gig reviews

I'm Kingfisher - Arctic

By Nick Pike

I'm Kingfisher

Within the cramped borders of the UK it is often difficult to pull our musical appreciation out of the ‘international’ circuit of American, Canadian, British and the occasional (often cringe worthy) Europop sensations. This is a shame when there are artists like Sweden’s I’m Kingfisher pinging about just off our radar. Personally, when thinking about Sweden’s national heritage my mind jumps straight to the heady melange of ABBA, IKEA, SAAB and the inevitable but pleasing thought of all the blondes implicit in those four letter acronyms. Unfortunately, I’m Kingfisher has too many letters to fit into that pun but musically it stands shoulder to shoulder with all of those Swedish exports.

Toted by The Times as one of the most important Swedish pop acts of the same ilk as ABBA, The Hives and Cardigans, the solo artist Thomas Denver Jonsson delivers his fourth album. ‘Arctic’ is a conceptual album about early polar expeditions that is the first of a forthcoming trilogy. Jonsson’s ability to weave beautiful lyrical melodies whilst keeping them poignant is impressive and he manages to avoid falling into the trap of melodramatic clichés about love creating a beautiful yet deep artwork that is a true pleasure to listen to.

The album opens with a relatively upbeat pair of songs, ‘Willing Night Plants’ and ‘Svalbard’, setting a soft rock pace to the album with a warm and full textured sound, complete with rhodes and electric guitar. However, Jonsson guides the listener through a variety of feels and paces as the album progresses with the next track, ‘Feline Funeral’, cutting the impetus right down. Stripped to vocals and guitar, but with the addition of a cello this song is haunting, almost calling out to some lost experience. This is the first time where the listener experiences Jonsson’s true lyrical depth and the ability to weave such touching melodies. However, an unexpected brass entry took me by surprise and spoilt the effect, sounding as though The Cat Empire horns were playing a funeral dirge in the background. Fortunately, this was short-lived. The horns’ return is a lot less invasive, with the last minute upping the ante into a powerful coda section, giving me a shiver down my spine normally reserved for the aforementioned Swedish blondes…

The brass is a strange addition to an otherwise fairly mellow collection of instruments and synthetic elements. It returns later in ‘Peacock Colour Song’ but has the effect of making you appreciate the vocals and guitar even more. Jonsson plays on this idea of impact and contrast, superbly structuring the album by oscillating throughout between punchy, almost rock numbers and warm yet haunting slower songs. This keeps the listener always engaged and latched on to every wise word that he utters. Indeed, Jonsson’s lyrics are sage and beautifully tempered around his melodies rather than the regular, repetitive lines of most contemporary music. His poetry stands strong next to his musicianship.

There was often a feeling that I wanted more from the songs. All weigh in at three minutes or less and many feel like an additional verse or an extra instrumental excursion would not go amiss. But once again Jonsson delivers with his fifth track ‘Deer Theatre’; nearly seven minutes long and with a larger sonic palette including many synthetic elements. This follows his contrasting theme with alternation between beautifully harmonised vocal lines and a nearly overpowering mix of synthesised sound. The last third of the song nearly forced me to ‘rock out’; somewhat of a rash impulse but pleasing nonetheless.

True to this album being the first of three, it does not end decisively and definitely leaves the listener wanting more. The instrumental ‘Artic Fox’, a quirky little blues number, and ‘The Whale Hunt’, a reflective vocal, possibly gives a taste of what is to come in the next instalment with their impressive guitar playing and synthesised cliff hanger.

The album is a more edgy and experimental collection than Jonsson’s previous work, but no less accessible. There are times when the band arrangements come close to overpowering his personal melodies and, indeed, I think that just man and guitar alone would be a magnificent show to behold. ‘Arctic’ is an introspective journey into I’m Kingfisher and I’m very glad to have travelled with him into this chilling yet beautiful environment.

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