Norwegian singer Hanne Hukkelberg's 2005 debut album Little Things was a charming impression of life in Oslo, notable for its imaginative use of found sounds and eclectic array of instrumentation. Her elfin but idiosyncratic persona coupled with a lazily seductive voice drew comparisons to everyone from Joanna Newsom and Björk, to Stina Nordenstam and Billie Holliday.
Her sophomore album Rykestrasse 68, her first since signing to Canadian label Nettwerk, is a tribute to the six months she recently spent living in Berlin and is far less whimsical, with a moodier, more widescreen production. Like her debut, it was produced by Kåre Vestrheim at Propeller Studios in Oslo and features contributions from the cream of the Norwegian music scene, including members of Jaga Jazzist, Dinosau and Shining.
While it shares its predecessor's wide-eyed wonderment, Hukkelberg's experimentation reaches maturity here. The album is awash with inventive flourishes, with rhythm tracks constructed from the clacking of typewriters, kitchen utensils, a cat purring or the spinning of a bicycle wheel. Producer Vestrheim melds vibes, glockenspiel and theremin with wheezing brass and sonorous strings, giving the album a wonderfully creaky ambience akin to Emiliana Torrini, Múm and even Tom Waits. Opener “Berlin” is transformed by the addition of atmospheric street sounds, while “A Cheater's Armoury” is perhaps the most overtly jazz influenced track here and comes with a video directed by award winning MTV animator Andreas Palegolas (also included on the album).
However, Hukkelberg's lyrical concerns are ambiguous. It's for the listener to glean the meanings of “Obelix”, (the finest paean to a feline since Red House Painter's 'Wop-A-Din-Din'), sits alongside “The Pirate” (a lonely death at sea) or “Ticking Bomb”.
Rykestrasse's defining moment is an extraordinary interpretation of the Pixies classic “Break My Body”, a perennial live favourite re-cast as an evocative sea shanty that Hukkelberg manages to invade so completely as to make the song her own. Pixies manager Ken Goes was moved to say: "Of the dozens and dozens of Pixies covers over the years, Hanne's is my favourite."
An album of contrasts, it is a testament to Hukkelberg's skill that she manages to make such a personal work so inviting. As well as the aforementioned video, the UK edition of the album also includes a live version of “Searching”, the original version of which (from Little Things) is currently being used as the soundtrack for Space NK's TV and cinema advertising campaign.
Hukkelberg started singing and playing instruments in her home town of Kongsberg, Norway at the age of 3 and later played in various jazz, rock and free jazz bands including a high school heavy metal act called Funeral. A graduate of the Norwegian Academy of Music, she has also gained a reputation as a powerful live performer, her shows full of typically Scandinavian absurdist humour. An extensive European tour with a full band has been arranged for the spring with English dates set for May 24th - June 6th.