Nanook of the North
The Taby Tapes
Leave it to the Swedes to come up with a concept album about Eskimos. Sharing their name with the infamous seal-clubbing film, Nanook of the North the band is decidedly more PETA friendly. The group’s back story goes like this: Alaskan expatriate Nanook traveled to Taby, a suburb of Stockholm, where he endeared himself to local musicians, who subsequently persuaded him to record his songs. Regardless of this tale’s validity, The Taby Tapes is a breathtaking album.
Beginning their songs with spare folk arrangements, Nanook and company construct delicate snowflake patterns with all manner of chilly analogue synths, ice shattering percussion and twee bric-a-brac. The order in which the band tracks the album groups the stellar songs in pairs and buffers them with the lesser ones. The mystical autumn séance of “Karin Boye’s Grave” and the rustic jazz framing on “Israel and Palestine — A Solution”; the drunken polar bear picnic of “Phonecall” and “St. George and the Dragon” (which features the most sweetly addictive keyboard riff since the theme from Looper’s Up a Tree); “The Explorer,” with its harsh electro ensconced in optimism, and the hazy, fading “Forget it Jenny, Love is Just a Privilege of the Rich.” All enjoy a status of conjoined brilliance. The rest, especially the inexplicable turn toward dungeon pop of the album’s final act, are somewhat disappointing in comparison.
Taking a page from The Delgados’ call-and-response handbook, Nanook enlists a cast of female singers to act as the voice of dissent in his attempts to resolve issues of homesickness and assorted internal turmoil. Carmela Leierth and Malin Olofsson offer the best performances, though they’re all unknown to me.
This is the ideal hopelessly romantic album to get you through the quickly approaching bleak mid-winter months. It finds warmth and happiness in the seemingly unending palette of frigid white. For anyone who’s lived in a climate where winter can conceivably span over six months, it’s a thankless task and a remarkable accomplishment.