Naaljos Ljom’s 2

A piece of abstract art that is the cover of Naaljos Ljom's 2Cutting edge electro-acoustic Nordic folk is as close as I can come to putting the music of Naaljos Ljom in a category. But why categorize, why not just listen? “Microtonal folk music mixed with electronics and noise” is the description used by their label, and that fits, too. I’m always willing to try some experimental Nordic folk music, and this album is a good example of the happiness that can result when you take such a chance.

It’s the second release from Naaljus Ljom, which is Anders Sundsteigen Hana on jaw harp, langeleik, fiddle and guitar, and Morten Johan Olsen Joh on analog synths, drum machines and SuperCollider. (Do. Not. Ask. Me. What. A. Supercollider. Is. I looked it up and am no closer to understanding it … let’s just say it’s some sort of complicated synthesizer.)

One way to listen to this album is as the actual Norwegian folk music that is its starting point. These two musicians take much of their cue from the famed Norwegian musician, composer, and theorist Eivind Groven, who did much to preserve the country’s folk music starting in the 1930s. The album in fact opens with a recording of Groven from a 1966 radio program in which he says (in translation), “Today we will hear music that is not performed on an ordinary organ or piano. These are folk tunes, which contain pitches or intervals that lie outside the usual tonal system.” They proceed with “Tolvtalvisa,” a drone-heavy tune on a combination of keyboards and stringed instruments including the langeleik, a strummed zither something like an Appalachian dulcimer in sound. It’s one of two tracks that specifically pay homage to Groven and his peer Ola Brenno, a master of the langeleik. The final third of “Tolvtalvisa,” though, is gradually overwhelmed by synthesizer arpeggios that give way to electronic noise, then a brief snippet of an archival recording of music (probably by Groven and Brenno), and another excerpt of Groven’s radio lecture, this time accompanied by electronic pops, crackles and hums suggesting a voice intercepted from space. And this track’s title is a bit of an enigma as well: “Tolvtalvisa” or twelve-digit visa refers to permits given to those who seek asylum or refugee status in Norway.

The other bookend of the album is the other nod to Groven and Brenno, played much more straightforwardly. “To visetoner” pairs a harmonium (or more likely a synthesized version of one) playing a drone plus a lilting folk melody, accompanied by a strummed langeleik, representing the melding of tradition and innovation that is the album’s hallmark.

In between are six pieces of music that further explore that intersection. All of them approach the original folk sources with reverence but not overdue solemnity, layering them with electronic effects to varying degrees. They consist of traditional tunes from various villages, inspired by players such as Andres K. Rysstad, Torleiv H. Bjørgum, Ivar Fuglestad, Gunnar Austegard, Sigurd Brokke, Daniel Sandén-Warg, Anders E. Røine, Thov Wetterhus and Kenneth Lien, and a “halling” (a vigorous men’s display dance) inspired by Hardang fiddler Jørn Hilme.

The jaw harp or Jew’s harp features prominently as well, with Anders expertly playing it on at least three tunes: the wildly loping, exhuberant “Fiskaren” (fishermen), the stuttering, drone-laden “Skraddarlåtten,” and the atmospheric “Fuglestad” (city of birds), which is the middle section of a suite that opens with “Foss” (the recorded roar of a waterfall, or “foss”) and ends with the synth-laden “Nordafjells” (northern mountains).

The most impressive to me, a fiddle lover, is the second of two pieces titled “Rammeslått” which features two fiddlers, Anders and guest Rasmus Kjorstad, playing intertwined lines on the circular tune, accompanied by repetitive percussion and droning keyboards. That “Halling” is quite impressive, too, with lots of complex turns in the phrasing. It is one of the most traditional sounding tunes, but may be played using the fewest traditional instruments; I can’t quite pick out what instruments are used beyond the struck strings of either a fiddle or langeleik. From the videos I’ve seen, Morten is a master at matching the microtones of traditional instruments on the synth.

Traditional music played on acoustic instruments with elements of electronics and noise is one of my sweet spots, and Naaljos Ljom hits the bullseye with 2. It honors the old tunes that express the soul of certain parts of Norway going back a century or more, and brings them to a modern audience in a package that they may find more familiar and appealing than the old scratchy archival recordings. In that way, they’re definitely taking part in the age old folk process.

Recommended for adventurous, open minded fans of Nordic folk music. Favorite tracks: “Tolvtalvisa,” “Halling etter Jørn Hilme,” Rammeslått 2.” Available on limited edition vinyl and streaming services.

(Motvind, 2023)

| Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram |

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

More Posts