Most people will have come across Erlend Øye one of two ways. Either they enjoyed the acoustic pop of Kings of Convenience, or they’ll have been blown away (as everyone was) by Röyksopp‘s debut Melody AM. Like me, they will probably have spotted his solo CD Unrest on the shelves without having heard anything off it, and thought “ooh, that sounds fun.”
It is. All the best stories involve a journey, either mental or physical, and this is no exception. According to the back cover, Erlend travelled to ten different cities across Europe and the USA working with local producers to create this quite delightful album. You can almost feel the spirit of the journey pulsing through the entire CD.
The album is an odd contrast of travel and homeliness (in the British sense), and acoustic songwriting accompanied by gentle electronica backing. Although Norwegian, Øye lives in Berlin, and this album feels very much how I would expect something written by a foreigner in the German capital to be. It’s a city I know well, having lived there for a very happy few months around the time this album was released.
To me, his dry vocal style with his ingenious lyric writing somehow keeps the album grounded, reflecting Berlin’s sometimes surprising welcoming side. The occasionally obscure and unusual synth sounds represent the odder, more bizarre side of the city, such as when you round a corner to see a Trabi attached half way up a building, or a lonely standing remnant of the Berlin Wall in the middle of nowhere.
Unrest opens with Ghost Trains, produced by Morgan Geist, before launching into Sheltered Life, the second single, which is great, but was also considerably improved by its single version. Throughout the album, the only really common theme that I can find is a slight unease – the protagonist in each song seems to be struggling to find his place. Something I think a lot of people will identify with, and maybe that’s where the true genius of this album lies.
My personal favourite moments are the album’s centrepoints, Every Party (Has a Winner and a Loser) and The Athlete, recorded respectively in Barcelona and Rennes (incidentally, after a few years living in the USA I find the urge to suffix these cities with the country they’re in pretty hard to resist!)
The odd collaborations continue. The first single Sudden Rush was curiously accompanied by a video directed by Jarvis Cocker off of Sheffield. Bonkers Italian electro act Jolly Music turn up, with an uncharacteristically sane production on Prego Amore. And on it goes.
Commercially, I don’t think this album can exactly be regarded a success, but it is without a doubt one of the best albums that I own. For further listening, you’ll probably want to track down the Sheltered Life single, and download The Black Keys Work, before finally working up to his brilliant DJ Kicks compilation.
And please don’t ask me to try and pronounce his name.