Occasionally, something will enter your life unexpectedly and make you wonder how you’d ever lived without it. Such is the case with debut album from Oslo duo Mona & Maria.
According to iTunes, this is ‘country and western’, which, if true, makes Kate Bush death metal. I can understand the difficulty in categorising this album though. There are elements of folk here, in the acoustic led numbers and vocal harmonies, but it’s far beyond such a simple bit of pigeon-holing. The closest I can come in comparison is This Mortal Coil, as the ethereal soundscapes and floating beauty of the title (and opening) track and Northern Wind drift over the listener. But then things change pace with Silent Summer, a bouncy, almost Mamas and the Papas feel good summery number.
It’s at this point that you realise that trying to place Mona & Maria into any sort of simple category is pointless. Instead, just sit back, open your ears and your mind and enjoy.
There are moments of almost psychedelic trippiness like Venus, that has an Eastern vibe mixed with the gorgeous, Liz Fraseresque vocals; the spaghetti western feel of Babyflowers, a song that could could be a Lee Hazlewood outtake; the moodily sexy Let the Light, which conjures up images of sweaty hotel nights and neon lights; the simple but haunting Healing Song… all varied yet all clearly part of a whole.
Unpredictability is key here. At any moment, frenetic drums might suddenly impose themselves into an otherwise vocal and keyboard led number, which really shouldn’t work at all. But it does, in ways that I simply can’t describe. But in the midst of the experimental, multi-layered numbers, you’ll find a (relatively) simple, acoustic guitar and vocal led number like Runaways, the stripped down piano number Golden Mind or floaty, eerie album closer Shivers in the Blue that have a timeless beauty and a sense of loss and regret.
Indeed, there is a longing and feeling of nostalgia for times and relationships past that runs through the album. The combination of lyrics and music create a sense of melancholy and a yearning for a life long lost. It’s remarkably potent and sometimes a little bit heartbreaking – as all good music should be.
So what is this? Progressive folk? Dream pop? Experimentalist etherealism? Light darkwave? Perhaps. In the end, an album like this shows the futility of labelling music beyond ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This is, however, beyond good – maybe the best thing I’ve heard this year.