ALBUM REVIEW: Henrik Lindstrand – ‘Nordhem’: absolute piano grace, recorded beautifully

SINCE leaving the heavyweight Danish rock outfit Kashmir – who rose to the very top of their game as a Scandanavian guitar band, working with everyone from Lou Reed and Tony Visconti to Bowie, who duetted on their 2005 LP No Balance Palace, Henrik Lindstrand has carved out a more meditative and no less potent career in the area of modern classical and post-classical piano.

It’s one he was on a course for before becoming ‘adopted’ by Kashmir in 2001; he’s a graduate of the Rhythmic Conservatory, Copenhagen.

He debuted his quieter direction with 2017’s Leken, before being picked up by the British label lately recast as One Little Independent for last year’s lush Nattresan

Now the label which has given us acts such as Bjork and Kitchens of Distinction down the years, artists with an ear for a universal melody coupled with fine sonic experimentation and boundary pushing, is presenting the concluding album of the trilogy, Nordhem, on October 23rd. 

Henrik explains the title of this third album:“Nordhem means “north home” in Swedish and pays tribute to my Scandinavian roots: both my childhood, with the Swedish nature and landscape forming my musical expression; but also my grown-up life in Copenhagen since age 20, and that city’s way of shaping me as a person and composer. 

“But Nordhem also refers to my parents, to whom the album is dedicated. It felt natural to express my gratitude to them after so many years of actively supporting me and my choice to become a musician since I was a child. 

“After becoming a parent myself, I know how difficult it is to raise a child and to give that person the best opportunities in life and balancing between inspiring, leading and letting go.”

It’s with “Dungen” that the album begins. There’s a little suggestion of some shape of brushed percussion and higher, sustained postrock tones in behind; little colorations perfect for Henrik to unfold a simple, warming and autumnal melody atop. There’s very little to say apart from, in its tonal handling, simplicity and execution, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music you’ll hear all year. Stunning. At well shy of three minutes, it’ll leave you craving more. For me, it’s one of those tracks that if you play it once, you play it three times. Every time.

Henrik Lindstrom

The following “Jum-Jum” picks up a sunny shuffle, has subtle folksiness in its melodic caress. It’s named for a character in the 1954 fantasy novel Mio, Min Mio, by Astrid Lindgren, which Henrik was reading to his son. The middle passages have a high resonant glitter, even hinting somewhere at a rarified pristine pop of a very Swedish stripe.

“Blå Berget” (“Blue Mountain”) takes its inspiration from the book Mina Drömmars Stad (City of my Dreams) by Swedish writer Per Anders Fogelström. It, and the following “Hallonlandet” (“Land of Raspberries”) set out on beautifully recorded melodic conceits, the touch and the ring and the decay and the resonance of the piano captured to perfection; they shift in form, the former picking up an august and inspired warmth from an arriving bass counterpoint. We’ve embedded the video for “Hallonlandet” at the end, so you can enter Henrik’s world.

“Gamla skolor” again has a folksiness in its melody, aiming for an evocative sound picture of the old school of the title. It’s over so soon, vanishing into memory as it decays into a cushion of reverb velvet. Along with “Valborg”, a paean to the night of April 30th, usually celebrated with bonfires, it has this perfect smattering of delicate tronica; the slightest, distant touches of other textures, harking, haunting, making you listen all the harder.

“Syrsor” (“Crickets”) weaves playfully, Henrik’s piano in conversation with itself; a four-note loop underpins other narrative voices that build, explore, give way. As it develops a punctuating susurration marks time: a sigh, an exhalation.

The twin orbits of “Stjarnvagar” and “Stjarnvagar II” chart quite different courses across their respective galaxies. The first glitters like starlight and unexpectedly picks up a spacey, tronica pulsing, at once wholly in keeping whilst also hinting at Moon Safari-era Air, or the underrated Husky Rescue. Just a glimpse, mind, a hint of cosmiche. Part the second is a quieter essay, exploring the resonance of the instrument.

Other moments on the album serve as mementos of Henrik’s life: the all-too-brief “Stora Huset” has echoes of other times, in keeping with its composition stemming from summers spent at a country mansion, home of his mother, which was decorated with moose antlers from a bygone era. “Loranga”, which seems to pick up its percussive hush from some prepared piano technique, runs with a plaintive Northern European folk melody. It has an atmosphere similar to that stunning opener. It was, simply, inspired by a recollection of a favourite Swedish soft drink.

The final track invites us to “Rest”; we’re led in in the shimmer of either an organ, or a piano that’s been post-processed with that vibrato. It’s less than 90 seconds of churchly delicacy, and I mean that in absolutely the best way; as certain Aphex Twin moments are churchly – not grandiose, grandstanding, but speaking to a quiet and centuries-old harmonic tradition. The brevity, on first hearing, almost leaves you spurned. It hints at a whole other unfolding, denied. And that’s also it’s magic. It’s a fragment; it’s perfect as it is.

How to encapsulate such a beautiful album of modern piano composition in a market seemingly so well served, what with Dustin O’Halloran, Nils Frahm, Max Richter, &c? Henrik brings something subtly and wholly different to the table. He seems to approach his music from a different harmonic tradition than others; on some tracks there are very real nods to European folk, and even where they aren’t expressly present, his music is a wholly warming, delightful folk music – a music of the people. It doesn’t speak down, but plays amongst.

It’s the little touches that lift this album. The recording, the sound, is absolutely delightful. Every shift, every slight movement of the air and the wood and the keys is faithfully reproduced. In that sense, it’s a love letter to the piano. And whereas many other acts operating out in post-classical where it fuses with electronica and ambient forms often bring in a more democratic tempering of the two, here there are the lightest touches, the slightest nuances and other textures; like salted caramel, that tiny sprinkle brings so much richness. It’s a delight.

Henrik Lindstrand’s Nordhem will be released on digital, CD and vinyl formats by One Little Independent on October 23rd. It’s available for pre-order now from Henrik’s website and over at the One Little Independent webstore, now.

Follow Henrik Lindstrand on Facebook, at his website, on Spotify and at Bandcamp.

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