Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual for an album to be recorded in four days. The only way to record an album, was in a recording studio. This  cost money. So, the only bands able to record an album, were those signed to a record company. Once they had signed on the dotted line, they were ready to record their album.

When bands entered a recording studio, they had to be ready to roll when that red light went on. Every hour was costing them money. That money was coming out of their royalties. So the longer they took a year to record an album, the more it was going to cost them. The more experienced a band or artist became, the more they were aware of this. 

Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll are certainly well aware of the costs of recording an album. Both of them have enjoyed lengthy careers as solo artists, and for the last four years, have been collaborating. They had previously recorded two albums together. Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness, which was recently released by Jazzland Recordings was their third collaboration. It was recorded in just four days. 

With nine new songs written, Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll entered the recording studio on the 6th of January 2015. Four days later, and the Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll had completed the recording of  Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness. It was only the 9th of January 2015. Now they could make plans to release followup to their debut album Daydream Twin. 

The collaboration between Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll began in 2012. That’s when they released their debut E.P. Stein and Mari’s Daydream Community. It was released to critical acclaim, and featured ambitious and groundbreaking music. Elements of avant-garde, contemporary jazz, experimental and free jazz were combined over eight tracks. Critics tipped the duo as a partnership with a big future ahead of them.

That wasn’t surprising. Both Stein and Mari were experienced musicians. Stein who was thirty-three and Mari who was twenty-eight were career musicians. 

Stein, who had worked with some of the biggest names in Norwegian jazz, had already released two albums. His debut was Three Sets Of Music, which was released in 2009. The album showcased Stein’s versatility. Seamlessly, this talented multi-instrumentalist switched between genres. For the first time in nearly a decade, Stein was taking centre-stage. At last, his talents were recognised.

In 2010, Stein Urheim won his first Vossajazz. This is one of the biggest, and most prestigious awards. Stein picked has award up at the Vossa Jazz festival. Buoyed by this, Stein’s career continued apace.

By 2012, Stein had met Mari Kvien Brunvoll. They released their Stein and Mari´s Daydream Community E.P. Plans were in place for the pair to record their debut album. Before that, Stein and Mari had albums to release.

Later in 2012, Stein released his sophomore album Kosmolodi. It was released on one of Norway’s most prestigious labels, Hubro Music. Kosmolodi featured a musical innovator, who continually, pushed musical boundaries. Genres melted into one on Kosmolodi’s five tracks. Everything from blues, country, experimental, free jazz, folk, jazz and world music. It seemed that Stein Urheim had come of age musically. Meanwhile, Mari Kvien Brunvoll had also released her eponymous debut album.

Mari Kvien Brunvoll was released in 2012 on Jazzland Recordings. By then, Mari was already being hailed as one of the rising stars of the Norwegian scene. This came about after Mari’s appearance at Moldejazz in 2010. Suddenly, her star was in the ascendancy. Critics awaited the release of Mari’s debut album. They weren’t disappointed when her eponymous debut album was released in 2012. The former jazz student at the Grieg Academy had surpassed even the critic’s expectations. Already, critics were talking about Mari’s sophomore album. That would have to wait Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll were about to record their debut album, Daydream Twin.

When Daydream Twin was released in 2013, it was Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll’s first album. Previously, they had only released an E.P., Stein and Mari’s Daydream Community. That was a tantalising taste of what they were capable of. 

If Stein and Mari’s Daydream Community was an amuse-bouche, they Daydream Twin was three course meal. Critics hailed Daydream Twin as an innovative album from two musical pioneers. Hailed as one of the best Norwegian albums of 2013, Daydream Twin was released to widespread critical acclaim. Again, the music was ambitious and groundbreaking music. Stein and Mari combined elements of eclectic and disparate musical genres. Ambient, avant-garde, electronica, experimental and free jazz shawn through on Daydream Twin. This genre-melting album won friends and influenced people.

Among them were the judges of the Spellemannprisen Awards. This is the Norwegian Grammys. In 2013, Daydream Twin was nominated in the open category. Although the Daydream Twin didn’t win a Spellemannprisen Award, suddenly, a much winder audience were starting to take notice of Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll. 

Despite their profile rising, Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll resisted the temptation to rush out their followup to Daydream Twin. They had spent years building their reputations. There was no way they were going to risk it by rushing out an album. What’s more they had other projects that had to take priority.

In Stein’s case, this meant releasing his third solo album. His eponymous album was released on Hubro Music on 2014, and is regarded as the best album of his career. Stein Urheim seemed to mature with each album. However, he had been making music for three decades. Mari’s latest project was a new one.

This was Building Instrument, a trio which featured Åsmund Weltzien, Øyvind Hegg-Lunde and Mari Kvien Brunvoll. They released their eponymous debut album on Hubro Music. It was an album of innovative, genre-melting music. Building Instrument found favour with critics, and the album was released to critical acclaim. Once the Building Instrument had been released, now Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll could think about collaborating again.

So the pair got to work. Before heading to the studio, Stein had penned Lazy Philosopher, For Now and Are You Glad. Trees, What I’d Do and Gold were written by Mari. Stein and Mari cowrote Garden Sound. Things I Wish For and Lately were improvised at the Forsamlingshuset, Dale studio. That’s where Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness was recorded.

When recording got underway on 6th January 2015, both Stein and Mari played a variety of instruments. Stein added vocals and played guitars, bass, flute, bouzouki, tamboura, percussion, effects and loops. Mari adds vocals, drum machine, effects and plays kalimba, kazoo, percussion, roll-up-piano and zither. Producer Jørgen Træen plays modular synth and adds a mellotron sample. He also took charge of programming. By the 9th of January 2015 Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness was complete. All that was left was for the album to be mixed and mastered. This took place at Grotten/Duper Studio, Bergen in February and April 2015. Now Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness was ready for release.

It wasn’t until quite early October 2015 that Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness was released to critical acclaim. Stein and Mari had surpassed their Daydream Twin with a cinematic and multi-textured albums. As the nine songs unfold, one’s mood changes. Sadness gives way to joy, on this emotional roller coaster, which I’ll tell you about.

Garden Sound opens Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness. Minimalist. That describes the introduction. A wistful, weeping sound is joined by swathes of synth strings. They shimmer and quiver, reminiscent of The Blue Nile. In the distance, a guitar chimes. Gradually, it grows in power, it’s almost detuned sound dominating the arrangement. Mari’s ethereal vocal floats around the arrangement. A guitar shimmers, as harmonies coo. By then, the arrangement is dreamy, ethereal and captivating. It’s very different from the introduction. Partly, that’s down to the myriad of percussive delights, synths and Mari’s beautiful, ethereal vocal. 

Elements of ambient and avant-garde combine as the Lazy Philosopher unfolds. Waves and washes of the jagged, challenging and chiming arrangement wash over you. Soon, it takes on a hypnotic sound. There’s an element of drama too. A lone guitar plays in the dense, multi-layered arrangement. If this was a painting, the whole palette would’ve been used. Hands clap, then synths bubble and squeak. Only then, does the vocal emerge. It’s veers between disinterested and dreamy. This is perfect for the Lazy Philosopher’s message. By then, they Stein and Mari remind me of the BMX Bandits. They too combined music and social comment. However, Stein and Mari pickup the baton on this genre-melting track.

A lone bass plays on For Now, before Mari’s abrupt, deliberate vocal emerges. The lyrics sound like the work of the Lazy Philosopher; “we’re only here for now, don’t you wonder how.” As her vocal becomes a scat, a dubby guitar accompanies her. Then when her vocal drops out, sci-fi synths replace it. When her vocal returns, it’s urgent. Harmonies accompany her, on this mixture of indie rock, dub, electronica and experimental music. There’s even a nod to The B52s on For Now, as Stein and Mari continue to showcase their versatility.

What sounds like a code being tapped out opens Things I Wish For. One can hear this in the distant arrangement. It meanders along. Sound effects are added before a crystalline keyboard is played slowly, subtly and almost hesitantly. It’s the polar opposite of the rest of arrangement. As pounds and crackles, the keyboards prove the perfect foil. Another addition is a scatted vocal. Again, it has an ethereal quality, and adds another texture. Stein and Mari are digging deep into their musical palette, as this imaginative and innovative soundscape takes shape.

A lone zither opens Trees. This grabs you attention. So do the addition of a flute. They add to the arrangement’s understated Eastern sound. That’s until Stein and Mari bowl a curveball. A wave of synths washes overpowers the arrangement. After it dissipates, the understated sound returns. Later, this happens again, as Stein and Mari continue to throw curveballs on this  magical, musical, mystery tour.

In the distance, the arrangement to That’s What I’d Do makes its presence felt. Again, it’s an arrangement full of contrasts. A hypnotic groove, choppy harmonies, handclaps and Mari’s lilting, joyous vocal. Instruments drift in and out, a mixture of left-field and ‘traditional’ sound. Producer Jørgen Træen combines what are sometimes unlikely bedfellows, creating a hook heavy slice of alt-sunshine pop.

Gold seems to pick up where That’s What I’d Do left. Quickly though, it’s just the guitar and vocals. That’s all that’s needed. Anything else would be overkill. Then when the tempo drops, the vocals drop out, the glistening, chiming guitars take centre-stage. It’s a case of less is more. However, when the vocals return, they add the finishing touch to this musical treasure, Gold.

Lately has a crackly, atmospheric, analog sound. Instruments drift in and out, adding an otherworld sound. They paint pictures of somewhere hot, dusty and distant. There’s also a moody, broody and dramatic sound. The best way to describe Lately though, is cinematic. 

Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness closes with Are You Glad. A guitar accompanies Stein and Mari as they add vocals. Then when their vocals drop out, washes of moody, Eastern sound music replaces it. Washes of bluesy slide guitar and harmonies combine with the zither, as the tempo increases. It’s as if Stein and Mari are determined to close the album on a high. They certainly succeed in doing so. 

Unlike so many albums released in the CD age, Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness isn’t a sprawling album. Far from it. The album lasts just thirty-two minutes. That’s the way things used to be in the vinyl age.

Back then, artists only put eight to ten tracks on an album. That meant record buyers were hearing an artist’s best work. Now an album can feature fifteen or more albums. Artists seem obliged to fill the eighty minutes of a CD. Often, this means a lot of second rate music finds its way onto an album. That’s not the case on Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness.

Instead, Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll’s oozes quality. It’s a filler free zone, on what can only be described as a genre-melting album. There’s everything from alt-sunshine pop, ambient, avant-garde, dub, Eastern blues, electronica, experimental, free jazz and synth pop. The result is an eclectic and potent mix of musical genres for two innovative artists, Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll.

Together, they have created a captivating and cinematic album. It’s like the musical equivalent of a magical mystery tour, that Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll “are coming to take you away” on. As this magical musical mystery tour unfolds, Stein and Mari toy with your emotion. One minute you feel wistful, the next joyous. However,  the music on Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness  veers between atmospheric, beautiful, dark, dramatic, ethereal, haunting, hypnotic, melancholy, mesmeric, sparse, thoughtful and wistful. However, Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll’s sophomore album Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness is also ambitious and innovative. Surely, this is bound to be what the Spellemannprisen Award judges are looking for?




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