True story. When I was 14, I was forced to go on an exchange trip to Germany. I would have done anything not to go. “But at least I have my walkman”, I thought to myself as I packed my suitcase with tapes, many, MANY tapes. Little did I know my mother would come along, remove the lot, replacing them with inconsequential items such as clothes. I spent the whole fortnight with one tape, one album, the one that happened to be in my walkman as I left. That album was Hunting High and Low by A-ha. As a result, I know that album better than some of my friends. I love that album. Sometimes I listen to it and feel emotional. I may be in the minority here, but I was genuinely gutted when I heard the news last year that A-ha were going to split. Properly, head in the hands, “feel down for a bit” gutted. Their track ‘Analogue’ is probably my favourite song of the last decade. Their last album was my favourite of 2009. Few can write a pop-song like A-ha. At school, even though I wrote New Order and The Cure on my pencil case, my heart belonged to Norway.
And they have nothing to be ashamed of. In his write up of Apparatjik’s song ‘Antlers’ posted earlier in the month, Rich Hughes told us to ‘forget the origins of the guys involved’, which nearly had me firing off a filthy comment unparalleled on this site since the White Lies incident. It is not the presence of Jonas Bjerre from Mew that somehow gives this project credibility, nor should Guy Berryman from Coldplay’s involvement make you squirm. Musically, this album is closer to Mew than it is to A-ha, but that does not diminish the contribution made by Magne Furuholmen, always considered the loose cannon by his fellow band members. Morten Harket describes his keyboard player as “ingeniously childish and childishly ingenious”, and there is much of that on play throughout this album, where fragments of ideas are meshed together and knocked around in song form.
Apparatjik first formed to record a track for a charity album, the song ‘Ferreting’ then used as the theme to the BBC series ‘Amazon’. Meeting in Mags’ studio, more sessions produced more material, a baffling website, and this album, released to little fanfare over a month ago. It is unavailable through conventional means, and can only be purchased via their website.
Opening track ‘Deadbeat’ crashes in with a discordant, unsettling swish of beats and crashes that reeks of Mew, where ‘Datascroller’ sounds like A-ha through the other end of a telescope, tinny and reduced. ‘Snow Crystals’ on the other hand swings in with big arrogant hips, tumbling echoed keyboards and a rich, dark keyboard line. ‘Supersonic Sound’ could almost have been lifted from a Gorillaz album, Magne affected a vocal similar to the listless Albarn croon heard on ‘Rhinestone Eyes’, slightly detached, almost pathetic, until the accompanying vocal from Bierre tips the cascading keyboard lines over the edge. This song as experimentation really works, which can’t be said of ‘Arrow and Bow’, which has pace but sits alone in the centre of the album.
The best songs are towards the end, the gradual build of ‘Antlers’, the elegance of ‘Electric Eye’ and the jittery sweep of ‘Look Kids’, its layered vocals and simple piano lines a return to the Mew of Frengers. As a project, this doesn’t seem for a heartbeat like a ‘supergroup’, whatever that means. It is more akin to a group of friends who got together to make ambitious, yet still commercial music. It is not being heavily marketed – it is not even available on iTunes. Buying it takes a special effort, an effort well worth taking.