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Pust

Fryktløs (2013)

4.7

December 23, 2014

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Fryktløs 4.0
2 Nyt stillheten 4.3
3 Tenk om 4.7
4 Hymne 5.0
5 Plass i hjertet 4.0
6 Fred 4.3
7 Slitt pyjamas 4.0
8 Skip frå sør 4.3
9 Alt eg kan 4.3
10 Løft 4.3
11 Rot som glimra 4.7
12 Vandring 4.3
13 Eg vil vent 4.3

Recorded 2013
Total time: 44:45, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Fryktløs 4
2 Nyt stillheten 5
3 Tenk om 4
4 Hymne 5
5 Plass i hjertet 4
6 Fred 5
7 Slitt pyjamas 4
8 Skip frå sør 5
9 Alt eg kan 4
10 Løft 5
11 Rot som glimra 5
12 Vandring 5
13 Eg vil vent 5

Pust is one of the most exciting groups recording right now — I am always eager to hear their latest work, no matter how much ennui is draped over my vast CD library. Part pop, part jazz and part choir, these Norwegians have great voices and a compelling sensibility.

How you respond to Fryktløs depends on your relationship to the individual voices. In general, I adore the tracks featuring Anne Hilde Grøv and Håvard Gravdal, while I don't connect with lead vocals from tenor Jostein Hasselgård. I love Elisabeth Anvik on Hymne and again on the theatrical Fred. But Camilla Susann Haug's spooky approach to translated Depeche Mode has me less convinced. Nyt stillheten, a reworked Enjoy the Silence, doesn't entirely resonate with me (especially once I caught on to the source material, confirmed in the liner notes), and I could never entirely get into Slitt pyjamas, despite the fun stylings on her lead vocal.

Rot som glimra is the song I can't get out of my head. It has so many hooks, such a beautiful blend, such a catchy chorus. One of my favorite tracks of the year, in any genre anywhere. Anne Hilde Grøv nails the solo, with great clear tenor harmonies and upbeat support from the rest of the group.

Cheery uptunes aren't the theme of this album. Outside of the pure ballads (Hymne, Fred, the very lovely Vandring) there is a lot of dripping and dropping, like the soundtrack for a Tim Burton cartoon or a fashion show of very expensive clothes inspired by cobwebs and worn with tastefully goth makeup. I can admire it, but I don't necessarily adore it.

What I adore are these voices. Pust continues to inspire and delight and their singing deserves to be widely heard.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Fryktløs 5
2 Nyt stillheten 5
3 Tenk om 5
4 Hymne 5
5 Plass i hjertet 5
6 Fred 5
7 Slitt pyjamas 5
8 Skip frå sør 5
9 Alt eg kan 5
10 Løft 5
11 Rot som glimra 5
12 Vandring 5
13 Eg vil vent 5

Fryktløs ("Fearless") is another marvelous release from world-class ensemble Pust. Continuing its tradition of creative elegance, Pust engages the listener's heart and mind with unmatched capabilities for this folk-pop album, offering ten original compositions and three unique covers. 

Pust produces "advanced studies" albums. If you're ready for a masterclass, here it is, ready to re-play anytime you need a lesson. The big takeaway from these teachers is this: listen to what you can do with your voice. The production is as light as human breath on Fryktløs. Arrangements are exquisitely clean and open and unafraid to let rests linger, soundless (Tenk om). The group members are fewer than a choir, but the vocal impact is huge (Nyt stillheten, one fabulous Depeche Mode cover). There's no contemporary vocal percussion, but the emphasis on and affection for rhythm is clear (Alt eg kan). There's even a hymn without words that speaks all the same (Hymne). Listen.

If some a cappella groups exist to entertain, Pust exists to fascinate. A big part of this is the stylings from the ladies, a trio who absolutely devastate with their gorgeous vocals; sometimes they out-sing the best in the world in tone and technicality, other times whispering enchantingly is plenty for a reaction. Also fascinating are the group's distinct choices in arranging for six, often forgoing chords at expected places for single, moving notes; my favorite arrangement in this regard is Vandring, which also sounds fiendishly difficult to sing accurately. It's a brilliant way to engage the listener, who simply never knows what's coming. 

Pust: our global trailblazer in creating the finest a cappella. What a pleasure to hear music this meaningful and finely delivered.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Fryktløs 3
2 Nyt stillheten 3
3 Tenk om 5
4 Hymne 5
5 Plass i hjertet 3
6 Fred 3
7 Slitt pyjamas 3
8 Skip frå sør 3
9 Alt eg kan 4
10 Løft 3
11 Rot som glimra 4
12 Vandring 3
13 Eg vil vent 3

Pust is a Norwegian group that describes its style as "somewhere between folksong, jazz and ethnic vocal music." This is rootsy a cappella where a voice is a voice, syllables emulate nothing more than syllables, and the sanctity of the original performance is preserved in the studio. This is not the catchiest album for casual multitasking, but if you dedicate some time to just sit and listen, you'll appreciate the art of genuine performance on Fryktløs

If you're looking for music to hum along with at the grocery store or jam out to at the gym, keep looking. There is no vocal percussion and no cookie cutter chord changes to drive the melodies forward. Even Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence and Nik Kershaw's The Riddle, two of the most dance-poppy tunes to come out of the '80s, get stripped down and re-envisioned here as the more subdued, wistful Nyt stillheten and Vandring. None of the soloists has a very commanding presence or dares soar into "wow" territory. Often the background drops to just one or two parts, and there is a kind of awkwardness in piecing together the tonal center. The production leaves the voices almost too naked, and when they do get adventurous with spatial effects in Slitt pyjamas and Løft it sounds like an amateur guitar player just discovering his pedal board. Given the exciting possibilities of the contemporary recording studio, Fryktløs is pretty plain.

Don't think of this as mainstream radio music. This is music you take in through the delicate hush of a dimly lit auditorium. You have to pay attention to hear how every single word of every multi-part harmony is impeccably aligned, to hear the subtle way in which Tenk om and Hymne crescendo from a solitary chant to a resounding chorus. There's something magical even about the way Pust breathes together; how they take quick breaths in staccato tracks like Skip frå sør, then let the phrases do the breathing in legato tracks like Alt eg kan. These singers are comfortable in their own arrangements to the point where each voice part sounds too natural to be composed, yet too elaborate and cohesive to be improvised. It's that sound of chemistry between great performers that enables you to connect with the music of Fryktløs, even if you don't understand a word of Norwegian.

If the notion of covers had never been introduced to a cappella, this is what the art form would sound like. Pust tells us stories with lyrics and a melody, and adds just enough supporting rhythms and harmonies to complete the ambiance. The way this album was made, you feel like you're witnessing the creative process unfold. It's not always squeaky clean or quite what your ears expect — but when the performance is this real, sometimes that's just part of the charm.

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Ordering Information

Selected tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud. You can order the CD directly from the group's website, via email (post@pust.org), or from the record company Grappa.

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