During the interview I had with Needlepoint founder/composer/singer/guitarist Bjørn Klakegg in 2018, around the release of The Diary Of Robert Reverie, Klakegg indicated that he had only heard of Caravan and the Canterbury Scene at a late stage. He also did not know whether a possible successor would maintain the same style of music. So I was rather curious what I would find when I opened up my mailbox and saw the long-awaited follow-up, Walking Up That Valley. But I can reassure everyone: the music is largely an extension of the last album and its predecessor Aimless Mary (2015). Rightly so, it would have been a shame if Klakegg et al had not dwelt a bit longer with what they believe they discovered by accident: the new musical direction. Although, ‘dwelling’ is perhaps not the correct description for the new material. The use of harpsichord, violin, flute and chorus add extra layers to an album that is already bursting with ideas. The listener is pulled back and forth between dreamy vintage keyboards, busy drums and percussion, mind-blowing, jazz-tinged guitar work and inventive, punchy bass lines. Klakegg’s soft and melodic voice is given sufficient space in the mix, while the lyrics narrate about the road between reality and fantasy.
Needlepoint’s characteristic style is at its best in opening track Rules of A Mad Man: delicious drums by Olaf Olsen, referring to Robert Wyatt and John Marshall (Soft Machine), with the pronounced bass parts of Nikolai Hængsle, David Wallumrød’s fuzzy organ and Klakegg’s soft, sometimes whispering voice, still reminiscent of Caravan’s Pye Hastings. Sorry for all the comparisons but you just can’t get around it sometimes. The second song, I Offered You the Moon, is more experimental and psychedelic with a lot of organ, hectic drums and percussion, a bit sixties-ish. Also audible are elements of early Yes and The Nice in this nearly eight-minute prog/jazz piece. Web of Worry has already been featured on YouTube, flute, guitar and even violin play an important role in this more song-based track, while the slow tempo of So Far Away, the shortest track, gives a folk-like atmosphere. Think of the intro to Caravan’s The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again.
Where the Ocean Meets the Sky, on the other hand, starts quietly and then turns to busy jazzy sounds halfway through with a leading role for Hammond organ. A new change of tempo takes the song into calmer waters with Fender Rhodes piano and jazzy bass playing in the best Soft Machine tradition. A light-footed song with ditto vocals and jazzy drum shuffle, Carry Me Away is a bit in the vein of Steely Dan, also due to the combination of Fender piano and guitar, brilliant!! The choir adds just this extra touch to the track. On Another Day, the band shifts up a gear for the occasional change of pace, with slight references to Al Stewart’s voice, musically framed by steel guitar and harpsichord, somewhat folky in style.
The closing title track is also the longest on the new album, clocking at approximately 11 minutes. With an acoustic guitar to accompany Klakegg’s soft, somewhat hesitant singing voice, references to Crosby, Stills Nash & Young emerge. Halfway through, the sweet/poetic lyrics about the walk in the valley are over and the interesting instrumental part with jazzy guitar, contrary rhythms and flute starts. Excellent song, prog-meets-jazz-meets-folk, the highlight of the album, but the fade-out is a bit strange and something of an anti-climax. Needlepoint’s music style is becoming clearer and more pronounced. “And I fell asleep in this beautiful realm”, sings Bjørn Klakegg, which also applies to me: dozing off in this beautiful domain. Well, just a figure of speech.
Don’t think you’re dealing with just another epigone of Caravan or Soft Machine. On the contrary, there is a clear development towards a style of its own, somewhere in between the previously mentioned Canterbury scene, early Yes, The Nice and the jazzy tones of Steely Dan. If you also have good writing (Klakegg) and above average musical skills (all band members), you’re in good shape. Compatriots Wobbler have already made a name for themselves: the Norwegians are taking over the prog world.
Some small criticism: the all-important lyrics are printed in such fine print on the CD’s inner sleeve that they can only be read with a magnifying glass. In addition, I still have some difficulty with the fade-outs used by producer Hængsle, but maybe that is just a matter of taste. The playing time is on the short side at just under 45 minutes (two sides of a record). On the other hand, compliments are in order for brother Rune Klakegg’s cover design: another drawing, this time in colour, with some kind of Gulliver (Robert Reverie?) lying on a hill, surrounded by hundreds of insects.
This latest album is definitely tied to the previous one, but new sounds can be heard as well. This is partly because Bjørn Klakegg has picked up his flute and violin again, which favours the diversity of the album. The drums have always been well represented, but the combination of drummer Olaf Olsen and percussionist Erik Nylander provides even more deviant rhythms and strange time signatures. David Wallumrød’s beautiful collection of vintage keyboard instruments and the powerful and inventive bass playing of producer/bassist Nikolai Hængsle complete the picture. Bjørn Klakegg is starting to feel increasingly comfortable in his role as a singer, his voice is audibly more prominent than ever in this production. In some songs the band explores new areas (folk, West-coast rock) without losing its identity. Walking Up That Valley is sure to appeal to fans of prog, ’70s rock, jazz and even folk rock.
01. Rules of A Mad Man (5:12)
02. I Offered You the Moon (7:51)
03. Web of Worry (3:35)
04. So Far Away (3:12)
05. Where the Ocean Meets the Sky (4:26)
06. Carry Me Away 3:57)
07. Another Day (4:46)
08. Walking Up That Valley (10:45)
Total Time – 43:37
Bjørn Klakegg – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Violin, Flute, Cello
David Wallumrød – Hammond Organ, Clavinet, Fender Rhodes, Harpsichord, Upright Piano, Prophet-5, Arp Odyssey, Arp Solus, Minimoog
Nikolai Hængsle – Electric Bass, Backing Vocals, Guitars (tracks 1 & 4)
Olaf Olsen – Drums
Erik Nylander – Percussion
The Carry Me Away Choir: Indra Lorentzen, Camilla Brun, Maria Vatne, David Wallumrød, Nikolai Hængsle, Bjørn Klakegg
Record Label: BJK Music
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 29th January 2021
– Walking Up That Valley (2021)
– The Diary of Robert Reverie (2018)
– Aimless Mary (2015)
– Outside the Screen (2012)
– The Woods Are Not What They Seem (2010)