Helsinki Horizon is, at its core, a trio of Norwegian art-rock musicians formed by bassist Snorre Hovdal back in 2014. Snorre also plays keys and guitar, ably abetted by Eivind Fjøseide on guitar and Geir Knarbakk on drums. Snorre had been writing conceptual cinematic sound track instrumentals for some time, collaborating in composing several “1 minute ideas” for other artists. Snorre however had become a little too attached to some of the concepts he had come up with, deciding he wanted his own band to own and perform them – and so Helsinki Horizon was born.
That’s not to say they don’t still work with other like-minded folk. Their new mini-album CD Signal Flares has just been released as volume 1 in a two-part project, with volume 2 also planned for a 2021 release. On both of these, Helsinki Horizon have closely collaborated with cellist Dalai Cellai (Antiqva, Solstafir, The Ocean Collective), drummer Tomas Järmyr (Motorpsycho, Yodok), pianist and harmonica player Per Spjøtvold, singer Nicole Carino and singer/avant-garde pop act Öllegård Bengtsdotter to add different atmospheres to the tracks.
With and without their colleagues, Helsinki Horizon can be best described as a combination of light-hearted retro synths, loopy pianos, melodic basslines and punchy drums; together with a darker vibe of droning guitars, moody cellos and vocals. Out of this, they have created a mini-album of cinematic soundtracks twinned with some quite savage imagery! Recorded at Spiren Studio and produced, mixed and mastered by Rune Stavnesli at Stavmix Studio, fans of Mogwai, The Gathering, 65daysofstatic and Sigur Ros will not be disappointed in what they hear. For me, there’s more than a hint of The Curse of Lono, True Moon and The Fangs Of The Dodo in their expansive style.
The album has six tracks, around 21 minutes in total, it’s part of a trend to releases that fall some way between EPs and full-length CDs. The six tracks are all quite different in tone, mood and arrangement but all feature a sense of wide-screen soundscape and, incidentally, all feature their own artwork created by Snorre on the band’s Facebook page, these being quite arresting images in their own right.
The art-based foundation to Helsinki Horizon is emphasised by Snorre, described by him as being his musical explanation for everything around him. The mixes are therefore deliberately quite gritty and almost of a demo nature, aiming to achieve an honest soundtrack to each situation.
The album’s opener, Current, starts with the quite eery tinkling sound of a child’s clockwork dancer before Nicole’s strong vocals introduce you to the ‘song proper’, a quite pastoral arrangement using guitar, piano and rhythm section. It’s a pleasant post-rock track, fading with the spooky dancer again!
The Miner and The Rime features some atmospheric piano played by Per Spjøtvold as the front instrument, although a strident guitar-led band effort takes over, including the merest hint of Metal chords. Reminds me of another classy EP from 2019 by another artistic individual, this time from Italy, under the guise of A Day In Venice. An interesting, quite brusque bridge section then builds to its conclusion. It’s a quality song, a nice example of clean-cut contemporary post rock.
Signal Flares immediately conjures images of film soundtracks without you being able to pin down which one. It has a lovely mix of headlining cello (not often you can say that!) together with a nicely melodic tune sung again by Nicole, together with piano-work, bass harmonicas from Per Spjøtvold. It’s a genuinely unusual, individual, composition using a fascinating mix of (rare for rock) instruments that works triumphantly! My favourite track of the album.
Mirth Creek is then quite conventional by this bands standards, it reminds me of Cold Play or instrumental work by Keane with a keys-led, quite rocky arrangement backed by a certain style of harsh three-note guitar riff and rhythm…it’s good, again I find myself trying to picture a film this could be a sound-track to.
Fragments is then altogether different, a dense, dark song with synths being the major instrument, electronica abounding on percussion and vocals performed by Öllegård Bengtsdotter. This pulses along much more energetically and stridently than its predecessors, interesting stuff. The album closes with Almlia, again featuring that creepy sort of sound you associate with mannequins or toy dancers! It morphs into another pastoral slice of panoramic soundscape, washing through on an elegaic wave of piano-led percussion with Tomas on the skins and another sense of widescreen conclusion.
The whole is a satisfying sweep of dreamy alt-rock, retro-synth soundscapes, to again quote Snorre. There’s a touch of elegaic wistfulness to them but not depressing, more that sense of calm at the end of the day. Although they all include a sort of subdued riffing, the overall sound washes over you and I particularly love the warmth of the cello in here. The album left me with a sense of pleasant tranquility – much in demand in the current climate!
Not one but two videos! the opening and closing tracks.