Official Release: 26.02.2016
Hymns From Ninevah’s 3rd LP came out three weeks ago – but I really wanted to let this one try and sink in – rather than passing judgment as such after a few measly listens. This idea came about after scrolling through an article recently titled: “Is the Album Review Dead?” I’m here to say it ain’t and neither is the album – a collection of songs made to compliment each other – possibly with a concept in mind.
It’s difficult to know exactly what Hymns From Nineveh is in 2016 – is it Jonas Petersen? Is it a band? No matter what – this is a solid piece of work that takes the listener the apparent re-awakening of a man’s soul through his music. Petersen traveled back to his home during childhood, Botswana, to find inspiration for this music, and a little piece of his innocence possibly. Even if the press material didn’t mention an African journey – I would like to think I could have picked up on a bit of a vibe here – with musical and lyrical touchstones that have subtle nods to the continent – The birthplace of man. The re-birth of Hymn boy.
What I like about this record is that it takes the whole “songwriter” thing and pushes it into a 21st century setting. There is no “trying to be authentic” in the production – there are no hokey banjos or references to riding on trains – there are no harmonica solos – hell – there is not even much of a focus on acoustic guitar really. This is a fully modern production that seems toiled over. There are little hints as I said, of some African polyrhythms – but that seems pretty apt in 2016 – in a world where Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire are taking all sorts of things into their sonic palette. In being a modern album, Sunday Music is right on the money. BUT – will that serve to date it in the future though and wear out it’s welcome? I don’t know – that’s your job to decide.
The songs fit together nicely. Nice is what I’m saying. Petersen is definitely going for the sensitive personal journey idea here – a pitfall of nearly every songwriter is to expose their ‘sensitive’ or ‘spiritual’ side. Hymns version of the sensitive songwriter though has always come off as sincere – like he actually lived it a little – open to whatever – rather than trying to give the illusion that he is enlightened or something. Opening song “Eurasia” starts with a string passage – a kind of “Adagio For Strings” thing that will pop up again – serving as a sort of overture for the record. He chose the text “I am awake/it saddens me” to set the tone for the record – an odd choice at first – but then resolves my quarry by the end with his affirmation of being alive as the piece opens up into a Sufjan-esque jam.
Title track “Sunday Music” has an almost ‘trip-hop’ vibe to it – a song about “waking up” (in probably more ways than one) on a Sunday – again, subtle in its spiritual undertones – not rhetorical. “Wonderful Winter Morning” to me is the strongest track on the album – buried third in the running order. It’s perhaps the most “African” sounding on the record – maybe it’s the treated guitar riffs that harken back to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” period (of course we were gonna bring up that shit right?) Even though the music is bouncy and African sounding – the lyrics are about a crisp Scandinavian morning – and mourning. I tend to check out of the album a bit during the next two pieces – “Under The Sun” (another of the African sounding notions) and “Perfume” – a sentimental journey through Peterson’s past – before being picked up by the soft James Taylor styled finger picking of “Livingstone’s Tree” – the kind of song that mixes “confessional” style songwriting, sentiment – and folk beauty together perfectly without being too sappy or twee.
“The Wanderer” though is where the rubber meets the road for the album’s voice. “I’ve been wandering now/god knows for how long/I couldn’t find my own voice/back in Babylon”. It definitely sounds like someone on a quest here…but on a quest for what? Maybe Denmark was Babylon (oh how we have fallen haven’t we from grace…) and Jonas returned to Botswana, a place of childhood innocence, song and light – to find his ‘voice’ again – meaning – write some songs for us. This notion of ‘finding yourself’ or who you are is real ‘big picture’ stuff – and that’s why this album to me, is pretty revelatory.
Another really revelatory track on the album is “Paper Kite”. Where our singer proclaims “I tried to live in light alone” and “If the dead can live again/is when winter turns to spring/resurrect my hope my love/and make my spirit sing”. I mean – that’s pure poetry, definitely in the spiritual vein – sung in falsetto before bursting into more African-inspired polyrhythms. “Paper Kite” is a gorgeous track – and very simple but at the same time complex. I don’t wanna live in light alone.
The album closes with the string phrase from the beginning in “Lisbon”. Another “2000s” piece – lead by poetic lyrics and desultory singing. The album ends just as softly and confident as it begins.
I lived within this album for a couple of days – putting it on when I could – walking around, showering, eating, doing dishes – you know – living. It was a nice place to be. It’s nice to be in someone’s dream sometimes – or their awakening rather in this case. Because of what I knew about the record and its writer, I often dreamed of Africa. I’ve never been to Botswana – but if I grew up there – in this strange far away land, then came back to Denmark – back to…whatever the fuck we are up to, I would definitely feel something. Maybe Denmark is some kind of Babylon- at least that’s what it might represent in this album over 10 songs.
I don’t have much critique for this record at all. It’s obviously well plotted out and toiled over. Between what it took to write these songs – and adorn it with the often-complex layers of music – you wouldn’t be out of line guessing that it represents over a year’s work. It’s a major work for Hymns Of Nineveh – it’s pretty unfuckwithable in that sense. I can only say what I would have done differently – and that would be sequencing the songs a bit different (thus changing the mood slightly?) and possibly leaving a few of the numbers without so many bells and whistles. That’s only minor shit though – it’s still a great record.
I like that it’s 2016 and there are still people making albums. There are still people willing to go outside and discover their spirits and sing about it. I like that there is a band in Denmark that is not just trying to be cool and make some money off of kids or win P3 awards, although I will bet this album will be up for a few no doubt. This is not a disposable record it is real. I think I will keep it around for a while longer too - like a friend (4.5/6)