Major Parkinson – Blackbox
“It has a typewriter as an instrument!”
Originally, I was going to finish there with my review of “Blackbox“. I admit that from a reader’s point of view that would have been slightly underwhelming, so here are some more words on why you should definitely take a listen to Major Parkinson’s late 2017 output.
The seven musicians from Bergen, Norway have a reputation for playing a carnivalesque mix of musical styles, and they keep true to this in their fourth full length album, “Blackbox” – but with a remarkably darker twist, musically and also in the lyrics. Of course, Jon Ivar Kollbotn‘s voice is deep and mysterious as always, but also guest singer Linn Frøkedal‘s voice, beautiful as it might be, appears specially haunting and spine chilling, cosy and cold at the same time.
In a typical Major Parkinson fashion, the Norwegians pull out melody after melody, seemingly coming from nowhere, but then joining into a perfectly fitting song, that leaves you confused at first, but still longing for more from the beginning. After the groovy ‘Lover, Lower me down!’, that slowly drags us into the album, building up the atmosphere, ‘Night Hitcher’ has the first of those choruses that dig deep into the brain, to stay there for a while and appear in your head again days after in the most unlikely situations. Starting with and carried by an almost impossible drum/synth rhythm, it continues the groovy theme of the first song, with Kollbotn’s smoky and whispering voice telling us about fluorescent skies and a moon behind black confetti.
The lyrics circle again and again around the same main elements, being picked up or slightly altered in later songs, and generally leaving the listener confused as to what he just heard (Did they really sing “testicle kid” there? – No, they didn’t: It is “Tesla Coil kid” in the song ‘Blackbox’).
After a beautiful interlude (‘Before the Helmets’), mostly shaped by a simple piano melody and Kollbotn’s voice, the real fun begins. ‘Isabel: A Report to an Academy’ is the first long track, clocking in at 9:41 minutes and shows us what ideas Major Parkinson have in stock. Not only do we hear the line “Don’t trust a music teacher who is quoting Nietzsche to bear the silence of the scotch” (?!), but the song builds up masterfully from calm beginnings to multiple instrumental outbreaks with fiddles, short parts reminding us of Eastern European folk melodies, and yes, there it is – the typewriter! Including the “ca-ching” of the line change. But we only just started. From a melody like from a children’s rhyme, passing a violin part (and a brief “ride through the mouth of Hieronymus Bosch”), we get back to the chorus, sung by Linn Frøkedal, and into a dramatic, dissonant finale. What a fantastic mess of a song!
After ‘Scenes from Edison’s Black Maria’, another little tune, instrumental this time (good to catch some breath), we reach the core of the album, with ‘Madeleine Crumbles’ and ‘Baseball’. The former is built upon nothing less than a xylophone theme, and again features a beautiful chorus sung by Frøkedal, picking up snippets of the lyrics in ‘Before the Helmets’ and featuring an airy melody that is the perfect contrast to that xylophone tune.
Now ‘Baseball’ is a whole journey on its own, featuring more ideas than would usually fit into a full length album. The lyrics seem to come straight out of a feverish dream, the musical changes from verse to verse are neck breaking. We get trumpets building up a ska-like tune, just to go into a keyboard melody and mellotron passage, which leads into a whistled tune. You truly have to hear it to believe it.
‘Strawberry Suicide’ is another one of those chansonesque interludes, again dominated by Kollbotn and a piano.
With ‘Blackbox’ the album get the finale it deserves – another one of those children’s rhymes sung by Frøkedal in a spooky, haunting fashion. How it then leads over to an industrial, marching rhythm is something only “Major Parkinson” can create masterfully. We’re waiting for an outbreak, but the song just drags us deeper into the black. A horror movie made music – Kollbotn punishes us with his creepiest voice ever, we’re doing the “Fritz Lang dance around the pyre” and “miss Mary Mack never came home“. But wait, there is hope: finally, epic fanfares are taking us back to the light, and with a short piano outro we are released back into reality.
What a ride! Yes, “Blackbox” might be a mess during the first listens, but it just has so much to offer, so many things to discover, that it drags you more and more in, once you let it. Major Parkinson created an album that wants to be listened to from start to finish and surely it will take you into their world full of crazy ideas and beautiful melodies. Oh, and it has a typewriter as an instrument!
- Lover, Lower Me Down!
- Night Hitcher
- Before the Helmets
- Isabel – A Report to an Academy
- Scenes from Edison’s Black Maria
- Madeleine Crumbles
- Strawberry Suicide