themselves added within (wind chimes, bashed low drums), the crunchiness of En brennende vogn over jordet sees distorted sliding octave guitars promising levelling moments from the main three-piece band of post-rock painters, which also includes a luscious violin solo from Grammy Award winner Inger Hannisdal.
Much like this musical equivalent of a burning wagon traipsing through the wilderness, the band operates best with breathtaking moments of full-band exposure. The evocative Som skyer is its most locked-in, bursting with Alcest-style vibrance. Til en ny vår is instead a ten-minute opus composed of subtly built tremolos, repeated guitar-based chorus passages, and calming strings that bloom into ferocious life when Simon Ljung’s drum kit crashes like a tidal wave. His rollicking display governs much of the action that plays out over the feral runaway train of Urdråpene, too.
Speaking of action, the thrill of Brefjære as a finalised project relies on its overarching concept: an anthology of four individual monologues. In imagining a conversation between the wind, a mountain, a birch tree, and a butterfly, both Pedersen’s vocal and instrumental choices urge through the elements’ distinct leanings toward light and dark. His own voice captures the tone of a weary travelling party gathering for warmth and peace in the subdued Under himmelhvelvingen. Clashing power-punches throw everything off guard in Å vente er å endre, particularly against its hauntingly poetic vocal from Tåran Reindal. Whether chords ring from a violin bow or the harmonies of an extensive choir, like on closer Din pust fra stein, all add weight to this conflicting intra-natural discussion.
To experience Brefjære is to be transported to a landscape that feels harmonious in the moment, but whose groans indicate the struggle of being altered over the course of history. It’s a decadent and enrapturing listen where Spurv’s knowledge of folkloric nature tales and their presentation through musical ideas shine brightly and warmly. Even if you’re at the summit of Tromsdalstinden.
For fans of: Ulver, Sigur Rós, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
‘Brefjære’ by Spurv is released on 22nd September on Pelagic Records.
Words by Elliot Burr