The first thing you need to know when discussing Norwegian artist Bjørn Torske is the HTML code for the lowercase “ø” symbol, which is ö or ø (I always prefer to use the numbers, as the other format seems like cheating).
The second is that his latest album, Kokning, leaves me at a loss for words. Which is a rotten condition, since I earn the bulk of my living writing about music. Torske doesn’t neutralize my vocabulary. Quite the opposite. Listening to the nine selections on his fourth full-length (and second for the superlative Smalltown Supersound label) over-stimulates my brain — and I find myself struggling to reconcile all the varied adjectives these grooves churn up, to distill them into a few concise sentences. Suddenly, I feel more sympathetic than ever for elementary school teachers trying to coerce entire classes of third graders to walk single file to the lunchroom.
The third and fourth things are just some fun facts I’m going to throw out while I struggle to collect my thoughts: Bjørn Torske translates as “Bear Cod,” and this album is named after a traditional Norwegian meal that involves boiled potatoes and freshly-caught fish. I’m too worn out from wrapping my head around this excellent record to research just how true these claims are, but since Torske comes from Norway — a land I generally imagine as severely lacking in daylight and fresh vegetables — these allegations seem plausible.
But what does the music sound like? Some of my peers have likened it to Moondog trying his hand at “cosmic” disco, which just seems like answering a question with a riddle and a four-four kick drum; musicologists have been trying to make sense of Moondog for eons. Torske supposedly minted the sub-genre “skranglehouse” (“rattle house”), which doesn’t help much either, except to delineate that Kokning isn’t alt-country or dubstep or hip-hop or anything predictable like that. I don’t know if record stores in Norway have entire sections devoted to “skranglehouse,” but if Torske’s handiwork is any indication, I’d like to believe they do.
Let’s try dissecting a track. I’ve played “Bergensere” a few times on KEXP already. It starts with a groovy rhythm bed that emphasizes the second and fourth beats in each measure, happy handclaps and video game lasers; the DJ in me wanted to mix into “We’re Through” from James Pants‘ 2008 full-length, Welcome. But then this not-quite-funky bass riff straight out of the SOS Band’s “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” comes in, followed by keyboards that recall Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Is this making any sense? Yes, no, maybe? I feel like I could program an entire Pandora station around this album sooner than I could pin it down using the English language. “Slitte Sko” centers around an ascending eight-note pattern, played ad infinitum, on what sounds like an African thumb piano. There’s a childlike element to the plink-plonk electronic timbres of “Gullfjellet” that’s right in step with Plone and Boards of Canada, but then Torske throws in these skeletal guitar figures that wouldn’t be out of place on a vintage Durutti Column LP.
Hell, I give up: Just listen to one of the tracks and decide for yourself. Here’s a link to “Versjon Wolfenstein,” which boasts a rumbling, Jah Wobble-worthy bass line and eerie string parts and these weird roars that sound like monster trucks being revved by demons. It doesn’t sound like any of the other cuts on the record — frankly, no two tracks do — but if it gets you fired up enough to want to hear more, and then struggle to communicate just how awesome Bjørn Torske’s Kokning is to other English-speakers… well, then my work is done.
DJ El Toro hosts the variety mix show on Wednesday nights from 9 PM to 1 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His weekly rant, “Weird At My School,” appears infrequently on the KEXP Blog. Please follow DJ El Toro (aka Kurt B. Reighley) on Twitter and/or Tumblr!