Named after Pippi Longstocking´s favourite word, nothing to do with bodily fluids, Spunk are a Norwegian improv quartet who share their fictional heroin´s feistiness and insistence on doing things a bit differently. The quartet are about to celebrate their tenth anniversary and have marked the occasion with this quite wonderful new album. I laughed out loud at the sheer speed of their ideas, but the most remarkable thing about them is not that they pile absurdity on absurdity, gesture on gesture, but that each member of the group manages to balance their input so perfectly with the others, even at full pelt. A great achievement.
The Wire (UK)
This electro acoustic quartet have at their disposal a sound arsenal that include gasps, death rattles, industrial noice, Waits meets muted Miles, Disney-sweet harmonies and anything inbetween. It all sounds fresh, attacking and humourous (despite the title), and even if little is suited for singalongs, this album can easily become a cult classic at in-the-know parties.
It´s gratifying to say that their third proper release is their best so far. Personally I have nothing against the framework for the songs perhaps being a bit more conventional this time, and that the soundpicture as a whole is more beautiful in a traditional way. This does not mean that Spunk are less exciting or inventive, on the contrary. Their aesthetics are approaching Japanese ideals, where the beautiful must be put in contrast with the ugly. In a contrast like this the ugly will not appear to be ugly, but as part of a beautiful and true constellation. All in all this is a really attractive, often humourous release somewhere between experimental jazz, rock and art music.
The range is wide, the music dynamic and challenging. A magnificent marking of 10 years pioneering activity 5/6.
Bergens Tidende (NO)
SPUNK follows in the acoustic glitch/insect buzz/ power blurt jazz style yet what truely makes it so brain-freezing fine is the surreal, almost fairy tale cloud cast over it — like Spontaneous Music Ensemble conducted by Pippi Longstocking. Their new album ”En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom” is minced and diced, like manic tape edits, of strings and skronks. Choir voices, digitally honed to seemed as if descending from Pippi’s homeland, bounce from track to track giving the feel of an absolute celestial soundtrack as much as a firece, face-dagger, jazz platter. Their best yet.
They all dare and wish to challenge themselves and the others. There is a lot of humour involved, as well as dynamics, many surprises and some unheard (of) music. Sometimes verging on total anarchy. Spunk have, through 10 years, shown that they are an organism in continuous development and that they haven´t yet reached their goal. Which is just as it should be.
Apart from great intonation, Spunk´s sense of rhythm is impressive, at times making the individual performances into one being. Lovely! Spunk´s musical anarchy has a tendency to be replaced by either harmony, like choir song a la Sergio Leone, or metal passages. This gives the album edge and excitement. To sum up: ”En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom” is a collection of beautiful music.
This quite short disc (under forty minutes) throws you to Spunk’s ever-inventive musical whirlpool from the first seconds with dreamy child-like voices, cartoonish voicing, romantic whistling that might have come from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, sawing of cello strings, distant trumpet calls, echoes of metallic mbira, and noise. Noise is a constant component of Spunk’s music, but it is a funny and nonsensical kind of noise, unlike the more radical and aggressive bursts that two members of Spunk, Maja Ratkje and Hild Sofie Tafjord, use in their Fe-Mail duo, and more a sober perspective on the playfulness of their process of immediate improvisation. Sometimes Spunk may sound like an updated version of the Spontaneous Musical Ensemble augmented by Diamanda Galas, but these musicians are more about finding their own original voice, and ”En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom” is a very gratifying attempt at achieving such a voice. A beautiful celebration of this unique quartet’s anniversary.
”En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom”, which translates as ‘an absolutely terrible disease’, sees Spunk once again going back to the drawing board and reinventing their music. If the band still engage in strange sonic experimentations, this album at times appears more accessible and melodic. Yet this is not to say that Spunk have either mellowed with age, or chosen an easier approach. Quite the opposite in fact. If subtle layers of harmonised vocals sometimes rise to soften the angular and chaotic sonic structures, they only act as counterpoint to the broken phrases, syncopated orchestral elements, screams and other vocal noises that are scattered over this record. Here, Spunk widen their original soundscapes even further, following in some ways the approach developed by Ratkje’s and Tafjord’s work as Fe-mail. What is striking on this release, perhaps even more so than on the band’s previous outputs, is the sheer concentration of ideas and the consequent volume of individual elements finding their way through each track. It is often difficult to fully understand and appreciate the scope of these compositions. Indeed, the album requires a few listens to gain a proper idea of what Spunk have to offer, but this initial effort is utterly rewarding in time. 4.6/5.
The Milkfactory (UK)
And her terrific quartet, Spunk, returned with its first album in three years, En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom (Rune Grammofon), an all-improvised amalgam of slurps, scrapes, lurching rhythms, horrifyingly unhinged noises, and fantastical dirges; the record’s unlike anything I’ve heard in years.
Chicago Reader (US)
It´s lively, manic, lovely and weird, and it´s guaranteed to side-fuck your sleepy brain if you pump it up loud in the ´pod whilst travelling at rush hour.
Maja Ratkje´s all-female improv chaos quartet blows the mind and chills the bones: new album ”En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom” (Rune Grammofon) is a beautiful lesson in how growls, screams, gibbers and roars can sound when used as textures in their own right, and when buffered by strange-harmonied horns (grooving and skanking at an unamed angle) and scattershot percussion. Interludes of crystalline, microtonal vocals drift sporadically through the chopped-up clutter, flutter and clatter, and open into creepily nonchalant vistas. No histronics, just knife-edge menace and exuberance mixed to a perfect peak.
Plan B (UK)
So after all these references to music and eras gone by, putting labels on Spunk is difficult. Calling them a “free-improv” group sounds too closely rooted in jazz, which Spunk have little in common with. Although never clinical in their approach, their music is indebted to European (non-jazz) improvisation as well as early concréte and electro-acoustic music. While not sitting comfortably in any category, each track on “En Aldeles Forferdelig Sykdom” unfolds with the broken finesse of Carl Stalling’s Looney Tunes music and brings its own voice out of the history it’s indebted to. It’s jarring in the best ways possible, yet full of personality, charm, and a nostalgic wisdom of a time a lot of us weren’t alive to see.