Leap Years

The Little Hands Of Asphalt

How Is Annie Records / Spoon Train Audio, 2009


REVIEW BY: Giselle Nguyen


What is a leap year? If you were born on February 29 during one, you only get a birthday every four years (and end up aging strangely). If you love the Olympics, then a leap year is a joyous occasion, marking the celebration of the world uniting to play hard. If you’re Sjur Lyseid, it’s an opportunity to explore anything that has come to mean anything in your life within the scope of gorgeously crafted folk music.

Lyseid, one quarter of Norway’s indie rock quartet Monzano, is the brains behind solo venture The Little Hands Of Asphalt. One month after the release of debut EP Spit Back At The Rain comes Little Hands’ first full-length, Leap Years, a warm and honest collection of songs that flows like a storybook, giving us insight into every corner of Lyseid’s vulnerably emotional mind. It is not forceful but emanates a real sense of urgency, and slowly weaves its way into your head until you find, without even realizing it, that it’s all you can think about.

The album opens with the synth-keys/acoustic guitar marriage of “Oslo,” in which Lyseid transports us to the greenness of Norway’s capital city as he laments a lost romance – but since “Oslo is a small, small town,” he knows he will see her again. Like the five songs on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Spit Back At The Rain, “Oslo” leans heavily on the sweet mixture of Lyseid’s accented voice and the gentle guitar accompaniment, but it introduces a new element not seen on Spit. The added use of the harmonica, on “Oslo” as well as many other songs on the album, offers a new dimension to what Lyseid has already created and, primarily played along with the keys and guitar during moments of vocal rest, provides an almost wistful accompaniment to the listener’s moments of reflection.

Lyseid’s work with Monzano was marked by the use of electric and synthesized instruments under a more somber lyrical and musical approach, but Little Hands opts for a much more melodically charged venture. The subject matter is not always cheerful – “Bait,” featuring only an acoustic guitar and Lyseid’s gently shaking voice, is an introspective moment of sensitivity describing “the awkwardness of passing friends” – but sad moments like those are countered by feel-good cuts like “Eating Fish In Hamburger Heaven,” a tongue-in-cheek, upbeat number swirling around Springsteen-esque country rollicks. Though the style of music itself is not particularly inventive (honestly, how many folk-pop projects are around these days?), Lyseid manages to take the style and make it his own with his imaginative storytelling scope and ambition.

Like fellow Norwegian Sondre Lerche, a major part of Lyseid’s appeal is his lyrical honesty and its ability to make you feel like you’re engaging in a conversation with him. Though his native tongue is not English, his command of emotion and wit is admirable, often verging on a charismatic brand of shy awkwardness (the Seth Cohen kind where you just want to hug them). “Highway’s Pull,” with its rolling night-time harmonies, demonstrates this lyrical perfection best as Lyseid takes an escapist drive away from the problems in his life and finds that it doesn’t actually help at all:

“But I’m talking about cards / While the past comes in on broken wings / To crash in your backyard / And I’m picking every syllable apart / In those breathless conversations / That I’ve memorized by heart.”

Leap years only come around every few years and, even though this album wasn’t released during an actual leap year, after a few listens its name makes perfect sense. Norway’s answer to Conor Oberst seems aware of the fact that he has crafted something truly special that is not a common experience – 2009 is not a leap year, but this record, in all its beauty and openness, is.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2009 Giselle Nguyen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of How Is Annie Records / Spoon Train Audio, and is used for informational purposes only.