The White Birch was a trio formed in Norway in 1995. After a couple of EP’s, they released three full lengths between 1998 and 2005, the last of which was ‘Come Up For Air’ on Rune Grammofon. Ola Fløttum sang and played guitar, with Ulf Rogde on bass and HC Almendingen on drums. While the first two records are more wayward in the songwriting department, CUFA is completely focused, beautifully recorded and….totally overlooked and forgotten. It’s their best album by a country mile and one hell of a way to finish off the life of a band. It should’ve been huge, as I’m sure the label and band would agree. But how to describe it? Is it slowcore? Not really, but kind of. Is it a bit like Mark Hollis’s superb album? Not really, but kind of. Is it chamber pop? In a sense. It’s baroque, serene and glassy sounding; it’s also quite possibly the softest album I’ve ever heard. It’s utterly beautiful and minimalist, and Fløttum sings like he’s laid up in a hospital bed on life support.‘June’ creates a huge ambience using nothing more than reverbed piano, some cello strokes and a drumkit. ‘Your Spain’ swings, almost, and I think it’s the best song on here, with its metronomic beat leading to a soft crescendo of guitars and spiralling pianos. I guess you can choose to listen to the lyrics…or not. If you’re paying attention however, there’s some great phrases scattered throughout: ‘summer’s pointed gun’ ‘you brought me down to the majesty of your Spain’, ‘if you stand too tall to reach, stand over me’, ‘you swung my feet to the melody of the train’, and so on, but you’ve got to put in the time to catch them all. ‘Seer Believer’ is about as pop as this album gets, and even then it sounds more like soundtrack music. It’s one of those rare things: a perfectly sequenced album and self-contained in a mood of its own. It’s not an album you dip into; personally, I play the whole thing or not at all, and I think that’s the greatest compliment you can pay a record and its creators.
Fløttum seemed to disappear after this LP, but it looks like his most recent projects are soundtracks for a Norwegian director. This makes perfect sense of course, and I wish him every success, but I can’t help thinking enough interest might inspire him to pick up The White Birch again….. Conor Devlin
The White Birch – Seer Believer