Review of Arctic by I’m Kingfisher (2010)
After purchasing Le Noise late last year, I felt a little underwhelmed. Maybe I’m getting older, or maybe it really sounded like an obligated effort, by two great names who had long ago made a promise to one another (or to their record companies) to make that record. When I listened to a brand-new copy of Arctic by I’m Kingfisher, my faith was restored in an artist’s ability to breathe new life into the singer-songwriter genre. I say “new”, but I do not mean just out of the gates, for I’m Kingfisher (nee Thomas Denver Jonsson) is a well-seasoned musician and performer. Having made the trip from his native Sweden to perform at SXSW several years ago, to featuring on the 2009 album Introducing Townes Van Zandt: via The Great Unkowns (along with other acts such as Fleet Foxes’ J. Tillman), his music has gathered much attention and is deserving of a wider audience in North America. His last release, The Lake Acts Like an Ocean was very well-received, and like this late 2010 release, Arctic, made several top album of the year reviewer’s lists. He has been on recent Swedish tours opening for Josh Rouse and Damien Jurado .
Arctic is a conceptual album, with thoughts on past expeditions to this region (specifically with the great explorer Fridtjof Nansen in mind). The concept also seems to be linked with modern allegories of loneliness, love and nearing the bounds of reality and sanity that the performer also feels strongly today – intertwining with similar feelings and images of the past. In the 12 songs on Arctic, one can hear music that was fleshed out solo on an acoustic guitar, perhaps imagining days grow shorter through fall and winter as the lone performer plays countless shows throughout northern Europe. The songs as they appear on the Album still have that appeal of a stripped down intimate performance but are beautifully colored by Carl Edlom (producer and contributing musician) and several other contributors, many of whom are successful musicians in their own right. The songs adhere to the genres of folk, blues and experimental rock and roll, but as I have said already, they move beyond and forward from these well-worn categories. Aside from the typical instrumentation (bass, drums, organs), the simple elegance of acoustic guitar and voice is also touched by ear-catching arrangements of Flugelhorn and Trombone (reminding the listener perhaps of Elvis Perkins in Dearland), mandolin, and a perfect balance of electronic sounds. The laid-back blues influence in the wonderful instrumental piece Arctic Fox Too Majestic for the Tundra, while similar to some of M. Ward’s wanderings, seems to have a much more artistic touch in this setting.
His voice is unique and without comparison (I think it would be an oversimplification to associate it with Neil Young), and if I hadn’t told you already he was Swedish, you would forget this fact by the second line of the first song anyways. He uses the English language in such an artistic way, conjuring imagery and odd combinations of thoughts. It seems so much more full of life and creativity than your standard American brand folk release of today. “Unknown wayfare, black storms, black dreams, the silver tern shows when I meet my old cat” – perfect words for a reunion found in the song Feline Funeral. The imagery spun in Deer Theatre is otherworldly, dream-like, perfectly matching the frigidly image –provoking music. “The devil’s in the corner correcting the gauge” and “I know the maker ten years from now” are equally haunting lyrics from elsewhere in the album. There is certainly nothing objectionable or subpar after listening to the first several songs, but half way through the album I feel that everything is somehow taken up another notch re-grabbing the listener’s attention with ever more fragile thoughts (mirroring the Environment itself at one point) as if the songs are becoming frantic like a person lost and losing hope at the edge of the world. This climaxes with Expedition (my favorite song if cornered “Expedition is a mother . . . Expedition is a murderer”) and finally more peacefully exiting with the final song The Whale Hunt. This is an album that is all around new. It might take some a second-listen to start to fully appreciate, but everyone who hears it once will listen again – it’s not something that you buy and then it goes on a shelf because it was by so-and-so and you had to have it. Arctic gives hope concerning songwriting as we move into a new decade.