ORIGINALLY HAILING FROM SWEDEN, LINNEA OLSSON AND JENNIE ABRAHAMSON TOURED THE UK LATE LAST YEAR AS SINGERS IN PETER GABRIEL’S BACK TO FRONT ARENA BAND. THOSE WHO HAD THE SENSE TO TAKE THEIR SEATS IN ADVANCE OF GABRIEL’S SO REVISIT WERE TREATED TO A BRIEF – BREATHTAKING – SET IN WHICH THEY PAIRED UP TO PERFORM VERSIONS OF MATERIAL FROM THEIR FORTHCOMING ALBUMS.
Gabriel has long had form for putting on unusual or unknown support – bringing, for instance, Youssou N’Dour and Blind Boys Of Alabama to a wider audience. In the cases of Abrahamson and Olsson, there was potential for any intricacies, intimacies, in their spectral sound to ghost away to nought in these vast barns – but, in the event, despite using only cello, electric marimbas and vocals, their Nordic ‘chamber pop’ had remarkable reach.
Abrahamson’s stripped-out version of new album GEMINI GEMINI’s opener SNOWSTORM was her highlight. It’s a remarkable song, with a repeated pattern on marimbas seeming to represent the warmth, safety and customs of some primitive, isolated, community and the folk / blues vocal melody resigned to the danger of an oncoming storm (arriving, on the album, through an intelligent, atmospheric, use of shimmering electronica). In its collision of ancient and modern, SNOWSTORM gives the impression that Abrahamson may actually be singing about us, in the now; an impending ice age? The mood is beautifully set for the remaining nine tracks of GEMINI GEMINI; this is thoughtful and thoughtfully constructed material. The strange but soulful PHOENIX and tribal electro single THE WAR, in particular, see Abrahamson channel her inner Kate Bush through a Björk-shaped filter. Other influences – Saint Vincent, Arcade Fire, Talking Heads and even Peter Gabriel himself – reveal themselves like peeling layers. GEMINI GEMINI is equal parts 1980s western kitsch, expanses of north-land, Asian mystery and noisy rhythms from warmer countries. There is plenty of air in her fourth album, which Abrahamson recently described as “minimalistic maximalism”. Perfect. Though it can be quiet, cerebral, introspective and intimate, there’s a cool joy and a warm heart here – and nothing small about the scale of ambition.
BREAKING AND SHAKING, Linnea Olsson’s second album, follows an EP of the same name which was issued in late 2014 for the Peter Gabriel tour. The EP gave notice that things had been shifted around a little since debut AH! in 2012. That featured only darbuka (a Middle Eastern goblet drum) and looped cello in support of her voice, but the EP’s trio of new songs (plus three remixes) expanded Olsson’s sound with colour and confidence. The album carries on in a mostly similar vein – I AM YOUNGER begins with a burbling synthesised voice, the title track is bright and brisk but controlled 1980s pop, and HURT is a taut take on subway-steam soul – with, perhaps, only the astounding WHAT so closely referencing her organically inventive debut.