First of all, this record is so crammed full of joy it’ll either make you giddy with happiness, or sick with a twee overdose. If the latter is true then you’ve no soul and you’re dead inside. Norwegian five-piece Team Me have created a symphonic, layered, choral and utterly hook-laden album in To the Treetops! which manages not to come across as a cloying attempt by a religious sect to appear cool to the kids (hello, Polyphonic Spree). In the gloom of February, this album is positively bursting with summer energy and good vibes and is already perhaps one of the records we’ll still be talking about when 2012 draws to a close. Recently down from six members to five (vocals and keys lady Synne Øverland Knudsen left the band in January due to personal and political reasons: she didn’t want the band to be nominated for an award sponsored by Norwegian energy company Statoil) Team Me won the pop album award at the Spellemannprisens – the Norwegian version of the Grammys – recently, and listening to the tracks on To the Treetops! it’s no wonder that the album got such recognition.
In spite of unwieldy titles and expansive running times, it’s utterly accessible in the same way that Arcade Fire makes grandiose music that still meets with mainstream approval. Yet this record is ultimately more playful in its execution, with tracks name-checking Patrick Wolf, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, and inventor of the kaleidoscope, Sir David Brewster. Holding everything together is mastermind Marius Drogsås Hagen and his ear for a killer tune, and penchant for adding layers and layers of instrumentation with help from his four remaining cohorts (Uno Møller Christiansen, Christian Løvhaug, Anders Magnor Killerud and Thomas Meidell).
The record opens with the 8-minute ‘Riding My Bicycle (from Ragnvalsbekken to Sørkedalen)’, an epic and uplifting song that starts out softly with various electronic blips before Hagen launches full-throated into the song, singing about “rhapsodies, a melody and all the colours that you want” while handclaps and a myriad of percussion crash in the background, just about preparing you for the bursts of brilliance that follow. ‘Show Me’ is an exhilarating rush, a propulsive tune that recalls Mew at their most upbeat with Hagen and Knudsen singing of dark times in the most uplifting fashion: “I’m playing with the dangerous flame again/And I’m happy as can be when you are gone”. It’s topped off with grin-inducing yelps of “wooo!” as proceedings spiral to a close, and the pace doesn’t let up with ‘Patrick Wolf & Daniel Johns’ and ‘Weathervanes and Chemicals’; having listened to the former so many times, I still can’t work out the relevance of the two gentlemen to the song, but there’s definitely an overload of bouncy piano, chanted vocals, “na-na-nas”, and the thrill of first love: “wake me up my love, wake me up my love, wake me up… right now!”.
The latter, first appearing on the band’s debut EP, is just a wondrous thing, a pocket symphony with a swooning choir-led chorus that might be the best pop song you’ll hear all year. There’s a break from the exhilarating pace with the gentle acoustics and shimmering xylophone of ‘Fool’, before we launch back into the instrumental chaos of ‘Dear Sister’ which shows off how well Hagen and Knudsen bounce off each other, like a happier Win and Regine. ‘Favourite Ghost’ is perhaps the darkest moment on the record, but even the brooding first few minutes of that song gives way to a powerful and rousing outtro that proves Team Me can do the muscular post-rock thing as well as the next band.
The lovely psychedelic folk of ‘Looking Thru the Eyes of Sir David Brewster’ sees Hagen thanking the Scottish scientist for inventing the kaleidoscope and for giving him a “new set of eyes… I finally feel pure and fine”, and a word has to go to ‘With My Hands Covering Both of My Eyes I Am Too Scared To Have A Look At You Now’; if not for the fantastic title, then for the hands-in-the-air brilliance of a song about desire and hope and, well… bloody everything that matters, really. Final track ‘Daggers’ is almost a letdown after what’s come before, but even that track is a cracker.
I really hope that Team Me can survive the departure of Synne Knudsen and go on to achieve great things. Part of the charm of this record is the unified boy-girl vocals that recall the early days of Broken Social Scene, but it’s by no means the defining aspect of what makes To the Treetops! such a wonderful and utterly enjoyable listen. Even if all the instrumentation was stripped back and you were left simply with the bones of a song, you’d still know that this is addictive and compelling music. A blast, just an absolute blast.