Unni Lovlid
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Unni Lovlid
Grappa (2008)

Every once in awhile, an album emerges that is so singular that it appears to have dropped out of the sky like a diamond meteorite. Such is the case with the Norwegian vocalist Unni Lovlid's latest CD, Rite. In these days of post-folk, where bedroom laptop gurus deconstruct guitar chords and gauzy field samples, the human touch has migrated to anonymous microchip forests. Unni Lovlid's chief instrument, however, is her remarkable voice, as pure as a stream's refracted light and as lulling and seductive as a ripe moon. On Rite, Lovlid takes her voice into the dark organic wildwood of an imagination shadowed with possibilities: she gives birth to an art music of soothing strangeness.

There is a skittering anxiety to the sound here, akin to some of the glitchy electronica that comes out of the Nordic countries these days. But even this description isn't entirely accurate, as there is a fragile nature to these tunes, as if the songs were made of ice in an underground cavern, dripping and melting away should the sun get too close. "Morketid (Polar Night)" has this quality, the incorporated blips and bleeps a reflecting pool for the French horn that drifts through the song. Or take "Her Moter Eg Deg (I meet you here)," which begins with dark, dark cello strings, like the shadow of branches moving across the wall, and Lovlid caressing the motion as an accordion moves in, then swooping as a choir takes shape. "Bak Vaker Verda (Behind, the world keeps watch)" combines slow percussion over what sounds like a rasping whisper, and the Norwegian National Opera Children's Choir plays off of Lovlid's voice. A horn blows. There is stillness. and tension; innocence, and terror; anticipation, and unease. I haven't heard the like before.

Lovlid's lyrics are gorgeous, abstractly defined poetic moments. On "Evig Einsam Kveld (Lonely, never-ending dusk)" she sings: "I turn the moon/I turn the sun/I throw the embers/into the innermost stream/I bend every beam that reaches earth/to create lonely, never-ending dusk." Rite is full of such modern spells. Combined with what sounds like Lovlid performing a distorted keening in the background over low, moss-eating rumbles, time itself seems to stop.

Full marks must also go the art direction accompanying the CD: on the cover, a bird dives, piercing into the earth; in the interior, a house is ripped from the ground, flying, while a tree is displayed with its roots in the same unstable ground. Rite creates an entire landscape of sound, and no musical work of the past year approaches Lovlid's artistic vision of harrowing, humming fertility. Listening to Rite is to participate in its unnerving mystery. - Lee Blackstone

Artist's web site: www.unni.no

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