Arabrot – Who Do You Love
A Review By: Matthew MacDermant
The Norwegian noise-rock, art-rock, post-punk band Arabrot, whose namesake derives from a garbage dump in Haugesund, Norway, just released their new album “Who Do You Love.” This is an evolutionary leap for the group. After frontman Kjetil Nernes’ successful battle against cancer, Arabrot returns reborn. The new album waxes and wanes between the lo-fi and avant garde. There are moments of thrashy garage punk and there are moments of ambient noise and eery synthetic effects layered behind technical progression. This one is impossible to contain within a neat and tidy package and more than a couple plays are necessary to grasp the nuanced genius on offer. Arabrot does it again.
“I guess the album is like an anthology of other people’s stories that I’ve only half-remembered and then rewritten as my own,” Nernes remarked about developing the material for “Who Do You Love.” The whole thing is a project of transgressive surrealist poetry and Bo Diddley on stereo. The title comes straight from Bo Diddley. The eerie, macabre, and mystical atmosphere comes from Nernes interpretations of the Comte de Lauréamont’s 19th century poetic novel Maldoror, highly influential amongst the surrealists. Ultimately, it is from these two currents that we get this amazing album. Two disparate places, two characters, two very different worlds colliding.
The sound here is reminiscent of The Birthday Party, Death in June, Lee Hazlewood, and even a bit of Joy Division or Bauhaus. At the same time we get some blending of folk rock and indie elements as well, which when combined with the post-punk and noise, feels a bit like the indie darkwave of TRST or Cold Cave. “For Your Love” isn’t any one of these sounds, but there are elements throughout that caught my ear. Other times, I couldn’t quite place what I was hearing and just let it wash over me.
Let’s check out some of the tracks we have before us in “Who Do You Love.”
Maldoror’s Love introduces the surrealist character Maldoror by way of raspy vocals on top of lo-fi electric progression.
The Dome brings us to that classic early 80s post-punk sound. It’s a raw straightforward sound with a seriously crass attitude. I’m most reminded of The Birthday Party on this track.
Warning is the most lo-fi, slipping from the post-punk into the punk territory. The lyrics are simple, the chords and drum lines are simple, and I just feel like thrashing or jumping into a mosh. We even get a few bellowing screams to really make us move.
Pygmalion slows down the tempo and we switch to female-fronted lyrics from Nerne’s wife Karin Park, who in addition to singing, also co-produced, ran the synthesizer, and played the keys. This slow melancholy track is rich and full in ballad-like vocal presence, backed by some beautiful sounds. The track demarcates the first part of the album from the second, which begins to trend darker and more noise infused.
Sinnerman is actually a Nina Simone song from the 1960s. This version; however, is quite different from the original. It features a classical background that when combined with the powerful and emotional lyrics, really draws you into a terribly sad place. The instrumentation also feels defiantly triumphant. It is indignant as if by a refusal to give into the pain and suffering no matter the cost. This is perhaps the most powerful and layered of Arabrot’s work on this album and it nearly brings tears to my eyes to experience this journey with them.
Sons and Daughters is Karin’s other track fronting and just like the first, it is beautiful and layered. The lyrics of this one came to Nernes from a dream he had after falling asleep while reading a book about the surrealist painter Max Ernst. While discussing the dream, producer Jason Ward interpreted the imagery before him as a new phase in life, a new phase for the band, and especially a new phase for Karin and KJetil, who were newly expecting parents. This one is indicative of the band’s rebirth and the showering of layered sound assure us that this is a positive and creative rebirth, to be celebrated and shared.
I feel grateful to be sharing in this rebirth alongside a healthy and revived Kjetil Nernes, along with the rest of the band. This transformational period may be a break out moment for the group. It is also an incredible synthesis of so many different currents of music, some familiar and some amazingly and deliciously bizarre. The road ahead will likely be more bizarre still. I myself hope for ever more blending and layering of very different poles of sound, and the unorthodox fusion that makes Arabrot a world class band. Check out “Who Do You Love.” You won’t be disappointed.