Last year, 2013, Stein Urheim’s collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Daydream Twin was nominated for a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. No wonder. Over the last few years, Stein has established a reputation as one of Norwegian music’s most innovative artists. The story begins back in 2009.

That’s when Bergen based guitarist released his debut album Three Sets of Music. Released to widespread critical acclaim, it was no surprise that in 2010, Stein won the Voss Jazzfestival-Award. The following year, 2011, Stein released Daydream Community, his first collaboration with vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll. After that, the pair headed out on tour to celebrate the start of a fruitful and successful musical partnership. Throughout this period, Stein had been working on his sophomore album, Kosmolodi.

Unlike other artists, Stein had recorded Kosmolodi over a period of time and at different studios. It was then released in 2012 on Hubro Music as a limited edition vinyl only release. On its release, critics sat up and took notice of Kosmolodi. They hailed its release and soon word was out, Stein was a musician with a big future ahead of him. The followup to Kosmolodi was highly anticipated. However, critics and music lovers have had to wait patiently on Stein Urheim, which will be released in 24th February on Hubro Music. 

In between the release of Kosmolodi and Stein Urheim, Stein recorded and released his second collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Daydream Twin. It was so well received, that it was nominated for a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. For any Norwegian artist, this is one of the highest musical accolades. Sadly, Stein and Mari Kvien Brunvoll didn’t win. However, maybe his third album Stein Urheim will be nominated next year? Before I tell you about Stein Urheim, I’ll tell you a bit more about Stein and the background to the album.

Stein was born in 1979, and is based in the beautiful coastal city of Bergen. Although he’s a guitarist, he’s best described as a multi-instrumentalist. He plays a wide variety of stringed instruments from different corners of the world. This brings an exotic sound to him music. On Stein Urheim, he plays everything from guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, gu qin, mandolin, langeleik, charango, banjo, analog synths and effects. Not only is Stein a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s an experienced and talented musician.

Stein’s worked with some of the biggest names in Norwegian music. One of his first appearances was on Unge Frustrerte Menn’s 2001 album Dronningen Av Kalde Føtter. Three years later, Stein played on Barabass & The Happy Few’s 2004 album Rali Rei. Then in 2009, Stein accompanied Sergeant Petter on his Sgt. Petter album. Other appearances include on Sigrid Moldestad’s 2010 album Sandkorn and Gabriel Fliflet Åresong. Indeed, Stein was a member Gabriel Fliflet’s band Åresong and HP Gundersen’s  drone band The Last Hurrah. As you can see, Stein is an experienced, versatile and talented musician. His talents are highly in demand. It’s a wonder he has the time for a solo career. Somehow, he finds time and is about to release his eponymous third album.

For his third album Stein Urheim, Stein wrote five tracks. He then decided to take a different approach to the recording process. Unlike his sophomore album Kosmolodi which was recorded in several places, Stein and sound technician Audun Strype headed to Lysøen. Their destination was the magnificent home of the legendary violinist Ole Bull. It’s on the outskirts of Bergen. Recording got underway in January 2013. Although the wooden houses was incredibly cold, it was atmospheric and had fantastic acoustics. This brought a warmth to the music when recording began.

As the tapes began to roll, Stein literally became a one-man band. He played everything from guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, gu qin, mandolin, langeleik, charango, banjo, analog synths and effects. Accompanying him was Jørgen Træen, who played modular synth and added effects. Once most of the five tracks were recorded in Ole Bull’s house, they headed to the Duper Studio, Bergen. That’s where recording was completed and the mixing took place. In charge of that was technician and producer Jørgen Træen. Once Stein Urheim was completed, the released date was scheduled by Hubro Music for 24th February 2014. However, what can you expect? is Stein Urheim a groundbreaking, genre-melting album where Stein comes of age? That’s what I’ll tell you.

Atmospheric and melancholy describes the introduction to Kosmoloda. It ebbs and flows. Gradually, a darker sound threatens to descend. A droning synth, quivering stringed instruments. They produce a hypnotic, experimental sound that veers towards ethereal. Then Stein lays down a slide guitar solo atop the arrangement. It wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the soundtracks Ry Cooder wrote for Wim Wenders movies. Rather than slide along, the slide guitar glides and meanders along. By now layers of music are revealing their secrets. Subtly, they tease, assail and surround you. Wistful, ethereal, languid and atmospheric describes this sonic opus.

After The Festival is an epic track. Eleven minutes long, its bubbling introduction meanders into being. Synths provide a backdrop, their understated, almost futuristic sound unfolding. Slowly and deliberately, strings are plucked, before flitting up and down the fretboard. They scamper up and down before hesitantly, a guitar is played thoughtfully. It takes on a Spanish sound. Melancholy and pensive describes the arrangement, as instruments arrive and leave. Folk, free jazz, world music, rock and blues shine through. Stein is responsible for the blues influence. His bluesy slide guitar weeps, like a cry for help. Later, the track takes on a frenzied, experimental sound. There’s a real fusion of influences. They’re all fighting for your attention. The more you listen, the more you hear, the more you realise that Stein Urheim is one of most ambitious, innovative and pioneering musicians. He’s determined to push boundaries to their limits.

Just a distant, lone guitar draws nearer on Watch The View. Meanwhile, a tender crystalline guitar is played thoughtfully. Eventually, it takes centre-stage where it belongs. It quivers and shivers, while the earlier droning guitar returns. This prompts Stein to play louder. Power and passion are ever-present as he delivers some strident, thoughtful licks. They veer between languid and expressive. Stein fuses an Eastern influence with blues and country. They all melt into one beautiful fusion of musical influence.

A bluesy harmonica and gently plucked guitar combine on Beijing Blues. It’s another fusion of musical genres and influences. Blues is the main influence. So are Chinese gu qin, country and folk. This proves a potent combination. An understated bluesy arrangement unfolds. Stein plays slowly and deliberately, concentrating on every note. Accompanying the weeping bluesy guitar are flourishes of guitar. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds in waves, cascading. Later, the arrangement grows in power and drama. As Stein plays, he marks time and blows his blues harmonica. He’s in a groove and unleashes some delicious bluesy licks, which shows yet another side the the versatile Stein Urheim.

Closing Stein Urheim is Great Distances. Again, it has an atmospheric, understated sound. Stein’s unleashes flourishes of his guitar. It reverberates into the distance, weeping. Just like before, Stein’s playing reminds me of Ry Cooder. Especially, on soundtrack albums like Paris Texas. He’s a virtuoso guitarist, who’s capable of switching between genres. One minute he’s playing blues, the next minute jazz or folk. The guitar comes alive in his hands. He gives it a voice. Mostly, it’s just Stein. Sometimes, though, he’s accompanied by a myriad of stringed instruments. They add to what’s best described as atmospheric, evocative, haunting and cinematic sounding track. Quite simply, Stein has kept the best until last.

While Stein Urheim contains just five tracks and is only forty-one minutes long, it’s virtually flawless. Over the five tracks, Stein fuses Afro-blues, avant-garde, blues, country, experimental, folk, jazz, Chinese gu qin music with langeleik, Norwegian zither music. Add to this the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and the music of American composers Lou Harrison and Steve Reich. The result is an eclectic and potent mix. This heady brew is best described as atmospheric, beautiful, ethereal, haunting, hypnotic, melancholy, sparse, thoughtful and wistful. I’d also described Stein Urheim as an ambitious, groundbreaking and minimalist genre-melting album.

Here is a album where less is more. Stein resists the temptation to overload the mix. Sometimes, only a few instruments are deployed. The result is music that’s sparse and minimalist. Sometimes, I’m reminded of Brian Eno and Ry Cooder. Indeed, on some tracks, it’s as if Brian Eno and Ry Cooder are collaborating. That’s one way of describing the music on Stein Urheim. However, there’s much more to Stein Urheim which will be released in 24th February on Hubro Music, than that.

Stein Urheim has been described as cohesive, unique and understated. On  Stein Urheim takes not just instrumental music, but his music in a new and unheralded direction. It’s a direction that it’s never headed before. No worries though. Stein is the equivalent to a swashbuckling musical pioneer. Helped along by his collection of eclectic and exotic stringed instruments from the four corners of the world, Stein created some of the most ambitious, exciting and innovative music of his career. Not only is Stein Urheim the best album of Stein’s career, but it sees him coming of age musically. Indeed, Stein Urheim is well on his way to becoming one of Norway’s most talented and pioneering musicians, whose capable of crafting music that’s not just eclectic, but thoughtful, cerebral and beautiful.


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