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White-out Conditions

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Album Review

Bel Canto's first release remarkably shows the group already well-established with their own blend of sounds into a new style, with an assurance and elegance that might otherwise have only come after many years of work together. From the many world musics that the band uses to gloomier post-punk and more serene electronics, everything fuses together excellently, with Drecker's beautiful voice carrying all that comes before it. While she's not as distinct or unique a singer at this point in her career as, say, Kate Bush or Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, her skills are nonetheless evident, including a fine ability to sing in a variety of languages. Besides her native Norwegian, she tackles Spanish and English with aplomb. A sense of Siouxsie and the Banshees' blend of play and unease characterizes much of White-Out Conditions — the galloping, lyricless but not vocal-less "Agassiz" at once raises a smile with its folk-dance drive; it is still just creepy and strange enough. Perhaps the most striking sonic touches here are the almost EBM-level percussion and synth bass interplays created on some songs. "Dreaming Girl" has a forceful pulse which, when combined with the crisp arrangements and Drecker's more clipped singing, gives the piece a rougher edge, even with the brief piano break. Other songs have a more explicitly melancholy feel, such as the dark blue "Without You," but Drecker's vocals retain a cool gentleness even with the most tearful of lyrics. The title track, the album's sweeping highlight, is an exquisite blend of electronic and acoustic instruments with a real sense of drama, as Drecker sings a melodically complex lyric with a descending chorus. The final chorus allows her voice to stand out even further from the music as it fades away — an extremely fine touch.


Formed: 1986 in Tromso, Norway

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '80s, '90s

The atmospheric, melancholy, somewhat medieval soundscapes of Bel Canto (Italian for "beautiful song") mix an essentially synth-based chamber rock sound with a wide range of orchestral and folk instruments and have been compared to the Cocteau Twins. The group hails from Norway and began as a trio consisting of ethereal vocalist Anneli Marian Drecker plus Nils Johansen and Geir Jenssen. The group has claimed to draw its inspiration from powerful energy fields, including those of the female and the...
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White-out Conditions, Bel Canto
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