Hello, Internet — including, but not limited to:
- people who clicked a link in a Pitchfork column by Tom Ewing!
I’ll keep this short and sweet because I’m sure some of you really, really hate autobiographical natter, and I’m not so keen on it myself.
My name is Katherine; I write about music. You can find me at Popdust, The Singles Jukebox and Wears The Trousers, as well as wherever else the fickle winds of writing (seriously, they can be quite fickle) might take me.
Like all self-respecting Internet musicky types (what, you didn’t know that’s our title?), I have a Tumblr and a Twitter. Actually, I have two of those; the former’s for work, and the latter’s personal.
But enough about me. We both know why you’re here — for Stina Nordenstam, a Swedish singer-songwriter best known for “Little Star” off the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack.
Stop. You’re forming a schema as you read these words. You know what she’s like now, don’t you? Sincere, but not complicatedly so. A pleasant spirit with pleasant songs. There are entire genres formed around this. Of course, less charitable readers would substitute “twee,” or “wish-fulfilling,” or “manic pixie dream girl,” or possibly “the ‘a Japanese woman fries an egg and asks you about your day’ effect (that is, if the less charitable reader happens to be Cecily Nowell-Smith or someone with remarkable similar schemas.)
You’ve probably discerned by now that I’m going to tell you none of this is true. I mention this because it’s the first impression you might have of Stina Nordenstam, as well as of Swedish artists in general and Swedish female artists in particular. The stereotype is acknowledged; now forget it forever.
Granted, this is less damning than the first impression most people actually have once they hear Stina Nordenstam’s music, which is to hear her sing one syllable, promptly WTF and press skip, never to return. You’d be forgiven. At times, Nordenstam’s voice seems deliberately calibrated to shut listeners out; at others, she’s so diffident you get the sense calibration was the last thing on her mind. She’s mixed right up front so you can hear every pause and crack, but were the microphone only a couple inches away, you’d likely sense nothing. Or as David Raposa put it:
She doesn’t hold notes, there’s no melisma or scale exercises, no multi-octave pyrotechnics. She sings the way a 10-year-old girl would sing— if the 10-year-old had a sore throat and was afraid to annoy her parents.
First impressions are first impressions, though — that is to say, often uncharitable and rarely valid. Keep listening. Listen to multiple songs. Persevere. Eventually, you’ll begin to discern her influences, as well as her particular vocal flourishes — yes, she has flourishes — and the melodies she returns to, and the inflections that convey joy and sadness and emotions more complicated than a single word could hold. There’s devastation in her voice, and resignation — and when you expect it least, hope.
Part of One Week / One Band’s goal is to highlight underappreciated artists, and few artists are more deserving of the title than Nordenstam. She’s distinctive from the beginning of her career and masterful by the end (her last album, The World is Saved, was released in 2004, and despite scattered “coming soon” announcements, no follow-up seems to be forthcoming.) Her arrangements grow far more lush and daring with each album, her songwriting more precise, her scenarios more mature and emotionally devastating. And she’s had a quiet influence on a surprising number of peers — a few you might not expect — not to mention a singularly devoted fanbase and, eventually, myself.
But we’ll get to that later. First, a little prehistory.