Nordic tracks

Valgeir Sigurdsson
(Bedroom Community)

If it’s immature on my part to simply decide not to care how somebody’s name is pronounced, that doesn’t quash my pleasure at the fact that this column is written, not read on the radio. Because while I’m sure Ekvílibríum (Bedroom Community) sounds something like “equilibrium,” I have no idea how the Icelandic artist behind it, Valgeir Sigurdsson, pronounces that name.

This is Sigurdsson’s first album, though the sounds will be familiar to fans of Björk’s Vespertine and Medulla. The producer-engineer contributed to those and other recent discs by equally admired artists, some of whom — notably Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Will Oldham — return the favor by contributing vocals (and their own lyrics) to four tracks on this largely instrumental outing.

Between their songs, listeners take an aural stroll through soundscapes that are sometimes Eno-esque (the title track could be called “Music for Airports with Faulty Air Ducts”) and sometimes more blip-click textured, with a messed-up piano plinking along with the electronics.

Thomas Dybdahl

A toy-sounding piano (or is it a xylophone?) also kicks off the latest album by Norway’s Thomas Dybdahl, whose name I would risk saying out loud. His seductive Science, which got a quiet American release from Rykodisc, has just been re-released on Recall to coincide with some concert appearances in the States, and I can’t stop listening to it.

Earlier albums, I am told, had a darkly moody vibe, but the tone of Science is never threatening; there’s plenty of intimate whispering and introspection going on, but the tone is relaxed and at ease with the emotional ups and downs Dybdahl describes — even the life-threatening ones. Strings and vocal vulnerability conjure memories of ’70s chamber folk, but the music has a crisp polish that’s unmistakably modern. Or is that just me imagining the Norwegian chill?

The Broken String
Bishop Allen
(Dead Oceans)

Buzzmaking filmmaker Andrew Bujalski just spent some time in Central Texas making his latest movie, but I’m still living in the world of his last one, Mutual Appreciation, thanks to Bishop Allen’s The Broken String (Dead Oceans). The star of Appreciation was an oddly charismatic loser played by Justin Rice, who spends most of the film (much to the irritation of some viewers) talking aimlessly, drifting into parties, getting drunk, and being not-too-good with women.

When Rice’s band has a gig at a local bar, however, those of us who find him compelling suddenly understand why. His charm is most apparent on String’s “Click, Click, Click, Click,” a chime-adorned tune built around the extrapolation of a sweet idea many of us have had at some point — that by being in the right place when a stranger’s taking snapshots, we enter their lives, and for all we know we’ll be sitting for years on the mantel alongside bowling trophies and wedding portraits.

In addition to a few new tunes, this LP gathers highlights from a series of internet-distributed EPs that earned the group a following on music blogs over the span of a year or so. Now they can hope to benefit from the TV bump: Their label reports that Ugly Betty and Aliens in America used Bishop Allen songs in the same week last month.

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