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Hanne Hukkelberg – Blood from a Stone

Hanne Hukkelberg is one of those artists I recommend to people who like whispery, wintry vocalists and floaty effervescent music. But she kind of goes off the rails in her third album ‘Blood from a Stone,’ which mars Hukkelberg’s vocals by making both her singing and her music far too angular and rough-sounding. The delicate edges and beautiful electronica are still there, but more muted.

It opens on a suitably mellow, fragile note with ‘Midnight Sun Dream,’ a wash of pale horns and soft guitars. You almost don’t notice the message of a society free of ‘gender wars’ and harassment (“You and me and everyone/Walking in the midnight sun/We are bare/We don’t need to dress in clothes…”).

It’s reminiscent of her previous work, but things change somewhat with the title song — an awkward sway through a thunk thunking folkpop melody, veiled by various other sounds (electronica, wind chimes, electric guitars). Things smooth out a bit with the mildly bouncy ‘Bandy Riddles,’ the floating airiness of ‘No Mascara Tears,’ and the somnolent, wistful beauty of ‘Salt of the Earth’ as it builds up to its haunting, clashing climax. It sounds like a city falling apart.

Unfortunately the album is still riddled with songs that are just too fast or angular to quite work out — ‘Seventeen’ is a sly affair that is all elbows, and ‘In Here/Out There’ is a patchy collection of clashing noises. The ending is graced with the beautifully sinister ‘Crack,’ but then sort of floats down into the Sigur-Ros mellowness of ‘Bygd Til By.’

I’ll give Hukkelberg credit — she tried something new and different from her prior two albums, while sticking to her past sound enough to avoid too hasty a departure. But while ‘Blood From A Stone’ has some truly lovely music and exquisite vocals, too many of these songs feel angular and hastily constructed, as if Hukkelberg was just desperate to inject some speed and/or energy into her music.

There are still veils of bittersweet wobbly synth and undercurrents of gentle guitar in most of these songs, forming a solid backbone for Hukkelberg’s voice to run along. Lots of soft chimes, flutes, whistles, rippling strings, and the crunch of metal and clash of destruction in the climax of ‘Salt of the earth’ — like a god destroying a city. But then in some of the songs she throws in angular pokes of electric guitar and claps of percussion, and the actual melody slides to the side in favor of a swaying catchiness. The worst example is ‘No One But Yourself,’ which is basically a downward spiral of jittering guitar and synth.

I was left wondering if someone just randomly diddled around with various instruments while Hukkelberg sang — and even her singing is a bit off in some of these songs, sounding as angular and out-of-place as the jabbing guitar. Fortunately Hukkelberg spends most of the album sounding more mellow and soft, singing simple lyrics (“Different shapes and colors/You’re helping me unwind/You are one of a kind/And you lighten up my mind”) and occasionally busting out into epic shifting roars.

‘Blood From A Stone’ is half an amazing album, paired with half a mediocre and awkward one. Hanne Hukkelberg’s musical talents are undiminished but the rockier, poppier stuff she does here just doesn’t work.