4.5 Million Native Speakers Can't Be Wrong

We may seem mighty international here at Toilet Guppies, but actually we're born and based on the fringes of Europe, in Norway—the land of wood and minimalism (and now black gold, motherfuckers, ha ha!). It's a language group of only 4.5 million people, so any verbally based art such as song, film or literature is doomed to obscurity.

In most cases, that's just as well. But sometimes, just sometimes, it's a pity. A wrong we here at Toilet Guppies intend to right with a few introductory anthologies of Norwegian music. First off, Norwegian-language songs, brought to us by the hardy few Norwegians who resist English on the radio, English on TV, English at the cinema, English on the Internet, English on blogs(!), English in your band and Swedish in the service industry.

Some of these songs are bad melodies with good lyrics. Some are good melodies with bad lyrics. Some are even good melodies with good lyrics! But I've tried to avoid bad melodies with bad lyrics, which is why you won't find any black metal on here, even though it's Norway's main cultural export. I've likewise snubbed our second musical export, designer electronica. But those wreckers of soul usually sing in English, anyway. Besides, you're all modern guys, of course you've had Röyksopp in the ears before…

But there's rock, pop, punk, post-punk, new wave, shoegaze, hardcore, trip hop, folk, world, spoken word… jazz… We do everything here in Norway.

[All mp3s are ID tagged. The titles and artist names should show up when you unzip the download. If you're curious about context, meaning and all round gossip, please consult the track-by-track liner notes below.]

1. «But One Day, When the Rains Come» (2003)

This singer/journalist means to Norwegians what Johnny Cash means to North Americans. Should you spot a Norwegian crying, chances are
he or she's been listening to one of this TV personality's tone deaf sea shanties.

This track was inspired by a trip to the Kalahari Desert. Despite a thumb piano lending the song an exotic «world music» feel, the scraping fiddle echoes traditional Norwegian folk tones as it laments and hopes against hope for a reunion with the one that got away:
I know it is you,
my love,
passing me by.
But I cannot see you
through the heat, dust and wind.
Merciless is today!
I have no song to sing,
not a word to say.
Although I know it is you,
my love,
passing me by.
But one day, when the rains come!

You know it is I,
your love,
passing you by.
But you cannot see me
through the heat, dust and wind.
Merciless is today.
You have no caress for me,
not a word to say.
Although you know it is I,
your love,
passing you by.
But one day, when the rains come!
Norwegian has no language for the erotic. Sexual terms are either obscene cuss words or medical Latin, the space between the filthy and the sterile an unimagined blank. But Norway values nature above all things, so the suggestive metaphors you have to resort to when trying to be sensual tend towards natural imagery. Here, as the scene is set in the «desert» of lovelessness, it's only natural that rain should take on an air of almost mystical ejaculation:
And rain will come!
The clouds will melt together
into one mighty, heavenly heart
that graciously squanders, pours
its pure and clear, celestial blood
and gives life
to this earth that suffers.
Then we may meet, you and I,
with laughter, song and kisses,
so that our cracked lips
burst and bleed.
And we shall call out
to men, verdure and beasts:
Look! Our love, too, lives.
2. «The Death Song»/«Flowers for Genet» (1976)
When the day has arrived and the hour's arrived
And you shall be stood up 'gainst the wall to bleed
And those who once loved ya
Have long since left ya
Then you shall see: Dying is lonely indeed

For the day shall come, and the hour will come
When the sand beneath you is red as a dye
And when they come for ya
Recall how I implore ya
O brother, it is strangely lonesome to die
This recital was laid down in the studio just days before its author took his life. He was one of few sorely needed mavericks in Norwegian cultural life, from the 1950s until his suicide in 1976. An anarchist sympathiser, convicted pornographer, closet homosexual and Anthroposophist, it's not surprising that the poem to follow «The
Death Song» in this medley is a prayer to the Virgin Mary, for grace on behalf of «pimps and sodomites, flashers and transvestites, pederasts, fetishists, poets and masochists, drunkards and junkies… thieves, whores and Genet»—all those who hung crucified next to history's most admired martyr, alone on his cross but for the dregs of society who, the romantic liberal's old trope goes, are the only ones truly able to appreciate the passion of the Christ. (If you disregard all the sociopaths and idiots hidden among the ranks of the unlucky, he may have a point.)

If you ever wondered why Norway's such a hotbed of noise music, note that, in accompanying «The Death Song», even jazz musicians created shrill, metallic soundscapes worthy of industrial music—a genre only invented the year before.

3. «I Wet My Dagger» (1980)

The most common murder weapon in Norway is the axe. Still. In 2010. We have guns.

In this little ditty, a breathy 70 year old sings, a little too lustily, «I wet my dagger in your hot, brown blood!» Blood is never described as «brown». It's always «crimson» this and «red» that. The effect of describing it as «hot» and «brown» conjures an eerie titillation—as if you'd actually stabbed someone for the first time, only to find it's not at all like you were made to think, but an experience that far surpasses any imagination or expectation! Then there's a line towards the end that translates into something like, «The yearning hunts you like fire in your loins»… Wow. I wish I'd had a grandfather like that to guide me through life… It makes me think of the guy I once worked with in a cemetery, who took me aside on my first day to tell me, «You ain't a man until you hear the groans of pain turn into moans of pleasure.» He peered into my eyes, held his stare, then walked off—the only time I ever saw the eyes behind the sunglasses he always wore…

But I digress. According to Wikipedia, this old man's the best selling Norwegian recorded artist ever. Perhaps his status as best selling artist and the murderous prevalence of the axe are somehow connected?

4. «Advice to Hobo's Model (from Tarantula by Bob Dylan)» (2001)

Here's a rare recording; an obscure collaboration between electronica duo Xploding Plastix and Oslo's resident old beat poet, Jan Erik Vold, best known for his countless odes to the tram(!) and a rather idiosyncratic recitation style: a lazy drawl complete with bizarre intonation that makes everything sound like a comical moan, delivered in the working class sociolect of east Oslo.

Naturally, this was the go-to guy when they needed someone to translate Bob Dylan's unreadable novel, Tarantula, into Norwegian—an especially superfluous enterprise, seeing as even Dylan didn't much care for the book's speed freak gibberish. (The original won Spin Magazine's «award» for most unintelligible sentence in a book written by a rock star, with the doozy, «Now's not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns.»)

Yet Vold and the Pastix' performance of the chapter «Advice to Hobo's Model» works. The Oslo beatnik's inimitable wry wink of a voice is set to a cinematic score like a detective rifling through the lines, searching for clues in Dylan’s amphetamine burn out bullshit prose:
paint your shoes delilah—ye walk on white snow where a nosebleed would disturb the universe… down these narrow alleys of owls an flamenco guitar players, jack paar an other sex symbols are your prizes—check into the bathrooms where bird lives for when he comes flying out with a saber in his wing—a country music singer by his side—digesting a carrier pigeon… ye just might change your style of fornicating, sword swallowing—ye just might change your way of sleeping on nails—paint your shoes the color of the ghost mule—the paper tiger's teeth are made of aluminum—youve a long time to Babylon—paint your shoes, delilah—paint them with a sponge

look! like i told you before, it doesnt
matter where it's at! there's no such
thing. it's where it's not at that you
gotta know. so what if tony married his
mother! what's it got to do with your life?
i really have no idea why youre so unhappy.
perhaps you ought to change your line of
work. you know. like how long can someone
of your caliber continue to paint pencil
sharpeners… see you next summer, good to
know youre off the wagon.

prematurely yours,
5. «Gods of Nature (Hanging valley mix)» (2001)

I said this would be a Norwegian language compilation, but I'm including a song in Sámi because it's a language family just as indigenous to the country as Norwegian (if not more so). There are nine living Sámi languages (four of them spoken in Norway). This singer simply says she sings in «the Sámi language», which probably means it's in Davvisámegiella, by far the most spoken Sámi language in Norway. Other Sámi tongues face dire challenges; Ume Sámi only has about ten (10!) fluent speakers left—and most of those guys actually live in Sweden. (Try having a decent conversation in that language.) In any case, I have no idea what the words to this song mean.

This singer is the most famous Sámi artist. That doesn't mean she makes traditional music. Usually it's jazzed-up, ethno-fusion «world music» with New Age leanings. But this track has been remixed by a Norwegian pioneer of ambient techno who graduated from chill-out music for frazzled ravers to a more experimental and accomplished science of sound. Here, he transforms the New Agey world jazz of the original into something at least hinting at the spiritual release promised by the singer's considerable talent, yet rarely delivered by her arrangements.

But not a bad word about the woman who declined an invitation to perform at the opening ceremony of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, because she didn't want to serve as an ethnic alibi, and who did a little yoik towards the end of the Christmas carol(!) she sang at the prince and princess' royal wedding, live on TV, full well knowing that yoiking in church is about as offensive to pagans as it is blasphemous to Christians.

6. «The Cunt Was a Wild Animal» (1926)

This number is from a collection of field recordings of curses, invocations and dirty ditties sung by descendants of Finnish immigrants to the southern forests along the Swedish-Norwegian border, ever since the 1500s. The Forest Finns have an official status as ethnic minority in Norway. This particular song was recorded in 1926, and is not a curse or invocation, as this approximate translation from the Finnish makes abundantly clear:
The cunt was a wild animal,
the cock a crooked fellow.
Come, my sweet, straighten 'im out,
like you did last eve.
Ibsen it ain't, but the static from the wax cylinder recording can compete with the best of Norwegian noise music any day.

7. «Crazy Horse» (1981)

This post-punk outfit from the country's rock capital, Trondheim, was the Joy Division, Birthday Party or Scratch Acid of Norway. The track rocks harder and better than most any other recording that's ever come out of this country. The lyrics are unintelligible, so don't ask. Something about social pests and raging like a crazy horse.

8. «You Are a Shit» (1980)

This is 22 seconds of pure punk, and with words like that— «You're a shit» made to rhyme with «Crush yer face»—there's no need for one second more, really. (Would you even want this muck to last any longer?)

I'd translate the lyrics, but the poetic acrobatics this would require are sure to botch up the simplicity—well, let's be honest: the idiocy—of this song.

9. «Sick & Tired» (2006)

I already mentioned my gig at the graveyard. One day, a man came in to fasten the tombstones to the ground, to stop them falling over brittle, little children playing in the cemetery. (Norway—where playgrounds are graveyards!) The guy mentioned he played drums in a hardcore band whose name can only be translated as «Brutal Cock». Thus they are contenders for best band name ever, after Norwegian death punks Turbonegro.

In this band's adopted home town of Trondheim, the poison of choice is what locals refer to as «karsk»—bootleg liquor/moonshine/white lightning, with just a dash of cheap, acidic percolator coffee in it. This music is the soundtrack to the kind of unique inebriation this engenders, as well as its hangover. In a sense, this is moonshinecore.

The lyrics?
Sick & tired of me job!
Sick & tired of me job!
Sick & tired of me job!
Sick & tired of me job!

Sick & tired of me band!
Sick & tired of me band!
Sick & tired of me band!
Sick & tired of me band!

Sick & tired of yer mug!
Sick & tired of yer mug!
Sick & tired of yer mug!
Sick & tired of yer mug!

So sick & tired!
So sick & tired!
So sick & tired!
So sick & tired!
So sick & tired!
So sick & tired!
So sick & tired!
So sick & tired!

Feels so good to be at work!
Feels so good to be at work!
Feels so good to be at work!
Feels so good to be at work!

It's so cool playin' in a band!
It's so cool playin' in a band!
It's so cool playin' in a band!
It's so cool playin' in a band!

I am so fond of yer mug!
I am so fond of yer mug!
I am so fond of yer mug!
I am so fond of yer mug!

All is well!
All is well!
All is well!
All is well!
All is well!
All is well!
All is well!
All is well!

So sick & tired!
All is well!
So sick & tired!
All is well!
So sick & tired!
All is well!
So sick & tired!
All is well!
'Nuff said.

10. «Accepted» (1981)

This solo artist is best known for having penned her autobiography in automatic writing, confiding in us that she'd been in touch with extraterrestrials—contact of the very third kind, indeed. (Of the fourth and fifth, even!) But in 1981, she was still just a teenager who wrote lyrics in an unorthodox half-Norwegian/half-Swedish hybrid, inexplicably delivered in what sounds like an English accent. Nothing was trendier in Norway at the time than new wave and reggae, so this teen just as well combined the two.

In the song, the narrator goes to work—a job she hates, on account of all her miserable, backstabbing colleagues who «have never learnt to smile»—only to hear from her boss, «You don't fit in here, we're letting you go.» The chorus then asks, apparently in all earnestness, «Why am I never accepted?!» It's an absurd and shit piece of writing, but what she lacks in literary prowess she makes up for with feeling.

In Norway she's considered a bit of a joke on legs, but this song has far more energy and attitude than most Norwegian artists could ever muster in all of the recordings of their careers, put together. It lacks the self-consciousness that inhibits most Scandinavian music, trying so hard to be effortlessly cool.

11. «Strange Bird» (1984)

This song—from a rocker most famous in Norway for sporting a bold 'tache, shameless mullet and over-sized, red eye glasses—is the «Billie Jean» of Norwegian pop music. Which is no mean feat, considering it features an accordion.

Recorded in 1984, this was a time before budget airlines, so Europe still held an exotic sway over the imagination of inhabitants tucked away on the corner of the continent. The lyrics here reflect the alienation of isolated Norwegians, «Europe» just another word for «homesick» as the narrator sings of his sorely missed loved ones. You wouldn't think it to look at us now, but Norway was once the poorest country in Europe.

12. «Disaster» (1994)

If David Byrne had an IQ of only 50, Talking Heads may have sounded something like this:
Let me tell you about the day when Roald went out to buy some fruit
Everything went wrong that day

My jacket! My jacket! Where is my jacket?!
My jacket! My jacket! I cannot find my jacket!
My shirt! My shirt! My shirt! My shirt's gone missing!
My pants! My pants! My pants! I've misplaced my pants!
My pants! My pants! I seem to have misplaced my pants!
My socks! My socks! My socks! My socks are gone!

Someone's hogged all my clothes!

Roald didn't dare go out on the street
naked to purchase some fruit
He draped himself in a sheet
Better believe he looked lame, when down the road he skipped
But there was a banana peel—and yes, he slipped

I hurt myself, hurt myself, hurt myself! Ow! Ow! Ow!
Fucking banana peel, it was in my way!
Shit! Shit! It fucking hurts like hell!
Shit! Shit! Shit! It fucking hurts like hell!

Someone's laying traps for me!

Eventually he reached the square
and not a moment too soon
'cause the stalls were about to close up
Would've been too bad if he'd have to leave with unfinished business
But Roald ended up one big mess

Pears! Pears! Don't you have any pears?!
Apples! Apples! Apples! Don't you have any more apples left?!
Bananas! Bananas! Don't you have any bananas?!
Bananas! Bananas! Bananas! Why doesn't your stall carry bananas?!
Peaches! Peaches! Why don't you have any peaches?!
Peaches! Peaches! Peaches! Why doesn't your stall carry peaches?!

Someone's bought all the fruit I want!!!
Someone's hogged all my clothes!!!
Someone's bought all the fruit I want!!!
Someone's laying traps for me!!!
This is a complete disaster!!!
This is a complete disaster!!!

Fans love this song so much, incessantly calling out for it during concerts, that the guy who wrote it penned a sequel called «Anti-disaster»; a subdued and awfully boring song where everything goes well with our beloved protagonist.

13. «Thor the Cook» (1993)

This middle class pop band is beloved by students. Generally, their music won't rock your world, but the singer is a considerable literary talent with a keen eye for social realism. I'm not even going to try and translate the lyrics; the flow and humour are too difficult to transpose.

The narrator is out eating with his girlfriend and her father, a sailor, when they meet Thor, the cook on the father's ship. Thor the cook is the kind of drunk given to sentimentality and paranoia, extending embarrassing compliments one moment and disconcerting threats the next.

Norwegians know the words and belt along to this song, because everyone's met a guy like Thor. Women tend to complain about feeling unsafe, telling guys we can't possibly understand what it's like to be a poor, little girl in a world teeming with rapists, not being able to walk down city streets by yourself or go travelling alone, etc. But such girls have no insight into the dynamic between men, and don't realise that guys behave differently to each other than they do towards women. The threat of rape is often replaced by the threat of violence (when it is replaced). Upon meeting a sexually confused and not-so-gentle giant packing a knife in his jacket and 'roid rage in his bloodstream, your Y chromosome won't protect you. On the contrary; other men are often considered legitimate targets when a guy can't take his sexual frustration and emotional humiliation out on the woman who just spurned him. On the bus, in the bar, on the street, you're likely to meet some guy like Thor, who tells the protagonist:
«Hey you, I love you, you bastard!
You have so much sensuality
But soon I'm gonna punch your teeth in
'cause ugly boys are the absolutely worst to me»
The protagonist has to suffer the indignities of being cornered into a conversation with an emotional cripple forever vacillating between the maudlin and the hateful:
He clenched his fist and his eyes were mean
He said, «What you need is more discipline»
and I strongly resented his dedication
Finally, the hapless young man snaps himself, in the gloriously cathartic last refrain:
«Hey, Thor, I think you're a right bastard!
You ain't got much sensuality
I ought to punch your rotten teeth in
But it's too late, it's plain to see…»
14. «Dead Man's Tango» (2002)

This is a band from Stavanger, in the west of Norway. Trendy Norwegians tend to disdain them, while students of the hard sciences and, er, Germans love them. With antiquated instruments and metallic percussion, they take the most obvious elements from Tom Waits and Einstürzende Neubauten and normalise them, softening the edges.

Still, the twang & tremble of this guitar is sure to make you want to sway & grind. With sultry string work like that, I'm prepared to forgive just about anything. And it's not every day you hear a banjo like that…

As for the lyrics, they're a dispatch from some war, by an officer who's losing his religion—and his sense of rhythm: the chorus goes, «There's no life to my tango!» Although I suspect this has more to do with the NATO alphabet and his radio communication set-up than dancing—«My tango's dead!» Don't ask me about army lingo, I politely but firmly declined my invitation to be conscripted by the Norwegian Armed Forces (and all I got were papers stating I'm certifiably insane).

15. «Party» (2009)

Social realist singer/songwriter fare, with Gothic Americana arrangements and words to the point, about life in country towns. As this guy proves, it's entirely possible to be funny whilst remaining sincere:
Twelve o'clock, in came my ex
and pestered us with her complex
She was pissed, said «I'm breaking up with you»
It's been over since '92
She said, «You used to set fire to stuff
Now you've a bike with a bag on the rack
Hairline's thin—and you're fat
You big bluff»
16. «The Ballad of Ole P. and Bente L. (with a Later Remark about Astrid Å.)» (1972)

In 1972, this Norwegian singer/songwriter—still young, virile and inspired at 25—churned out this dizzyingly fast-paced set of Dylanesque lyrics tracing the downwards trajectory of a relationship turning sour. They describe the dynamic between a boy and a girl more than midway between mutual infatuation and reciprocal disgust.

Unfortunately, the heavily structured lyrics are so dense with clever rhymes that any attempt to translate them would be a nightmarish and futile enterprise. This song is best enjoyed by people who understand Norwegian, but here's a taste of the last few lines—rather simple and tame and not nearly as smart or funny compared to the first part, but still written by Norway's most poisonous pen:
You may wake up alone
or wake with he, she or it
Stay with whomever you like
I just don't give a shit
Put on your favourite threads
Dance on your favourite floor
But the clothes that you got from me
won't fit you anymore

You are alone
We have arrived at the end
You've had your chance
You got your song
There will never be
another one
My friend
17. «Kissing» [A/K/A «Gonna Shoot Myself on Christmas Eve»] (1985)

Contrary to popular belief, Norway is not the world capital of suicide. It's Lithuania that is undisputed master of self-deliverance, followed by Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and Estonia. Still, for such an affluent, egalitarian and peaceful country, Norway does nurture a bit of a tradition for «the gentleman's way out».

Mr. Per Bergersen, for instance—although it's been disputed whether it was assisted suicide or homicide, seeing as the singer/songwriter was in fact shot and killed by a mate (who was subsequently convicted of murder). To be fair, though, the singer/songwriter had penned several tunes about offing himself, the most infamous being this Christmas song.

Per Bergersen has been a cult figure ever since the above debacle, with his one record of demos and live music—a charity release for the local small town youth club, limited to a thousand copies only and released in something like 1990—being quite the collector's item.

(And yes, he was from the coldest place in the country.)

Here's a quick and dirty translation, just so you get the picture:
Gonna shoot myself at Christmas, there'll be quite the spray
Don't you try and stop me, we all die anyway
I'll do it by the Christmas tree as soon as the bells chime
because I'd like to celebrate in a way that's mine

Granted, I can see why you think this idea is crap
but my head is empty, so you can shut your yap

The best part is imagining all the resulting mess
Hope those who come to clean it up will start to obsess
'Cause I'll be using a shotgun—instant lobotomy
and as my own added twist I'll shove it up in me

I aim to use both barrels, to see how far it goes
Think it will go to my head, let's see how far she blows

We'll decorate the Christmas tree with brain mush and with blood
A bit of piss, a couple of guts and spinal cord in a hood
Hope those who find the mess see something to appreciate
And if they don't, well, I guess it's a little too late
And here are some shakey junkies out of the capital performing their version of the song. It's not got the manic, venomous energy of the original, but I love the reactions they get from their fellow fiends:

18. «The Shadow of Doubt» (1987)

This group's singer is one of the finest rock lyricists out of Norway, but the band's music is uneven. This is an exception: Standard and forgettable «dying love» lyrics are set to dreamy drone rock of the first order, four years before Loveless. If you like the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Spiritualized, you'll love this.

19. «Pantheon» (1994)

This band started out as Norway's answer to Tool, but has ended up an unseemly mix between Nine Inch Nails and Scooter. Their lyrics were always a bit adolescent, the teenager's idea of profound—vague and grandiose imagery that gives the impression of saying something:
I see the white of the eye
I see the black in the soul
I see a temple 'tween the trees
I see a tower in many colours
And on it goes; you get the gist. But that's no reason to turn your nose up at the music, swirling, harmonious and atmospheric.

20. «Child of the Forgotten Race» (1961)

This track is a kind of field recording, made in 1961 by a Norwegian fiddler and silversmith who paid a 43 year old female «Traveller» (Norwegian Romani) in silver jewellery to sing for him in his house. The recordings languished for 39 years until someone finally released them. The singer was never a public figure or recording artist.

Romanis officially referred to as «Romanisæl» or «Tatere» arrived in Norway in the 1500s. Traditionally, they were nomads. They speak Scandoromani, although that's conspicuously absent from their recorded music, which is in «Svorsk»—a hybrid of Norwegian and Swedish. Much is made of their musical tradition, but recorded output generally limits itself to hymns, psalms and traditionals well-known in other countries and languages. (With an odd predilection for Christmas carols.) Relatively few are Romanisæl compositions. You will, however, find songs that distinguish themselves from Norwegian folk music, in that they're wailing, teeth gnashing, chest beating laments—a character trait that's kind of frowned upon in a Protestant culture that values stoicism and «not burdening» others with your shit.

There are no such coy reservations with the Romanisæl, who, to be fair, have had more to complain about. These days they're associated with the state persecution they were subjected to for decades: forced settlement, abortions, adoptions and displacement of children, lobotomy, etc. Coerced sterilisation was practised by the state from 1934 until 1977, and the Romanisæl have levelled accusations of ethnic cleansing. Scrutiny into records, however, shows that less than 0,3 per cent of men and women sterilised by the state—125 out of 44,000 people—were Romanisæl. Currently there are an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 living in Norway. (Settled Norwegians were also sterilised, lobotomised, etc., but as that motley crew of eccentrics, promiscuous women, the mentally disabled or ill, the destitute, orphans and the Lumpenproletariat don't belong to clearly defined groups, there's no one really to speak on their behalf. Victimisation belongs to the Sámi, Romanisæl and war children.)

This song a not a standard hymn, but a Romanisæl composition, taking the listener through the travails of Travellers—and a lot of other tribulations that have little or nothing to do with being Romanisæl. («The seducer came and I surrendered,» she sings.) There's love (lost), imprisonment, destitution, ostracisation, religion… all the ingredients to make a compelling story, sung in a relentless a cappella—an unyielding voice that saves the music from the self-pitying sentimentality otherwise indicated by the words.

Don't you admire someone who doesn't need a single instrument or visual aid to bolster or hide behind, just pouring it out there?

Awrightee, that's it for now. Toilet Guppies will be back with more Norwegian should-be classics in 2011. Dæffen sjteike!

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