Two years ago, Norwegian songwriting power-couple Nina Mortvedt and Nikolai Hængsle won the Nordic Music Prize with their 2015 debut record as Band of Gold.
Also up for the award, the Nordic’s answer to the Mercury Prize, were the likes of more familiar faces Jenny Hval and Björk, but the underrated duo won over the judges with their peculiar and intensely rich collection of chamber pop songs.
Now Mortvedt and Hængsle return with Where’s the Magic, a second offering of equally lush songwriting that drifts between styles peculiarly but effectively.
Opener “Bring Back” works on space and subtlety, building slowly from Hængsle’s sparse and moody rhythm section as hidden, echoey synths linger in the background like an ice cream van in the distance, with Mortvedt’s vocals soothing and shrilling atop à la early Dirty Projectors.
Some moments have a more immediate allure, such as the sugarcoated “I Wanna Dance With You Again”, a 70s style ballad that you can’t help but imagine on the apres-ski dance floor of a Scandinavian ski town, flares and headbands aplenty, aided not least by its Abba-esque, staccato piano style and Stevie Nicks-like vocal melodies. This nostalgia works most effectively however when presented less prominently in the mix, as in the record’s eponymous highlight, in which it blends dreamily and colourfully with modern production to a sweet and trippy effect.
Indeed, the record’s biggest strength is its ability to charge several emotions behind a song or part of a song at one time, as with "I Could Spot You in a Hundred Miles”, at once ominous and romantic.
Though Where’s the Magic may not push the duo any further into the pop limelight, it does provide a multi-facetted and thoroughly enjoyable surprise for those who may stumble upon it.