Magnet: The Tourniquet (Filter US Recordings, 2006)

by Brent

Magnet The TourniquetIt’s a shame that the sticker on my copy of Magnet’s new full-length The Tourniquet reads a quote from NME which says: “Time to put down that copy of X & Y and take up with The Tourniquet instead”. I mean, I KNOW what the sticker means…it’s saying that one should cuddle up this late winter with The Tourniquet rather than nodding off to Coldplay’s release. But, there’s something in me that suspects that some people will immediately write-off The Tourniquet, thinking it to be similar to Coldplay’s brand of world-rock. That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Sounding instead like a conglomeration of the sensitive Nordic songwriting of a less electronically-inclined Lasse Lindh meeting a more straightforward version of the production ofBjork, combined with almost Beatlesesque melodies and Beach Boys harmonies. This collection of 11 lush pop songs by Norwegian Even Johansen (a.k.a. Magnet)  is not to be necessarily compared with Coldplay in terms of style, but the quality of The Tourniquet, whether one examines the songs, production, performance or even artwork, sure does exceed many other releases, whether mainstream like X & Y or independent.

Enough with the Coldplay references, because the dense arrangements and sensitive songs of The Tourniquet do indeed sound more like the slightly dark but catchy and pristine pop coming in recent years from Scandanavia (think Stina Nordenstam, Club 8, or any host of Swedish and Norwegian artists) than anything British. Perhaps it’s due to Johansen’s slight Scandanavian drawl in his smooth voice, but The Tourniquet just reeks of sleek urbanites grappling with the cold and heartache, all set in an appealing and multi-layered pop approach. Even when Johansen is dealing with lighter fare, such as the uplifting album opener  “Hold On”, Johansen’s penchant for portraying a hint of world weariness in his tenor alludes to the bleak skies above Bergen, his hometown. “Hold On” is a wonder of a song, opening up with electronic bloops that are joined by, of all things, a banjo, before Johansen begins to croon. Additional elements are brought into the song, such as sparking keyboards and soaring noises, before the songs breaks into a glorious and catchy chorus worthy of international radio airplay. “Duracellia”, featuring acoustic guitars, a stripped-down live drum part, and pedal steel (played by Johansen himself) mimics a Southern USA song, while retaining the orchestrated pop feel of The Tourniquet. “Duracellia” showcases the dexterity of Johansen’s voice, as he sails into an effortless falsetto while squeezing out emotion from every syllable he sings.

Another highlight of The Tourniquet is the gentle “The Pacemaker”. It opens with a gentle and stripped down verse, with Johansen barely whispering his vocals, only morph into a flowing full-sounding chorus, complete with subtle electronic bloops, smooth guitar lines, and a killer of a melody framing the lyrics, “take my hand, I will follow, ‘cause only you can slow this down…”. “The Pacemaker” is a gorgeous song addressing a painful situation (Johansen admits that the song is written for a loved one who is suffering from alcoholism). “Believe” is possibly the best song on The Tourniquet, which is feat in itself. A sullen chorus accompanied by a variety of quirky sounds just explodes into a heart-breaking chorus with an amazing melody and full-band playing. Perfect sombre Norwegian pop. Somehow, Magnet manages to fuse this Nordic pop into reggae for “All You Ask”. Well, to call this song’s rhythm reggae might be a bit of a stretch, yet the song does contain a deep groove reminiscent of some lost roots song. The remainder of The Tourniquet showcases more of Magnet’s stellar songwriting coated in gorgeous arrangements that are equally dreamy, eccentric, and tasteful. Whether it’s the soaring “Fall At Your Feet”, the dreamy (veering slightly to the post-rock camp) “Blow by Blow”, the darkly orchestrated “Jaws”, or the campy North American bonus track “This Bird Can Never Fly”, Johansen blends his incredibly song-writing with interesting musical accents and moods, creating a full CD of excellent music.

The Tourniquet is one of those CD’s that should be huge, sells tons of copies, be played on the radio everywhere, and, in a perfect world, launch Magnet into international acclaim and fame like what has happened to Chris Martin and crew. Whether or not that happens, Even Johansen has crafted a delicious collection of songs that will most definitely be dear to those privileged to hear them. The Tourniquet makes pop beautiful, meaningful and interesting again, and heralds Magnet as a wildly-talented and genre-defying artist. Highly recommended!

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