March 8, 2023

In little more than three minutes Ljung succeeds in transporting the listener to another world completely, and that is despite the fact that he is singing in Norwegian.

Kim Ljung is a Norwegian musician, known (in Norway at least) as a member of the industrial band Zeromancer and the alternative rock unit Seigmen.  As an aside, he has a group/project by the name of Ljungblut that is an outlet for his material that doesn’t fit comfortably within the paradigm of those two bands. Ljungblut’s music does still contain traces of Seigmen’s sound but also with a strong melancholic vein, especially in their last full album release Villa Carlotta 5959. This five-track eighteen-minute EP is released under the Ljungblut moniker, although generously so because it is very much a deeply personal and inward-looking set of songs written and mostly performed by Ljung himself.

Ljung, waiting patiently for the sheep to arrive

To really grasp this music, one needs to understand the background to its composition. For generations, Ljung’s family has owned a cabin close to the tiny hamlet of Sauda which is at the head of a Norwegian fjord. When I say a cabin, I don’t mean some fancy Swiss chalet but a hut with no electricity, far from anywhere, a tiny speck lost in the glories of the Norwegian landscape. Ljung grew up in this area, visited the cabin often, and so for inspiration headed back to this cabin armed with his guitar (and a few candles, I suspect) and started, as Ljung himself states, ‘playing to a herd of sheep for breakfast; for the twilight and the widest starry sky I have ever seen at night’.

The first song we hear is Fabrikken – ‘Factory’ in English – which tends to break the lovely image of endless fjords, green fields and sheep grazing on the hills! The title comes from the fact that there were cargo ships in the fjord and his grandfather worked in the local factory. Ljung used to drive down to see his grandfather at the factory. The slow piano chord sequence that opens and then underpins the piece is, however, not industrial in any way but instead of a remarkable peaceful beauty. Ljung’s vocal is fragile and tender, and the whole piece is constructed with a gossamer-like delicacy. In little more than three minutes Ljung succeeds in transporting the listener to another world completely, and that is despite the fact that he is singing in Norwegian.

Remember these?

The next song Åbøbyen is built around voice and acoustic guitar, probably very much as he wrote it in the cabin, and it has another wonderful drawn-out melody. There’s the lovely addition of a beautiful synth flute that repeats the main melody in the middle section. The short Saudasjøen is similarly acoustically driven and maintains that calm mood while the one song where the tempo gets a bit faster, or at least has a stronger rhythm, is Norstøldalen. This song has a dark almost Nordic Folk feel to it. One can certainly imagine him composing that one under the starry sky he mentions above. Sommer closes the EP, and despite that title translating to Summer, it is another slow acoustic piece with delicate synth work that proceeds at dirge-like pace, albeit very serenely.

There’s nothing new in collections of mostly acoustic guitar-based songs. They are ten a penny. So, the question that came to my mind is: what differentiates the mass of ordinary material from the small amount of outstanding stuff that is worth listening to repeatedly?  In the case of Sauda, I think there are two reasons it falls into the latter category. Firstly, the quality of the melodies combined with Ljung’s intense vocal delivery makes for riveting listening. And secondly, his ability to create sparse bittersweet atmospheres. It’s easy to write cheerful acoustic songs, and even easier to write melancholic acoustic songs, but this music seems infused with a deep contentedness and an aching nostalgia at the same time. Speaking about nostalgia, there will be no vinyl or CD release of the album, only cassette. Why cassette? Well, that is because Ljung used to put music on the car’s cassette player when driving around Sauda, and so that makes the perfect format for this package. If you don’t own a cassette player then digital is of course available. One way or another, this is an EP well worth listening to.