Black Sabbath, Can, Byrds or Cluster albums I've been flogging the last 48 hours, but that'd be beating the same drum. Let me throw something completely different your way. After all, I consider Frida Hyvonen's Silence Is Wild to be one of the finest contemporary releases of recent years, and her show here in Melbourne earlier this year rates as easily one of the top 5 live performances I've witnessed in the last half-decade. I've spoken about this record - hailed its genius - to many a friend and aquaintance the past 12 months, and it's made little difference. I'll take no credit for the solid audience turnout at her Melbourne show; for now, any audience she has down here is from word-of-mouth, for I've certainly never heard her on public radio. Fact is, I can write about music which gets the cognescenti nodding their heads in approval - an approval born from the fact that everyone knows the music already and agrees it to be a good thing - or I can use it to open some minds and get folks curious about records they'd otherwise never care about nor heard of. This record fits the latter category.
Silence Is Wild is 33-year-old Swedish singer Frida Hyvonen's second album. Her debut, Death Becomes Her, was released in 2006 and featured a far more sparse sound (essentially her and a piano): it caught my ear but didn't bend it. Her sophomore album is augmented by strings, drums, horns, synthesizers and backing vocals, and for me the goods are delivered. When friends ask me what she sounds like, my description usually puts a big question mark over their heads: Kate Bush, schlocky '80s balladry and '70s confessional singer-songwriter a la all those West Coast cokeheads of the day. Such a description possibly begs the question: how could it sound any good?, and I can only respond it's the songs. It's all about the songs. Lyrically, she touches on personal issues in a darkly comic way which is stunning, and at this stage in my life I rarely pay any attention to the lyrical matter of the songs I listen to. Her songs are mini-stories, poetically told in such a way that the music appears to be built around the lyric, and not the other way around. No need for rhyming couplets; occasionally seemingly nonsensical lines are blurted out in ways which throw off the rhythm but still perfectly complement the song. To pull this trick off successfully shows a distinct strength of songcraft. "December", a gutwrenchingly honest tale of an unwanted pregnancy and its consequences (a song she played as her encore at her Melbourne show: what a bummer, dude! My fellow gig-goer bellowed to me afterwards, Pity she didn't have any more abortion tunes to really get the audience punching the air as a finale), sounds like the words were written on paper in no song form whatsoever, then moaned over an unrelated piano backing track. Sorry, am I making this sound terrible? It's not. Far from it.
There's not a dud to pick here. From the big-haired torch-song of the opener, "Dirty Dancing", to the mournful piano dirges to the New Wave stompin' "Scandinavian Blonde" through to the epic (and my fave) "Oh Shanghai", with its accompanying choir leading the song to its conclusion. Silence Is Wild rides a wave of peaks and valleys, but never hits a mawkish bum note or divebombs into generic alt-rock terrain.
If this was released on Elektra Records in 1970 (and soundwise that's not a stretch), sold zip, got deleted thereafter, only to be rediscovered three-and-a-half decades later by some hipper-than-hip reissue label who specialised in deluxe 180-gm pressings of "lost classics", YOU'D LOSE YOUR SHIT OVER IT. Well, that's not the case: all there is to show here is this album and the songs it contains. In this case, context means nothing.