Norway - Full Moon 250 - 01/12/17
This is Hilma's debut album as a solo artist. She's more experienced than most debutants, though. She started a band with her big brother Ivar some time in the 1980s, at the age of 5... Ivar found success with his punk and glam oriented combo Silver early in the 2000s. Hilma is also the little sister of Elvira Nikolaisen, renowned pop-rock vocalist of the adult oriented kind, and Emil. Compared to her sister, Hilma seems to have been more rebellious in her teens and started the punk trio Umbrella in the 1990s. When Emil left the drum stool of The Loch Ness Mouse (LNM) in 2002 to concentrate on Silver with his brother, Hilma took over. She left when she was about to give birth to her son the following year, but returned as the Mouse's bassist later on. She is mentioned in our interview with the LNM from 2005. By that time she had left for the second time. Meanwhile brother Emil's Serena Maneesh had got going and Hilma agreed to help him as a stand-in bassplayer for two gigs. She remained for five years. During these years the band really took off as an international novelty.
The recordings on Puzzler started in Emil's studio in early 2015, but wasn't continued or finished until early spring 2016 after she had received a grant from a fund.Apart from Hilma's androgynous sounding vocals, she handles guitar, a bit bass, piano and rhythms. In addition she is helped out by her more or less steady band Egil Arntzen (guitars), Andreas Frøland (bass) and Kristofer Staxrud (drums), plus some guest appearances by friends and family here & there, including Emil and Mads Johansen (percussion and also engineering and a bit production along with Hilma, I suppose) and Eivind Schou (violin).
The music is pretty cool and groovy with elements of pop, rock, shoegazing and punk light ... you name it. The instrumental performances and production are exemplary throughout, with clever details. Still, when I tried to write an album review for our December full moon menu I eventually had to give in. Most of the songs didn't manage to get enough grip on me, or the other way round. When I tried again in the new year I got a bit closer to the Puzzler core. The softest and most pop oriented songs, in particular "Home Straight Sorries" and "Brighter Soon", to some extent also "Cloud Nine Rewind", were my entrances. Especially the former that draws on cunning Loch Ness Mouse pop melody trickery. And the comforting "Brighter Soon", with Prefab Sprouts undertones as I remember them from the 1980s, brightened a dark, rainy and windy Monday and even worse Tuesday and Wednesday winter morning for me: 'Remember there'll be weekends, too!' There's also the clever psychedelic effects here, a short exquisite melody line there, stunning guitar work and studio wizardry details here & there, but I haven't got any further, yet. I have a sneakingly feeling the album is too cool and smart for its own good. There are some melodic choruses around, but most of the verses tend to be too monotonous. Monotony can be great, especially in alive setting with a soul-wrenching vocalist. Here Hilma seems too keep something behind.
I suppose, as deadline draws near, I might conclude with an end of an affair cliché: It's nothing wrong with your music, Hilma, it's all me! Puzzler has received lots of positive press and is nominated to the Norwegian Spellemannsprisen (the local Grammy, sort of) in the category Best indie album of 2016 along with Frøkendal, Jenny Hval, The Switch and Vilde Tuv. I wish her the best of luck and intend to give the album a third chance. After all it took a lot of time before I found the essence of Serena Maneesh. There might be a family code somewhere inside the music that's hard to break.
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