Hailing from Hedmark, Norway, 8-piece band Meer play a mixed genre of music. Playing House is their fourth album, I have now listened in a variety of places – car, studio, headphones and through the iPhone – and I have not tired of it. It’s wonderful.
Whilst at an elemental level the album reflects those bucolic artists of the seventies, it is very much an album of the here and now and the quality is amazing. I get a similar feeling from it that I did from Shan’s Confessions album in 2018, so much so that I had to check that it wasn’t the same female vocalist. It’s not, this is Johanne Margrethe Kippersund Nesdal. There are two strong voices here, with Knut Kippersund Nesdal sounding a little like Morten Harket of A-Ha. With a combination of the usual rock instruments and orchestra, there is also a lightness of touch that makes the tunes both memorable and – not in a bad way – singalong. A charming progressive rock karaoke.
Now that could be taken as being dismissive of what really is a quality album. When they play simply, it charms; when fully orchestrated, it warms and thrills. Picking Up the Pieces opens the album in dramatic style. Expectations thereafter are based upon this fine opening, and if you’re not alive to it by the end of the track I will be surprised. For those that have picked up on fellow Norwegians The Gentle Knife, think like that, but jolly! Jolly being a relative term. Beehive, by direct comparison to Picking Up the Pieces, is sedate, laid back, a chance to breathe.
All At Sea, I like to think, is dark Norwegian humour, the running time of 5:05 indicative of ‘SOS’ as a secondary interpretation of the title. The third and fourth tracks segue seamlessly with a somehow poetic beauty. The harmonies are exquisite; it would be awful if we in the UK are never again able to see bands like this live due to the chaos that is Brexit. You Were A Drum is seemingly simple, but what depth. And what excellent drumming it is too. I need a lotto win just to keep up with essential purchases, and Playing House definitely falls into that category.
Child again seems so simple, it is fabric, cloth, and music with texture. It’s the shortest cut, at just under three-and-a-half minutes. The longest is over six-and-a-half, but nothing leaves you frustrated or outstays its welcome. Rather than just sing, our vocalists appear to feel and inhabit the lyrics, the violins have a folky charm, rising and falling like the tide. I am listening in order, but unlike some albums where am I happy to dip in and out, this I prefer in a single sitting. Each song can stand alone, each having both heart and beat, but I am just happier in the groove the band create. Through headphones it fills the space; through a set of speakers, it is more, the music grows to occupy the room available. Delicious, it has a slightly indie quality, a tiny bit like The Cranberries, although the harmonies are quite different in style.
If you like Big Big Train I can see you liking this, it has something of that quality about it, without being in any way a copy. I’ve been blessed, picking this up to review, it’s another that should, justice permitting, still be attracting plaudits come year’s end. Johanne Margrethe Kippersund Nesdal, whose voice reminds me of Emma Brewin-Caddy from We Are Kin, has that quality that makes you hang on her every word.
Remember track two, Beehive? Well, they have been industrious producing Honey at track seven. This is closer to what I think exciting progressive music is and can be, not a false dawn from porcupine quills, genuine excitement. There also appears to be a cyclical theme to the album, we are back with the sea, and Across the Ocean, perhaps I should ask? There is nothing to dislike here, but it is in no way pallid, the colours are rich, the textures satisfying. There is drama, love, and a world that you just feel drawn into. I can only imagine it is something in the Scandinavian DNA, a cross-pollination. Maybe it is a product of the habitat and environment? I don’t know but I am entranced. For the track Where Do We Go From Here I want to give the Cold Chisel reply: “If you leave me, can I come too?”. The penultimate Lay It Down roars in, it is beautiful, an album consumed, sated but still wanting more. A great 2021 album.
I’m on the last track. It’s a Whitesnake cover given a Burt Bacharach treatment. I like the original, but this is really a wow. I’m sure Johanne Margrethe needed a Fisherman’s Friend after this performance, a great way to finish.
It’s over, I’m going back in…
It is not often you find a cover version that you think may better the original, but that is how we end. Please buy this album – pretty please = it is on Bandcamp, and as I thank them for producing it, I hope you thank me for recommending it. According to Google Translate, ‘Meer’ is Norwegian for ‘More’. Oh, YES Please!
01. Picking Up The Pieces (6:15)
02. Beehive (4:37)
03. All At Sea (5:04)
04. Songs Of Us (4:31)
05. Child (4:22)
06. You Were A Drum (3:25)
07. Honey (5:49)
08. Across The Ocean (4:43)
09. She Goes (4:16)
10. Where Do We Go from Here (4:53)l
11. Lay It Down (6:44)
12. Here I Go Again (5:39)
Total Time – 60:18
Johanne Margrethe Kippersund Nesdal – Vocals
Knut Kippersund Nesdal – Vocals, Keyboards
Eivind Strømstad – Guitar, Mandolin, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Åsa Ree – Violin
Ingvild Nordstoga Eide – Viola
Ole Gjøstøl – Piano
Morten Strypet – Bass
Mats Lillehaug – Drums, Percusiion
Record Label: Karisma Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 29th January 2021