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Album review: Mona & Maria “My Sun” (Folk Radio UK)

October 17, 2013

Mona & Maria - My SunI will admit that, on learning that Mona & Maria are a duo from Oslo, I wondered what I was going to be in for; after all, Norway’s current musical reputation seems to be largely founded on a taste for black metal with occasional diversions into electronica and jazz. However, in this context, the music of Mona & Maria could be said to be iconoclastic; mixing elements of contemporary folk, indie and psychedelia, their sound isn’t what one might immediately expect. In contrast to, say, the icy, windswept Arctic soundscapes of Biosphere, or the downtempo fireside musings of Royksopp, Mona & Maria’s music conveys mental images of the brief intensity of Nordic summers, of the fleeting happiness of warmer, sunnier days and is a welcome respite to the dull rainy autumn that has settled on the UK like a wet blanket.

My Sun sets the tone for the whole album as it switches between folky fingerstyle guitar and huge distorted guitars with distant bleepy synths, all overlaid with layers of ethereal harmonies. Acoustic guitars blow gently through the melancholic Northern Wind, with its lyrical theme about leaving, while percussion and staccato strings invoke falling leaves and bare trees.

Silent Summer is an altogether more upbeat affair which wears its 1960s psychedelic heart on its bustling indie rock sleeve while Mona and Maria’s harmony singing adds a sweet gloss to the proceedings. Appearing out of a mist of synthesized drones, the introspective Venus is interspersed with what sounds like a sitar (but may in fact be a heavily treated guitar) and keening strings.

Slow strummed acoustic guitars modulating between major and minor keys give the melodic Babyflowers a restless feel as its lush strings interweave with the harmony vocals. Let the Light, meanwhile, opens with Mona and Maria’s breathy multitracked choir, its floating and meditative feel enhanced by spacey synth noises, treated guitar and rattling percussion.

Opening with a more traditional acoustic folk sound, Runaways grows into a lush power ballad that winds its way to a huge finish with percussion, synths and strings, while Golden Mind focuses on a simpler, piano-led arrangement allowing Mona and Maria’s gorgeous harmonies to take centre stage.

The sparse arrangement of Healing Song is a highspot of My Sun: Mona and Maria’s vocals wrap around the fingerstyle guitars and strings and it’s easy to see why Healing Song is named just that. The hazy Hammond organ of Shivers in the Blue draws the album to a fitting close; it manages to be simultaneously restrained, reflective and still uplifting.

In My Sun, Mona & Maria give the listener a real treat; a sonic time capsule of better days tinged with the famed Nordic melancholia. It’s a welcome pick-me-up and antidote to the imminent chills and all-round tedium of another long winter. Cheered me up no end!

 
Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (17 October 2013)

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