I am always really happy to hear something vaguely resembling one of my favourite bands of all time, in this case Prefab Sprout. But, the old songs get slightly depleted after 30 years and the new bands that are influenced often don’t get any further than a quote and a nudge here and there. The Loch Ness Mouse, one of Scandinavia’s finest pop combos’ self-titled album is different: it’s not just extremely well-crafted and magically referential to the fab Sprouts, but most importantly, it elevates our mood just like old masters of Sophistipop did, bringing us fresh material at the same time!
This self titled album that was already released January 22, 2016 on Voices of Wonder Records, was also released through the well-respected Japanese label P-Vine Records and involved a number of guests including Sondre Lerche and Anne Lise Frøkedal. I am well aware of the fact that this review is overdue, but I think the album deserves a bit of an attention boost:
The Loch Ness Mouse album:
“Warm Circuitry“ starts our journey back in time and gives us that snug feeling of instant-recognition: engulfing chords a la Paddy McAloon gently strumming, dabs of 80’s synths and delightful vocal harmonies set the tone, and warm us up for the rest of the album (which we will need with all the rain coming up). “Bamboo” has to be a favourite, although I have to admit that it takes a few listens for it to come alive completely. It’s just one of those songs you end up playing over and over and need to sing along to, even if you don’t know the lyrics. Beautiful, unexpected chord progressions here. “The Cherry Blossoms in Japan” takes us back to the early Style Council of “Luck“. It’s an “uplifter” with a penchant for relentless romanticism “Why we take someone to heart, I can’t explain, who cares if the heart will…beat…normally again“.
Hearing the first guitar-chords of “Pretend it’s Not So” is Prefab Sprout’s “Bonny” revisited and then get sprinkled with magical keys and Bacharachian brass. It conjures up scenes from 60’s film “Les Parapluies the Cherbourg“…innocent and melancholy “early morning with rain“….. imagery that is extended in “Rain Checks” a track that reminds me of the J-pop of the very early Pizzicato album “Antique 96” and on which we are treated to some power Paddy pop and a few Yacht guitar solo’s. “A Different Life” continues to take us in that direction and is a definitely inspired by Hall and Oates in their prime : “hall”mark keys, a hooky chorus and boundless layers of stunning harmonies. In “Epoxy“ the raintown effect continues (“it’s gonna rain down hard again, in this town tonight said the weather report “) : I can’t help but hear “Goodbye Lucille” and I can’t help but wonder if we’re in Oslo or Inverness. The rain never seems to stop, but who cares! I am inside, listening to the raindrops and the heavenly “Tristessa” (“Sure is funny how sad shoulders are all meaning of existence in one place” ), The Loch Ness Mouse album on repeat …..
Since 1992 The Loch Ness Mouse has been built around the song writing of brothers Jørn and Ole Johannes Åleskjær. The brothers could have been 5 generation boat builders, but as the family moved away from the origins and settled for the countryside in Høland in eastern Norway, the boys would not long after start to write songs and form a band, after picking up a Lloyd Cole & The Commotions album. According to Norwegian Public Broadcasting P13’s head of music, Kristin Winsents, this band would become “one of the country’s best pop bands through all times”.
The band was soon involved with the Perfect Pop label in Oslo, they recruited band members in town and started playing shows. In the early days The Loch Ness Mouse were clearly inspired by the jangle of the British C86-scene, though thematising their countryside home on the debut album “Flair for Darjeeling“.
Over a course of three more albums, of which two were nominated for the Music Critic’s prize as “Pop Album of The Year” in Norway, the band learnt, changed and experimented, but it wasn’t until 2016 they would feel ready to return without reservation to pure pop music and release a self-titled album, their fifth album. Many critics would compare the music to British acts from the 80s like Everything But The Girl, Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera or Style Council, though there are also elements suggesting the Costello/Bacharach balladry of “Painted from Memory” or hints of Todd Rundgren‘s pop soul.
Today the band consists of bass player Ådne Hovda, drummer Kristoffer Solvang, keyboard player Svein Bergsaune, singer Christina Høgetveit and guitarist Ingar Sandvær, in addition to Ole Johannes Åleskjær. Younger brother Jørn, who has also released a solo album, has retired from live activities, but is involved in the song writing like before. The band has toured in China, Latvia, the UK, Sweden and all over Norway, and has shared members with a lot of other Norwegian acts, like 4AD‘s Serena Maneesh and I Was A King.