Friday, 21 February 2020

Bernelius - Grave Dancer (2020)



Country: Norway
Style: Alternative/Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Feb 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's an album that fits two categories that seem to be coming up a lot of late. It's massively eclectic in its sound and so doesn't remotely fit into a single genre, alternative probably being the best bucket because of that. And it's the work of another one man band, the gentleman responsible going by Bob Felix Bernelius Hegdal, who I believe records in Oslo, the capital of Norway.

The opener is a perfect example of how broadly Bernelius paints with genres, reminiscent in many ways of a Mike Patton project because of that. It's Free Range Human and it's a perky indie track that frankly dances through lounge, rockabilly and surf to end up surprisingly haunting. The words are almost an afterthought, the way that Bernelius delivers them being more important. The Song on the Radio does the same thing in a completely different style, being a rather hypnotic song with darker vocals reminiscent of Nick Cave.

In between those two is perhaps my favourite song here, Arm the Cannon, and it takes the precise opposite approach with lyrics. Here, they're delivered in conversational fashion with a vocal style that reminded me of Cake. Maybe this is a little out there to be a college radio hit but then maybe not. It plays hypnotically to me, a simple riff hiding all sorts of neat complexity.

And the lyrics are as wild as the glorious way in which Bernelius acts them out. Within that one single song, we get line like "Where are your manners, human?", "Yes, conscience is an afterthought" and "Looking for me, looking for fresh kerfuffle." My favourite has to be "Ever-speaking, never-thinking clap dispenser; perpetual fool. Like you would know what love is! Now stop your lamentation and give me a smile; this is your final curtain."

Song after song continues to do something completely different while somehow remaining consistent enough to keep the album coherent. Lone Documentarian punctuates itself with claps as much as drums and the guitars dance between left and right speaker. Now our inventive one man band croons like he's alt rock Elvis holding court. Are we in Cramps territory now?

We're firmly in the world of stoner rock on Watch It Happen with a juiced up and amped up bass resonating with intent. It's patient though and the vocals are performance art, especially when Bernelius starts shrieking through the mic and the guitars completely ignore him. Yet Grave Dancer is effortlessly chill, while Tonight and Vaffunculo, Assassino are lively and playful but a great dealer calmer than avant screaming.

I knew by the end of Free Range Human that I was going to like this, but it kept on surprising me for another nine songs. What Bernelius does best is to continually invent but never invent too far beyond what we can cope with for now. I'm intrigued to see if his prior album, Space Drifter, did all this on a greater or lesser scale. Is he getting more varied or, perish the thought, calming down some. I really want to find out.

I know I'll keep on listening to this one though. Bernelius throws a lot of things at the wall here and not everything hits, but enough does to make it one of those rare albums that remain completely fresh however many times we listen to it.

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