Over the last few years, Stian Westerhus has established a reputation as one of Europe’s most accomplished and innovative abstract guitar players. This has been the result of a lifetime’s work. That is how long it has taken Stian to hone and tame his unique sound. This dedication has paid off, and nowadays, Stian Westerhus is constantly in demand as a session player, vocalist, mixer, recordist and producer. However, that is just part of the Stian Westerhus’ story.
Stian Westerhus also finds time to collaborate on albums with the great and the good of Norwegian music. That’s not forgetting releasing a quartet of solo albums. Stian Westerhus’ fourth solo album Amputation, was released on 29th April on the House Of Mythology label. It’s the followup to The Matriarch and The Wrong Kind Of Flowers, which was released to critical acclaim in 2012. This was nothing new.
Critical acclaim has accompanied many of the collaborations and solo albums Stian Westerhus has released. His recording career began ten years ago, in 2006. By then, Stian had spent a large part of his adult life studying music. This began at Middlesex University, where Stian graduated as a Bachelor of Music. Next stop, was Trondheim, where Stian gained his Masters degree. Following his graduation, he was ready to embark upon a career as a musician.
Stian’s career began with Puma. who fused experimental rock, noise and jazz. They released three albums between 2006 and 2010. Puma’s debut album Isolationism was released in 2006. It was well received by critics. However, the following year, Stian was part of another group, Fraud.
They were a short-lived jazz group, who only released one album. Fraud were a trio, whose eponymous debut album was released in 2007. Despite positive reviews, Fraud never released another album. So Stian returned to Puma.
Two years after releasing their debut album Isolationism, Puma returned with their sophomore album Discotheque Bitpunchin in 2008. Just like Puma’s debut, the album won praise from critics. However, by 2008, Stian was already collaborating with other artists.
In 2008, Stian had already collaborated with Eldbjørg Raknes and saxophonist Eirik Hegda. The result was the album From Frozen Feet, which was released in 2008. The same year, Stian collaborated with Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset on Laden With Rain. Together with his work as a session musician, this stand Stian in good stead when he embarked upon his solo career. That was in the not to distant future.
2009 was a busy year for Stian, and found him working on four separate projects. This included adding vocals to Bladed’s 2009 album Mangled Dreams. Stian had also formed Monolithic, an experimented noise duo with drummer Kenneth Kapstad. Monolithic released their debut album Frantic Calm in 2009, which was mixed by Stian. Meanwhile, Stian was working on a collaboration between Puma and Lasse Marhaug. The resultant album, Fist Full Of Knuckles was released to widespread critical acclaim in 2008, and regarded as a union of innovators. However, after the release of Fist Full Of Knuckles, Stian’s solo career began.
Later in 2009, Stian released his debut solo album Galore. It was mixed, recorded and produced by Stian. When it was released, it was to critical acclaim. This bode well for the future, and was the perfect way to start a new chapter in Stian’s career.
Especially, as another chapter was closing. Puma released their final solo album Half Nelson Courtship in 2010. Just like previous Puma albums, Half Nelson Courtship has been well received by critics. However, fittingly, Puma seemed to have saved their best album until last.
After four albums, Puma called time on their career. This allowed Stian more time to concentrate on his solo career and other projects.
Stian released his sophomore solo album later in 2010. Pitch Black Star Spangled saw Stian further develop his abstract guitar style. Critically acclaimed, Stian was seen as one of Norwegian music’s leading musicians. That’s why he was constantly in-demand as a guitarist, vocalist and later, a producer
During 2010, Stian had played on Jaga Jazzist’s album One Armed Bandit by keyboardist Øystein Moen. He had been a member of Puma, so Stian agreed. Stian played everything from percussion, harp, effects, twelve-string guitar, baritone guitar and electric guitar. When One Armed Bandit was released, it was to plaudits and praise. Critics hailed the album, one of the best of 2010. This proved to be the case, and One Armed Band won a Spellemannprisen in 2011. However, Stian’s musical year wasn’t over.
To round off 2010, Stian played on Maurhaug’s All Music At Once. 2010, had been, without doubt, the most productive year of Stian’s career.
2011 saw Stian play on Ulver’s War Of The Roses album. He also played harmonium, mixed and produced Nils Petter Molvær’s Baboon Moon. For Stian, this was all good experience for his solo career, which he returned to in 2012.
The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers was Stian’s fourth solo album. It was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. Critics hailed this genre melting album Stian’s finest album. That wasn’t the end of 2012 for Stian.
During 2012, Stian played on Susanne Sundfør’s album The Silicon Veil. Stian also released a collaborated with Bol and Hans Magnus Ryan on album. Billed as Bol, Westerhus, Snah, the trio released what was hailed as ambitious and innovative album Numb Number. However, the most successful album Stian was involved with during 2012, was his collaboration with Sidsel Endresen.
Stian collaborated with Norwegian jazz vocalist Sidsel Endresen on Didymoi Dreams. This was an album that pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, and way beyond. Stian’s blistering, searing guitar licks and Sidsel’s explosive bursts of vocal were a potent partnership. Genres melted into one as Stian and Sidsel challenged musical norms. Ambitious, brave and groundbreaking describes this opus. It was no surprise when Didymoi Dreams won a Spellemannprisen in 2013. By then Stian decided to change direction and founded Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses.
They were a new band in name only. Stian, keyboardist Øystein Moen and drummer and percussionist Erland Dahlen had all played together in Puma. Øystein Moen also was a member of Jaga Jazzist. Stian made a guest appearance on their 2010 album One Armed Bandit. So musically, they knew each other really well. They fused experimental, jazz and post rock on Maelstrom, which was released in 2014. It was hailed as one of the finest Norwegian albums of 2014. This bode well for Stian’s second collaboration,with Sidsel Endresen.
Recording of Bonita took place at Oslo Klang Studio in August 2014. It was recorded by Johnny Skalleberg. Stian mixed and produced Bonita during September 2014. By January 2015, Bonita was ready for release. On its release, Bonita I described the album as “a marriage made in musical heaven. They bring out the best in each other, driving each other to greater musical heights.” The result was one of Stian’s finest collaborations. However, there was no time for Stian to rest on his laurels, he had more music to make,
Later in 2014, Stian played guitar on three tracks on Sivert Høyem’s album Endless Love. For Stian, 2014 had been a busy, but rewarding year for him.
Just like previous years, 2015 proved to be another busy year for Stian Westerhus. Monolithic returned after a six year break, and recorded their sophomore album Frantic Calm. Not only did Stian add guitar and vocals, but he mixed and produced Frantic Calm. The result was an album where rock, experimental and noise were fused by Monolithic. Their comeback was well received, but by then, Stein was working on his fourth solo album Amputation.
Just like previous albums, Stian Westerhus continues to push musical boundaries on Amputation. To do this, he experiments stylistically and sonically. Aided and abetted by an array of effects, Stian follows in the footsteps of pioneers like Michael Rother, Can’s Michael Karoli and Ash Ra Stian showcases his versatility and inventiveness on the six new soundscapes he composed for Amputation. These soundscapes were recorded during 2015.
Recording of Amputation took place at Pitch Black Star Spangled Studio, Notam and Vigeland’s Mausoleum in Oslo. It was just Stian, his trusty guitar and an array of effects. His secret weapons included a drum machine and occasionally, ethereal, elegiac harmonies. They’re reminiscent of Scott Walker’s most recent work. Once the five tracks were recorded, Amputation was mixed and produced at Pitch Black Star Spangled Studio during 2015 and 2016. Then Amputation was mastered at Audio Virus Labs, by Helge Sten, one of Norway’s finest mastering engineer. When the mastering was complete, Amputation was scheduled for release on 29th April on the House Of Mythology label.
After a four year break, Stian Westerhus’ solo career resumes with Amputation. It’s the much-anticipated followup to The Wrong Kind Of Flowers, which was released to critical acclaim in 2012. As the release date approached, critics wondered whether Amputation would live up to The Wrong Kind Of Flowers? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Kings Never Sleep opens Amputation. A tender, soul-baring vocal is delivered, before Stian toys and teases the guitar. Gently Stian plucks and scratches the strings, producing an array of alternative and otherworldly sounds. They add an avant-garde and experimental sound, while Stian’s vocal has a soulful quality. Space is left within the arrangement, as a series crackling, buzzing, chirping and crystalline sounds escape from the arrangement. By 1.18 washes of a weeping, wailing guitar joins Stian’s heart-wrenching vocal. The guitar adds a melodic quality, before Stian’s vocal becomes powerful, elegiac and impassioned. He sounds not unlike Scott Walker. Meanwhile, mesmeric ripples and washes of guitar accompany him. Soon, though, a scorching, searing guitar and futuristic sound effects accompany the ethereal harmonies. Then the arrangement becomes understated. However, it’s transformed when a blistering guitar solo is unleashed. It’s a tantalising taste of a truly talented and versatile guitarist, as he produces a virtuoso performance.
A distant beeping sound sends out a warning signal on Sinking Ships. Emotion fills Stian’s vocal as he delivers the lyrics. Accompanying him, are waves of shimmering, glistening guitar. Effects transform the guitar, as it threatens to distort and reverberates. It grows in power, matching the pain in Stian’s voice. Then when his vocal drops out, he unleashes melodic washes of guitar. That’s until a dark, almost mournful sound replaces it. It’s as if it’s sending out a warning signal about the Sinking Ships. What sounds like a sonar signal enters. Maybe the search is underway? Meanwhile, the mournful sound continues; and the bubbling arrangement takes on a haunting, cinematic sound.
A myriad of disparate sounds open How Long. Together, they take on a strangely melodic sound. They come courtesy of Stian’s dark, buzzing guitar. The original dry signal has been transformed by an array of effects, that results in this melodic, and almost mesmeric backdrop. It’s accompanied by Stian’s vocal, which has been been inspired by Jeff and Tim Buckley and even Scott Walker. He questions and probes, asking: “can you tell me what is happening.” Soon, his vocal becomes a confessional, and a cathartic outpouring of emotion. By then, a drum machine adds a slow, pounding beat that resonates. Midway through the track swells of shrill, uncompromising guitar dominate the arrangement. They replicate strings, and add not just to the drama, but to the melodic nature of the track. When they dissipate, Stian confesses: “I never wanted to know,” as the arrangement grows in power and drama. This result in a powerful, moving and beautiful, melodic track which features Stian at his most inventive.
Amputation is a two part suite. Part one opens with beeping, squeaking sound. It sounds as if Stian is replicating the sound of a life-support machine. An elongated beep gives way to what sounds like a saw, as it cuts and grinds. So realistic is the noise, is that it’s almost possible to imagine the sparks flying as am Amputation takes place. After a small explosion, the sawing, grinding sound continues and the blade cuts through the bone. It’s replaced by a rumbling as an elegiac vocal soars above the arrangement. Disbelief fills the vocal, as it realises what has happened. Ethereal, angelic harmonies accompany the vocal. When the vocal drops out, swells shrill strings add an element of drama to the arrangement. It meanders along, allowing the listener to reflect on what they’ve heard. Meanwhile, a drum machine replicates a heartbeat, which makes the subject matter all the more real. It’s an incredibly powerful and cerebral track that tackles a subject that most musicians would shy away from.
Straight away, Infectious Decay sounds as if it has a foot in eighties synth pop. A drum machine and a myriad of beeps and squeaks adds the eighties sound, while Stian sings: “there’s a times to forgive and time to forget,..there’s a time to let go, and a time to move on.” Meanwhile, he play the guitar with a degree of urgency. It threatens to distort, while what sounds like gun shots punctuate the arrangement. Adding a contrast are his cooing harmonies and pulsating beats. As Stian scats and harmonises, his vocal sounds like Scott Walker. Later, ethereal harmonies give way to Stan’s vocal as he sings: “then ask me to just come home, you say you’d forgive me for all I’ve done, for my birthday you threw me a stone, so I packed up my things and left you alone.” By then, Stian’s vocal is an outpouring of emotion, hurt and regret. He’s becomes a troubled troubadour, who doesn’t know which way to turn on what’s an emotional roller coaster.
Amputation Part II closes Amputation. Straight away, elements of industrial, avant-garde and experimental music combine. The arrangement whirrs, shrieks, roars and grinds. It’s as if the Amputation is taking place again? Maybe it’s a flashback or nightmare, as in the distance, what sounds like a scream can be heard? Despite thgis, there’s a hypnotic and strangely melodic quality to the track. Later, Stian’s guitar creates a myriad of whirring, grinding sounds. This replicates earlier the sound of a saw cutting through bone. When these sound combine, they take on a hypnotic sound. Incredibly, Stian’s guitar is responsible for most of the sounds in the arrangement. Sometimes, he uses feedback, and controls it to replicate another sound. Most guitarists would neither have the technique nor the imagination to do this. However, Stian’s like to a musical magician, who weaves magic with his guitar, and in the process, creates music that’s innovative, cinematic, melodic and thought-provoking.
That’s the case throughout Amputation, where Stian Westerhus creates music that’s cerebral, challenging and thought-provoking. Stian wants the listener to think; sometimes about subjects that will make them uncomfortable. That’s the case on Amputation and Amputation Part II. The sounds that Stian replicates, are the sounds heard in an operating theatre, when an amputation is taking place. That’s something most people will neither hear, nor have to even consider. However, some people have to face the reality of losing a limb. It’s a traumatic and life-changing event. Most musicians would shy away from even broaching such a controversial subject. Not Stian Westerhus. He brings the subject into the open, and faces the reality head on. For that he should be congratulated. However, the Amputation suite is just part of Amputation.
The music on Amputation is also beautiful, cinematic, ethereal and melodic. Other times, it’s dark, haunting and mournful. Sometimes, Stian lays bare his soul, delivering vocals that are akin to an outpouring of emotion. When this happens, there’s a cathartic quality to the vocals, as if Stian is cleansing his soul. He breathes life and meaning into the lyrics on Sinking Ships, How Long and Infectious Decay. Always, the music on Amputation is compelling and innovative.
Incredibly, when Stian Westerhus recorded Amputation, all he used was his guitar, an array of effects and a drum machine. Just like on his three previous solo albums, Stian Westerhus reinvents how to play the guitar. He creates innovative soundscapes peppered with an array of disparate sound. Most of them are made with a guitar. However, most guitarists wouldn’t know how to replicate these sounds, never mind the six tracks on Amputation. Stian Westerhus however has the talent, vision and imagination to create such a groundbreaking album as Amputation.
To do that, draws inspiration from artist like pioneering guitarists including Ash Ra, Michael Karoli and Michael Rother. Vocalists like Jeff Buckley, Scott Walker and Tim Buckley seem to have influenced Stian Westerhus stylistically. So it’s no surprise that Amputation doesn’t fit neatly into a musical genre. Instead, elements of ambient, avant-garde, avant-rock, eighties synth pop, experimental, industrial, post rock and rock can be heard on Amputation, which was released on 29th April on the House Of Mythology label. It’s the much-anticpated followup to The Matriarch and The Wrong Kind Of Flowers, which was released to critical acclaim in 2012. It was regarded as the best album of Stian’s career.
Not any more. Amputation steals the crown from The Matriarch and The Wrong Kind Of Flowers. Seven years after releasing his debut album, Stian Westerhus has released Amputation, which is a career defining. It’s well worth the four year wait. Amputation is not only cerebral, challenging and thought-provoking, but also beautiful, cinematic, ethereal and melodic. It finds Stian Westerhus, one of the most talented Norwegian musicians of his generation, at his innovative best on Amputation, which is undoubtably the best album of his career.
- Posted in: Ambient ♦ Avant Garde ♦ Experimental ♦ Free Jazz ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Amputation, Bonita, Didymoi Dreams, Fraud, Helge Sten, House Of Mythology, Jaga Jazzist, Monolithic, Pitch Black Star Spangled, Puma, Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus, Stian Westerhus, Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses, The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers