Girl meets boy at jazz conservatory. Girl and boy are into each other, but their conflicting tour schedules keep getting in the way of quality time. Solution? Start a band together. That’s the origin story of Highasakite, a Norwegian quintet whose debut LP, All That Floats Will Rain, came out in 2012. The band assembled the LP’s strongest tracks for the recently released In And Out Of Weeks EP, the group’s first crack at a U.S. release. The selection showcases a band that, though technically tight, likes to spread out and stretch its strong melodies tent-like over top of sharp percussion and hazy guitars and synthesizers. Though the songs vary in their degrees of electro-pop, jazz, prog-rock and folk influences, they all have an epic, echoing resonance to them. It’s kind of like the vastness that Mumford And Sons evoke but without the cheesy chest-thumping choruses.
Ingrid Helene Håvik is the dry-humored singer-songwriter leading the show with zither and/or autoharp in hand. She sings in a muted alto voice that has this no-bullshit quality, like she’s raising an eyebrow at you as you try to feed her a line. The persona is established with opener “Son Of A Bitch,” during which Håvik imagines a white-knight figure entering a room and insisting upon making a “grand gesture.” So Håvik assigns him a task: “Hold my hair while I vomit.” Not exactly a sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of move, but Håvik is more impressed by practical favors.
Håvik’s voice is the centerpiece of these songs, but the instruments that surround her make spotlight-stealing moves of their own. Drummer Trond Bersu—the boy in the boy-meets-girl tale—starts the album with booming tribal thumps but easily switches his style to something lighter, faster and dustier on “Winners Don’t Come Easy.” Kristoffer Lo is also credited with handling percussion in the band, as well as guitar and two brass instruments (flugabone and tuba), and the double-duty assignment explains how these songs manage to squeeze in so many rhythmic elements. Synthesizer is another jointly covered task, managed by Marte Eberson and Øystein Skar, who go from painting a ghostly backdrop to creating an electro-pop foreground on “Indian Summer.”
“Indian Summer” is the album’s glorified apex, with big, serious-sounding drums running underneath until they dramatically drop out at the chorus, where multiple voices sing in unison and a tinny, steel-stringed strum leads to the exit. Håvik has some nice lines in here, like “I’m riding horses where the wild things grow,” but she also shares some weird words about wearing feathers and being like Robin Hood. The American Indian thing is a point of interest for Håvik, who explained in an interview that her lyrics are partly inspired by a documentary she saw called Indian Summer, which is about a schizophrenic man who thinks he is an American Indian. “Some of the lyrics are really inspired by this movie, because it’s so beautiful, and also because I feel like I can relate to it somehow,” Håvik said, adding that she also “grew up pretending to be Indians all the time with feathers and painting.” Apparently some of this stuff is incorporated into Highasakite’s live show, which hopefully, and probably, falls more odd than offensive. The song itself is a summery anthem, led by the powerful combination of Håvik’s brave, confident voice and that insatiable “Be My Baby” beat.
Håvik and the band tone things down on the EP’s last two songs, the title track and “Whatever That Means.” A pitter-patter drum beat propels the penultimate song as Håvik daydreams some more about horses. And then on the final song, the rhythm slows to a steady thump and the synthesizers twinkle ominously overhead. This is the closest the band gets to attempting a slower, more serious ballad, and while these guys have got the tools for making a sadder song—Håvik’s voice has a natural downer quality to it—this one feels forced. For now, Highasakite is at its best and most natural-sounding when being triumphant, but there will be more room to work on an emotional range on the band’s next LP, scheduled to come out late this year.