“Quiet is the new loud” was the title of the debut album of Norwegian folk duo Kings of Convenience. The album was a commercial success and the title became a rallying cry of sorts. It ushered in an era of soft-spoken, mostly acoustic folksy music that relied on subtlety and nuance to bring its message across rather than volume and swagger.
My Bubba are a Scandinavian folk duo of Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir (known as Bubba) on guitar and My Larsdotter on lap harp. They both sing, sometimes taking turns singing lead, often harmonizing. The result is lovely, a quiet explosion of smouldering beauty that suggests both the intimate warmth of a campfire and the stark majestic beauty of a frozen lake.
The two met while roommates, discovered they both loved to sing, and…you can guess the rest.
The fairytale quality of their success story makes me think they must have a very good publicist, but luckily the music speaks for itself.
On their website is a video of the duo performing live at the Nelsonville Music Festival where you can hear My Bubba in their most stripped down form, just the two of them singing and playing their instruments. The hypnotic power of their music draws you in, gently and persistently till you can’t help but love these two and the music they make.
A producer’s task wishing to enter into this intimate musical world, then, is to embellish the simple format just enough, adding subtle textures to bring out the beauty of the songs while maintaining its minimalist character. Any musical statement in this context has the impact of a drop of water in a still lake so one must tread carefully and confidently.
In this producer Shahzad Ismaily (Will Oldham, Jolie Holland) succeeded beautifully. Big Bad Good , My Bubba’s new album, was apparently a musical collaboration that transcends the traditional artist-producer relationship. Ismaily created a setting at his Brooklyn studio Figure 8 Recording where My Bubba felt comfortable going in the studio with just a few raw ideas, and write songs pretty much from scratch, in a relaxed and inspiring atmosphere. Many of the songs are first takes. Ismaily added percussion, bass, electric piano, guitar and some strange background sounds, lending My Bubba’s minimalist folk a soft indie sheen that’s entirely appropriate.
Sometimes the results are barely more than a scratch track , like “Sister” which sounds like it was recorded on a crappy cell phone. But at other times the method is very successful and the creative partnership seems to propel all involved to new heights.
Opener and title track “Big Bad Good” starts off with a cool ass tribal beat over which the musical sisters harmonize and tell tales of grandparents’ adventures way back when. This has my vote for 2016 indie summer hit ( is there even such a thing anymore?)
“ET” really shows off producer’s Ismaily brilliance in shaping and framing the musical sisters’ songs. It starts with another warbly recording of the two women singing, then evolves into a small tour de force of minimalist chamber pop, with electric piano, muted guitar, plunky bass and some strange wailing vocals somewhere far away spookily drifting from speaker to speaker.
“Ghost Sweat” is as eerie as the title suggests, a study in understatement and musical subtlety.
“Around” is a personal favourite, all summery and breezy and lovey-dovey with whispery vocals over chimey guitars, light percussion and melodic bass, sounding a bit like a female version of the Kings of Convenience performing in your living room.
‘Charm” is another winner, built on delicately intertwined guitar figures, with a few odd lyrical twists – just whimsical or quirky poetry that plays by its own rules? It doesn’t really matter, as this music needs to be enjoyed on its own terms. In My Bubba’s world, once again, quiet is the new loud.
Big Bad Good is Out Now