Norwegian one-of-a-kind guitarist Geir Sundstøl played – as a sideman and session player – on more than 400 albums, but «St.Hanshaugen Steel» is his fourth solo album. The album is an homage to a factory by the same name that operated until 1969, located on St. Hanshaugen in Oslo, now a highly popular residential area and Sundstøl’s own stomping ground. «St.Hanshaugen Steel» pays attention to the nuts and bolts that give rise to the whole machine, and its title may, of course, reference Geir Sundstøl’s reputable broad-spectrum treatment of the pedal steel guitar.
«St.Hanshaugen Steel» features eight distinct and highly cinematic soundscapes, all may induce the darker chills of Nordic Noir, but all offer surprising, imaginative twists and inspired melodic hooks. The album expands the sonic palette of Sundstøl’s previous Hubro releases – «Furulund» (2015), «Langen Ro» (2016) and «Brødløs» (2018), with in-studio sonic experiments – recording the pedal steel onto analog tape and then slowing it down, an octave below, and fiddling with pitch controller. Sundstøl himself confesses that he does not write music, but «play, make mistakes that sound good, and then try to create something out of that». The album was recorded at Sundstøl’s home studio, with his favorite comrades: drummer-percussionist Erland Dahlen, bassists Mats Eilertsen and Jo Berger Myhre and pianist-keyboardist David Wallumrød, with guests trumpeter-vocalist Arve Henriksen and the Sølvguttene boys’ choir. Sundstøl plays an array of string instruments in addition to the pedal steel, plus vintage analog synths, synth drums and vocoders.
The opening piece «Våg», penned by Henriksen, sets immediately the melancholic, fragile atmosphere of the album, and the beautifully layered (Henriksen’s trumpet was spread over 10 tracks), dramatic narrative. It sounds like a variation on Henriksen’s work but orchestrated in a timeless manner, and its deep emotional impact lingers long after this piece is over. «Lyssky» was inspired by spooky British sci-fi as well as pompous, white wig-wearing composers, and floats in gently mysterious space-prog-rock stratospheres, courtesy of Wallumrød’s ARP analog synth. «Ka» matches the Indian-tinged melody with country blues guitar and spins it further with the angelic vocals of the traditional boys’ choir, Sølvguttene. «Kløpper», written with Eilertsen, takes the listener to Sundstøl’s imaginary Bermuda Triangle. It is based on an infectious bassline and a simple, breezy melody that pays respects to the late Jamaican roots reggae and dub producer-melodica player-keyboardist Augustus Pablo.
«Hoven» began as a twisted Hindu melody, but after adding an ethereal Christian church organ, and the Sølvguttene boys’ choir, it morphed into a multikulti, irreverent spiritual song. «Smet» mixes the sounds of cold DX7 synth, electric insects running around Dhalen’s snare drum, elegant double bass and Parisian toy pianos, all floating in the hazy skies of the pedal steel, recorded at high speed and then slowed down. «Omsorg», written again with Eilertsen, relies on Eilertsen’s dark double bass and contrasts the deep tones of the bass with innocent, celestial sounds of the guitar-o-phone, optigan, steel and national guitars. The last piece «Pøs» suggests weird, old industrial sounds, anchored by a folky melody, with 80’s vocoder and Shankar guitar paired with the Wurlitzer Side Man, the world’s first drum machine.
No one makes music like Sundstøl – always inventive, rich and timeless, immediate (after extended studio work) and openly emotional.
Erland Dahlen (dr, dr machine, steel dr, log dr, marching toms, xylophone, dulcimer, musical saw, Schulmerich handbells, waterphone, electric insects, blossom bells, triangle), David Wallumrød (Minimoog, Prophet 5, Arp Pro Soloist, Hohner clavinet, Juno 6), Mats Eilertsen (b, org), Jo Berger Myhre (b), Arve Henriksen (tp, v). Sølvguttene boys’ choir (v), Geir Sundstøl (pedal steel, National duolian, Shankar g, six-string b, Yamaha CS-20, optigan, harmonica, bass harmonica, cümbüs, guitar bjo, mandolin, Prime Time loops, Yamaha DX7, Logan String Melody, melodica, tabla, dr machines, toy p, marxophone, guitarophone, Simmons SDS8, concert harp, Juno 6, cither, Roland SVC 350 vocoder).