Hjalte Ross — Embody
(Wouldn’t Waste Records) ★★★★✩
AS WE approach the longest night of the year and contemplate the thought of a no-deal Brexit, what we need to keep our spirits up is some fine, wintry music. Where better to turn than to our Nordic neighbours, who for obvious reasons specialise in this sort of thing?
The curious thing is that Scandinavian folk-pop, often so evocative of frozen moonlit landscapes and quiet nights by the fireside, has itself been strongly influenced by British artists, going back to the 1960s. The wave of new Scandi-folk acts who have flourished in this century recalls a previous era, before Abba changed everything, when folk and the more pastoral variety of prog were that region’s pop staples.
All of which helps explain why Embody, the debut album by young Danish songwriter Hjalte Ross, sounds so uncannily like something from the early 1970s Island records roster that included John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and, in particular, Nick Drake. Had it been billed as a lost item from that catalogue, one wouldn’t have doubted it for an instant.
It helps that Ross somehow persuaded John Wood, the éminence grise who defined the understated intimacy of that sound, to engineer and produce the album.
Perhaps what swung the deal was not merely Ross’s sincere flattery, but the quality of his songs. What might have been slavish imitation in a less apt pupil takes on a life of its own when Ross strums and sings.
This short, hushed record, with its frosted surface and interior warmth, has a discreet magic to it.