Stein Urheim is unlike most musicians. He’s a talented multi-instrumentalist, who refuses to be constrained by musical norms. Instead, his approach to music is that anything is possible. That has been the case on his first two solo albums, where Stein Urheim has pushed boundaries to their limits, and sometimes beyond. This approach has served Stein Urheim well.
Already, Stein Urheim has released two critically acclaimed solo albums for Hubro Music. His debut album Kosmolodi was released in April 2012, and announced Stein Urheim’s arrival. Immediately, he was regarded as a rising star of the vibrant and thriving Norwegian music scene. This proved a prescient forecast.
Less that a year later, in February 2013, Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll released their first collaboration, Daydream Twin. It was so well received, that it was nominated for a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. Buoyed by the success and reception of Daydream Twin, Stein Urheim began work on his eponymous sophomore album.
Almost a year to the day, and Stein Urheim returned with his eponymous sophomore album. It was released to widespread critical acclaim in February 2014. Suddenly, Stein Urheim’s music was known internationally, and he was being hailed as one of the most innovative Norwegian artists of his generation. However, Stein Urheim wasn’t one to rest on his laurels.
Instead, Stein Urheim has recorded and released his second collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, For Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness. It was an ambitious and genre-melting album that unsurprisingly, was released to overwhelming critical acclaim in October 2015. However, that wasn’t the only project Stein Urheim had been working on.
Far from it. Stein Urheim had also been recording his much anti pated third album, Strandebarm. It was recently released by Hubro Music, and features a welcome return by thirty-seven year old Stein Urheim. His life seems have revolved around music for much of his life.
Stein Urheim was born, and is still based in the beautiful coastal city Bergen in 1979. That was where he grew up, and first discovered music. Soon, his life seemed to revolve around listening to, and playing music. The first instrument Stein learn to play, was the guitar. Since then he has expanded his musical horizons.
Nowadays, Stein Urheim is best described as a multi-instrumentalist. He owns and plays a wide variety of stringed instruments. Many of these instruments, Stein has picked up as he travels the globe. However, it’s not just instruments that Stein Urheim has collected, but credits.
During a career that’s spanned the best part of two decades, Stein Urheim has worked on a variety of different projects. Since making his recording debut in 2001, Stein Urheim has worked as a musician, vocalist, arranger, producer and recordist.
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 and 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 managed to finds the time to write, record and release his much-anticipated third album Strandebarm.
After a two year absence, Bergen based, multi-instrumentalist Stein Urheim, returns with another album of ambitious and innovative music, Strandebarm. Apart from Fjellbekken a traditional song, and the lyrics to Oh So Nice which Kurt Vonnegut, Stein Urheim wrote the rest of Strandebarm. However, Strandebarm’s tonal point of departure was the music of the past.
Specifically, French music of the early 1900s and American ragtime and standards of the twenties and thirties are a tonal departure point for Stein Urheim on Strandebarm. These he combines with both acoustic instruments and electronic elements. They’re both part of Stein Urheim’s musical arsendal, which he deploys to good effect as he recorded Strandebarm.
The recording of Strandebarm took place at the Strandebarm Church in January 2015. It just happens to be situated not far from Stein Urheim’s home. However, it wasn’t convenience of the Strandebarm Church why is was chosen for the recording of Stein’s third album. Instead, it was the stunning acoustics. This made it the perfect place to record Strandebarm. Joining Stein, were a couple of old friends.
At Strandebarm, Stein Urheim was joined by recordist Audun Strype, plus engineer and producer Jørgen Træen. Both had worked with Stein before. Once everything was in place in the makeshift studio, Stein was ready to put his skills as a multi-instrumentalist to good use.
When the record button was pressed, Stein Urheim became a one man band recording guitars and acoustic instruments. Seamlessly he switched between traditional and exotic instruments. It didn’t seem to matter when Stein was laying down guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, mandolin, langeleik, Turkish Tanbur, banjo, pocket-cornet or percussion he was equally comfortable. During the recording, Stein added delay, triggered loops and added vocals. Given Stein’s versatility, there was no need to bring onboard an entire band. Instead, just producer and engineer Jørgen Træen augmented Stein. Jørgen played modular synths, added effects and triggered loops. Once the sessions at Strandebarm were complete, everyone headed to Duper Studio.
That was where some additional recording took place. Once the sessions at Duper Studio were complete, the album complete and ready to be mixed. Now Stein Urheim’s third solo album Strandebarm was nearing completion. The big question was, would Strandebarm enjoy the same critical acclaim as Stein Urheim’s two previous albums Kosmolodi and Stein Urheim?
Water Part 1 opens Strandebarm. A myriad of traditional and exotic instrumentation combine as the soundscape gradually, and slowly, reveals it secrets. By then, Stein has unleashed his musical arsenal, including various stringed instruments. To this, he adds a hint of delay. Soon, nothing is as it seems as washes and swells of meandering music assails the listener. Instruments appear, only to disappear and reappear. They create music that’s variously beautiful, cinematic, exotic, haunting, lysergic and wistful. It’s a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, classical, Eastern and experimental music. That’s until, a slide tamboura signals all change. Drums join with a picked guitar as the tempo rises. From there, the drums provides the heartbeat as Stein switches between guitar and slide tamboura. Together, they create an atmospheric, cinematic soundscape that references Ry Cooder’s soundtrack work, in this captivating opening track.
Straight away, the soundscape quivers and shivers, as synths join with stringed instruments on Strandebarm. They create a ruminative soundscape. Gradually,instruments are added, including lush and wistful strings. Almost midway through the track, a much more experimental, almost weeping, sci-fi sound emerges. Its ethereal beauty washes over the listener, before a flourish of guitar signals a change in direction. The arrangement is stripped bare, and all that remains is Stein’s acoustic guitar. His finger flit up and down the fretboard as he carefully plucks his guitar, producing a quite beautiful, dreamy solo. Then at just the right time, washes of floaty synths are added and prove the perfect counterpoint for the guitar. The synths drop out ,but reappear as Stein produces a musical masterclass on his acoustic guitar.
There’s an Eastern influence to Water Part-2, various stringed instruments are played. They resonate and drone, as percussion is added to the meditative soundscape. Meanwhile, Stein’s vocal has a similar meditative sound. Soon, though, his fingers flit up and down the fretboard of his guitar, as he strums and plucks. Behind him, the Eastern influence is can still be heard, as it resonates and drones. Then it’s all change as Stein sings: “what’s in the water, H20, life;’s in the water.” His vocal is multi tracked, as accompanies himself on guitar. Sometimes, he adds effects, before the Eastern sound returns, on what’s a song of two parts. It’s the perfect showcase for Stein’s versatility as he fuses disparate musical genres, including elements of avant-garde, Eastern, folk, psychedelia and even a hint of pop.
Washes of synths beep and squeak on Fjellbekken, as if sending out a code. They then buzz as if recreating the sound of a biplane. This marks the start of a multi-cultural musical journey. Ethereal synths are joined by washes of langeleik. By then, instruments are being layered, and merge into one as effects and added. Then the arrangement is stripped bare, and the stringed instruments enjoy their moment in the spotlight. Just the slide tamboura and langeleik remain, as the underrated, mellow and dreamy arrangement meanders mesmerically along. In the distance, instruments drift in, adding an exotic hue. Suddenly, Stein is painting pictures of somewhere warm and dusty, as his myriad of instruments paint an atmospheric and sometimes dramatic, cinematic backdrop on this Norwegian fiddle tune.
Washes of weeping slide tamboura resonate and drone on Oh So Nice. They an atmospheric backdrop, before Stein picks and plucks at the strings. They resonate and drone before Stein delivers Kurt Vonnegut’s hopeful lyrics. Behind him, various stringed instruments accompany him. They then take centre-stage as the vocal drops out. This allows Stein to deliver another breathtaking solo, which is full of flourishes and flamboyance from the multitalented multi-instrumentalist.
Understated and dreamy describes the arrangement to Dragene Over Tempelhof. Washes of dreamy synths float across the arrangement, leaving an ethereal trail in their wake. They continue to float and flutter elegantly along, like an ambient soundscape. That’s until Stein decides to throw a curveball. Suddenly, industrial and found sounds interrupt the dreamy, ethereal soundscape. They add a new dimension, and add to, rather than detract from what’s one of the highlights of Strandebarm.
Berlin Blues whch closes Strandebarm, has an almost otherworldly sound as it meanders along. Then when Stein begins to pluck his guitar, soon, he’s rolling back the years to another musical era. His playing is inspired by French music of the early 1900s, blues and then ragtime. Meanwhile, washes of weeping stringed instruments provide a subtle accompaniment. Seamlessly, he switches between styles playing with accuracy and sometimes speed. Later, Stein accompanies himself on various stringed instruments. Remarkably, he seems comfortable playing each of the instruments. Then with less than a minute remaining, Stein spring his latest surprise. The tempo rises, and the soundscape becomes a musical free for all. Briefly, instruments, samples and effects melt into one. That’s until Stein rings the changes, and unleashes a bluesy guitar solo, that once again, showcases his considerable skills.
Throughout Strandebarm, Stein Urheim has showcased his talent, versatility and inventiveness, as he creates another album of innovative music. It’s a real melting pot of musical genres and influences. There’s elements of ambient, avant-garde, blues, electronica, experimental, folk, improv, industrial and psychedelia. However, then there’s the musical genres that were the tonal point of departure for Strandebarm.
This includes French music of the early 1900s; American ragtime and standards of the twenties and thirties. They were what Stein Urheim describes as his “tonal departure” when recording Strandebarm. Their influence can be heard on Strandebarm. So can all the other musical influences that have influenced Stein Urheim’s musical career.
Stein cites Norwegian folk music; the pioneers of electronic music, including Bjørn Torske, Kraftwerk and Jon Hassel; blues guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins; the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and the music of American composers Lou Harrison and Steve Reich as musical influences. When all these musical genres and influences are combined, it’s a heady, potent and breathtaking brew. That is the perfect description Stein Urheim’s third album Strandebarm, which has recently been released by Hubro Music.
The heady brew that is Strandebarm, is best described as atmospheric, beautiful, ethereal, haunting, melancholy, mesmeric and wistful. Other times, the music is cinematic and dramatic. However, for much of Strandebarm, the music is ruminative and thoughtful. It allows time to reflect and consider, without being subdued or sombre. Far from it.
Instead, Strandebarm is another captivating album from one of the leading lights of Norway’s vibrant music scene, Stein Urheim. The Bergen based musical pioneer continues to innovate and take his music in new and unheralded directions. Other times, Stein Urheim springs a surprise, as he takes the listener on a musical adventure. By then, Stein Urheim is playing the role of a swashbuckling musical pioneer. Helped along by his collection of eclectic and exotic stringed instruments from the four corners of the world, Stein Urheim has created some of the most ambitious, exciting and innovative music of his career on Strandebarm.