ASK EMBLA - Northern Light (album review)

Anyone who loves good weighty pop music will love the debut album from Ask Embla. Released in Norway where it went straight to no.1, Northern Light is easily one of the best releases of the year. Every song on Northern Light sounds like a greatest hit that you want to hold hands, embrace and watch the sun set & party till dawn. Starting proceedings is the Norwegian hit single Fathers Eyes which is in many ways magical re-telling of those classical pop hits Papa Don't Preach & Mama by Madonna & Spice Girls respectively. Throbbing synths underscored by a glorious baseline introduces the latest single I Fell In Love which is screaming to be released internationally. Two songs in and you can hear the production level on Northern Light is resplendent. One warning:  Poppers-o-clock alert! They get all donkalicious on I Fell In Love and have you scrambling for the nearest glowstick. Pure electro heaven. Put this song on, let the muscles expand, jump onto the podium, take center stage and dance.  Over in under three minutes I Fell In Love leaves you breathless and demanding more. Cry Baby is their reply. Its like the first ray of sunshine on the skin as you've arrived in LA after a freezing cold stay (probably in London). Its a cute love song that the world needs desperately requires these days. Cry Baby is a simple big smile of a song. There is no way of feeling despondent after hearing Cry Baby - it picks you up and sparkles.

As the very few first bars of Winter begin, one becomes a little suspicious. This is the flawless fourth amazing song on the trot and its a banger of an anthem. How dare they! Ina's glorious vocals wrap around the epic production. A sea of tremendous synths climb and throb over the middle eight that crush into the repeated refrain at the end ensuring the climax of the song is is pure jouissance. The pace of the album slows down with the arrival of Writing On The Wall but the ballad doesn't disrupt the flow in any way. Instead it soars as a glowing torch love song where Ina refuses to over perform the vocal. Instead she commands the emotional message of the song without the need for trilling which many popstars may have had the urge to do. The same applies to the following song; Crashing Down. Back to back the two songs feel part of the same broken love story with the synth-led Wires emerging as the conclusion to the love battle.
What follows Wires is an epic string anthem of polemic proportions. It is bewildering. Ask Embla present Einn. I challenge you to find rival pop album would have the audacity to include what feels like a Norsk marching song once performed by the lost warriors, lovers & heroes as they travelled into the light and passed into the bold and glorious greatness. If you've ever wondered what the valkyries listened to on their mp3 players as they bring the fallen to the god Odin wonder no more. The inclusion of Einn on Northern Light makes this, for me, a very special release indeed. As textures of Celtic strands of sounds are interwoven into shades of ancient Norwegian mythology, Einn emerges as a soaring uplifting torch ballad providing warmth from the embers after the burning pain of loosing a loved one.  I was emotionally shaken after my first listen. A powerful moment of remembrance enshrined in one song. Beautiful.

After a series of four ballads, the dancetastic title track arrives. The production at the start seduces the listener to presume that Northern Light is another ballad as it begins with a simple piano rift and sumptuous vocal by Ina. However this functions as a sweet prologue as a gentle electro-urban beat eventually introduces itself forming a song that the likes of Leona Lewis and Mariah Carey would dream to include on their recent releases. Ask Embla have written hits for The Saturdays & September initially sounds like a song from one of their albums.  If you put some of Robyn’s finest moments during her BMG days into a frying pan and added touches of what we love from Britney & Christina Aguilera you’d get The Haunting. Beautifully pop but underscored with chunky slabs of urban synths that are zipped up neatly with monumental bouncey Janet Jackson-type chorus.

Grave is a gloriously rich and twisted love battle with Arnthor brilliantly appearing on vocals promising to dance on his spurned lovers grave. If you could imagine the same lovers of Cher & Sonny’s I Got You Babe discovered their partners’ treachery and cheating. Hitherto they’d take to song, rip-up the promises made in aforementioned song and ensure that their hatred would live long after their mortal bodies served their purposes. Wonderfully devious!  Refusing to leave the album on such a sour note, Ina and Arnthor strip down the production on Children and proffer up a sublimely uplifting song of hope. The smart lyrics ensure that you can’t but smile as the album comes to an end. Ask Embla have simply made an album that contains outrageously immense hooks, wonderful lyrics and resplendent production. Their pop is instinctually good. I want to hug this album and never let go. Ever. 

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