All These Things marks the third collaboration between Norwegian singer/songwriter Thomas Dybdahl and producer Larry Klein. On 2011's Songs, they hit Norway's pop charts (where Dybdahl is a bona fide star). Their 2013 effort, What's Left Is Forever, netted the singer a Grammy nomination. The pair's partnership has inspired mutual trust, vulnerability, and abundant respect. When they decided to work together again, Klein invited Dybdahl to Los Angeles to work at the famed Sunset Sound with a truly enviable cast including drummers James Gadson and Brian MacLeod, guitarists Dean Parks and David Baerwald, bassist Dan Lutz, keyboardist Patrick Warren, vocalist Lera Lynn, and a string quartet. Tchad Blake mixed the date. These nine songs were written exclusively for this recording; it was cut live from the floor in just three days.
The music is quintessential Los Angeles. Its sound exists at the crossroads where David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name and Tim Buckley's Blue Afternoon meet. As evidenced by the downbeat opening title track, the vibe is loose and sultry; bluesy electric guitars, a shuffling nocturnal beat, slippery dub effects, celeste, and organ wind snake-like around Dybdahl's bedroom vocals. The lyrics feel immediate, as if being created in the moment they are sung. Near the end, the guitars claim the center, ratcheting up the intensity just behind the drums and B-3 before it all fades. In "Can I Have It All," Dybdahl asks the existential question as a byproduct of desire; pedal steel and layered acoustic guitars hover and float above silky synths all propelled by a clipped snare. When he sings "In the distance there's a rumble can you feel it?/ Is anybody out there?," the ache is not only palpable, it's pervasive. Let's put it this way: Ned Doheny would give his right arm to have composed this. "The Longest Night" is, in essence, a blue-eyed soul tune, with hovering pedal steel guitar adding a gauzy, dreamy quality to a song drenched in regret under the city's lights. Warren's lithe, jazzy piano break creates an interlude where the night and the singer's voice become one and the same. Lynn duets with Dybdahl on "When I Go," an impure country love song so vulnerable that its singers cannot help but reveal their nascent flaws to one another. In "Rescue Me," Dybdahl takes in the decadence and desperation surrounding him and allows the shuffling drum kit, acoustic steel, and electric guitar to guide him into the pit of the devastating loneliness at the heart's core. His plea for deliverance is sincere; he has been thoroughly beaten. That feeling is underscored on the closer, the sparse, piano-driven "Stupid Heart," which recalls Elvis Costello at his nighttime best. As a rule, Dybdahl doesn't write trite songs. Teamed with Klein and these players on All These Things, his material approaches the sublime.