Even though many of the pieces on Silje Nes' debut album feature prominent melodies delivered in her wispy, winsome sing-song voice, it seems somehow imprecise to think to them as "songs" in the conventional sense. Uncomplicated, but not overly simplistic; fragmentary though not unfinished; individually distinct but clearly kindred, they're more like exploratory meditations on texture, ambience, and deregulated musicality, some of which occasionally happen to take song form. By Nes' own description, the process of recording is central to -- in fact, inseparable from -- her compositional method, and save for the opening track (a collaboration with Kristian Stockhaus of the rock band Ungdomskulen, which doesn't sound particularly different from the rest of the album) the selections here are all solo bedroom creations spanning from over a period of four years, presented, with rough edges intact, as a remarkably fluid whole. Incorporating a wide array of instruments and sounds, from delicately plucked and strummed guitars, cello, glockenspiel, melodica, and trumpet to warm keyboards, toy-like sound effects, and all manner of drips, clicks, burbles, and chimes, with Nes' breathy, muted vocals often serving as just another layer (or several) of sonic texture, Ames Room often recalls the gentle, whimsical folk-electronic hybrids of Psapp, Múm, Juana Molina, and even Four Tet in his calmer moments. The dreamy art-pop of fellow Scandinavians Stina Nordenstam, Anja Garbarek and, in particular, Hanne Hukkelberg is another relevant point of comparison, as is classicist lo-fi indie rock, à la the quirkier aspects of early Liz Phair, Mirah, or Lisa Germano. In particular, a more dynamic stretch in the middle -- from the catchy, loop-driven "Giant's Disguise" and jangly indie pop-styled "Dizzy Street" to the fuzzed-out bass distortion of "Searching, White" -- veers away from the calmer, kitchen-sink nursery-rhyme music that bookends and dominates the album towards more conventional rock arrangements incorporating live drums, and suggesting a more song-oriented direction Nes could perhaps choose to pursue in the future. But while this barrage of comparisons hopefully conveys some sense of what Ames Room sounds like, it risks overcomplicating the album's endearing idiosyncrasies and overshadowing its artless sweetness and intimacy, the rare, ineffable qualities which make this a truly singular release -- one that's all the more precious considering that Nes originally created much of this music without necessarily intending to share it with a wider audience.
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AllMusic Review by K. Ross Hoffman