My favorite soul album of the year comes from… Norway? Scandinavia, does superb musical sensibility grow on your trees? You could have rested on your laurels after giving the world ABBA and The Gert Jonnys, but… a-ha, The Cardigans, Sondre Lerche, The Radio Dept., Kings of Convenience, Shout Out Louds, Efterklang, Thomas Dybdahl, Agnes Obel… I could go on and on. And now, Jarle Bernhoft.
I say “and now” like he hasn’t been making solo albums since 2008, but he was new to me and, I expect, to most of America. And now he’s living in Brooklyn and nominated for a Grammy. While I share Public Enemy’s opinion of that award, I sincerely hope he wins; if he does, it’ll be—along with Arcade Fire’s win a few years ago—another modest indication that Grammys can still go to work that’s truly of the highest quality instead of what’s merely most popular.
Because Islander, despite its relative obscurity, is terrific on all counts. His voice is supple, soulful and heartfelt. His songs… well, he’s fucking writing songs, for one thing, giving future generations something new to sample. Anyway, his songs are funky as hell; whether organic, old-school slow-jamming or utilizing a more modern pop palette, there’s just irresistible groove for miles. Last but not least, there’s JOY. Unlike so much R&B consumed with its own sense of cool, this album dares to be fun, playful and experimental—witness the way the sleek “Wind You Up” builds its funky foundation on handclaps and beatboxing, layers on the harmonies and minimalistic rhythm guitar, then boom: what sounds like an unaccompanied recorder solo (although in the video below it’s him whistling, run through a filter). He’s an immensely talented artist, with rhythm in every fiber of his being, and I wish him all the success in the world.
Buy it here.