Hanne Kolstø: While We Still Have Light (4 stars)

Warming fifth album from Norway’s best-kept secret

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Hanne Kolstø: While We Still Have Light

Norway has real winters. It's -6° on the streets of Oslo right now, and in Tromsø, the sun won't rise again until the end of January. Those conditions are usually only cited as helping to produce two things; an excellent cross-country skiing scene and some very antisocial black metal bands. Well, all that time spent indoors has clearly helped Hanne Kolstø, the hardworking alt-pop songwriter who's just released her fifth album in five years.

Released at the tail end of December 2015, While We Still Have Light is the perfect record for surviving the January bleak. This collection of night-pop gems sees Kolstø play with themes of farewell and self-doubt.

Leading on from moody opener 'Bordermind', the title track launches us right into the throes of wintry discontent, her keening voice transforming some pretty workaday lyrics into soothing stanzas. Meanwhile, jaunty ‘Only One’ and melancholy ‘Mono’ exhibit Kolstø’s dexterity as a songwriter, blurring the lines between dreamscapes and pop songs.

It’s on the last couple of tracks that the album really picks up. On ‘This Town’ and ‘I Like You’, Kolstø adds synths to her inventory of electric guitar and alt-folk instrumentation, and, without those last two songs it could have ended up a pretty morose affair. It’s not some kind of prefabricated end-of-album epiphany moment – rather the contrast between her haunting vocals and the synth accents act to cap the album. Kolstø invites us to listen in on her dark Polar Night of the soul, and doesn’t insult our intelligence by offering an easy way out. Instead, closing track ‘White Noise Static’ collapses inward in a haze of saxophone and strings.

Twice nominated for Spellemannprisen, the closest thing Norway has to the Brits, Kolstø is practically unknown in the UK – a situation unlikely to change any time soon, despite how accessible her records are. So, put your headphones on, pull your scarf close and let Hanne Kolstø guide you through the cold wind.

Out now on Jansen Plateproduksjon.

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