ALBUM REVIEW: Siv Jakobsen – ‘A Temporary Soothing’: fashioning a gem of folk delicacy from the lived experience

SIV JAKOBSEN, who grew up on the south-western edge of the wider Oslo conurbation, is a folk artist who is really is singing from the heart. 

Hailing from the fjordside community of Asker, she studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachussetts, honing and exploring. She took her first steps out there with 2015’s seven-tracker, The Lingering; following that two years later with the much-loved first full-length set, The Nordic Mellow

Graced with cover art in which we find Siv floating in a deep pool – suspended, as it were, between states –  her new long player, A Temporary Soothing, which is poised for release on August 21st, is a very finely spun thing indeed.

Unlike The Nordic Mellow, which was put together in weeks, A Temporary Soothing is the result of nearly a year’s worth of writing and reassessment, with Siv and producer Chris Bond meeting for intense periods of recording. 

Siv gently draws you in on album opener “Feel the Fear”. With an acoustic guitar recorded with room ambience, she lullabies with a restrained vocal intensity. Strings and ambience and distant vocal melodies swell and envelop you; before you know it, you’re inside. It has this spectral beauty which is almost early Slowdive: this depth of harmonics.

“Fight or Flight” takes its title from the binary physical choices imposed by the body’s adrenaline response mechanism. Any follower of Siv’s Instagram account will know she is unblinkingly open and level-gazing about her experiences of anxiety and fear. But let’s not resort to ‘mental health battle’ and such frippery. This is a singer unafraid to document and process the business of well … living, with all its raw edges and complexity. Especially, well … now. Many of the song titles on the album deal in this area, the truth of the living of it, and also the fricative: “Fear the Fear”, “A Feeling Felt or A Feeling Made”, “Fraud, Failure”.  The song is understated, pushing on on a brushed-drums polyrhythm and keys, bringing a nuanced, autumnal depth.

“Shine” draws on the melodic structure of trad folk; our narrator wishes to rescue her companion, and “bring you back to shine”. It’s about 30 seconds in where Siv first lofts her voice, and after the intimate melodicism of the two preceding songs, your jaw drops at her delicacy and power. She swoops like a swallow, and you haven’t heard an alt.folk voice like this since Marissa Nadler. An otherworldly, wordless harmony vocal clinches your chest. It’s properly beautiful, and that’s the whole of it.

One of the standout tracks on this eleven-song set is “A Feeling Felt”, the refrain of which is all harp pizzicato, delicate strings and bell-clear vocal honey. It’s the sweetest of aches. Sometimes you just have to say: go hear it yourself. On Friday, necessarily. I got lucky.

“Fraud, Failure” pulls a similar structural trick to “Shine”: it’s oh so understated, and then suddenly it broadens out, as if cresting a ridge, and you find yourself hearing how some moments on Heaven or Las Vegas may have sounded if the Cocteaus had come from a folk tradition.

The title track is a violin prelude, leading into the single, “Anywhere Else”, a documenting of the inconveniences of bone-deep anxiety, as Siv revealed: [It’s] a smouldering and quiet kind, a sort of uncomfortable, constant buzzing in the body. It can make me have a hard time deciding seemingly small things like what I’m going to eat, where I’m going to go on a walk …”. She sings “Got my license, but I’m scared of drivin’ /  So I keep walkin’ …” and then she soars again, an articulation of beauty and fear and your breath hitches. “I told my doctor, she said I’m too well / I’m not ill enough for help to keep me sane”. 

“Island” is perhaps as close as Siv gets to a folk-pop crossover tune, and it’s an effortless, melting chocolate glide. Watch your back, Laura Marling.

“A Temporary Soothing” examines the cravings of love; the soreness of detachment from the loved one; the comfort of remembrance of them. “But I can’t feel his breathing / I can’t feel his heart beat,” she yearns.

“Mothecombe” is the slightest of ambient sketches, full of what sounds like field recordings of surf and drone, a proper ambient soundscape; Siv could certainly develop a sideline for Touch or Slaapwel or the like. (Siv swapped Norway for the lush dairy pastures of South Devon to record A Temporary Soothing; Mothecombe is a broad Devonian estuary with a beach that actually runs upriver and inland). Again, it serves to prelude closer “I Call It Love”, which has the gravity and directness and openness of a heroine’s soliloquy. Her voice: such range, such fragility. Such imparting of experience.

An aside, with relevance. I once worked at a well-known record shop in the north, staffed by as brilliant and eccentric and knowledgeable a crew as you could ever wish. It proved somewhat of a salon, with bands and concepts held fast and modified and abandoned and argued daily. One of my co-workers, who turned out to be much the wiser of the two of us in retrospect, would challenge whatever Britpop sherbert I was currently on a sugar high about, and say: “Yes, but what do they want? Do they have to make this music or do they just fancy the trappings?

Be clear. Siv has to make this music, to dialogue with herself and the world, to fashion and make other of the feeling of it all, and achieve catharsis. She’s living this, and she turns her living into a work of complete leftfield folk beauty. Oh: we’re living this too. She chronicles for us, articulates. In a year as screwed as any we’ll care to remember, her guidance and her succour are a blessing.

Siv Jakobsen’s A Temporary Soothing is released by U Ok? on August 21st. Pre-order your copy here.

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