By Lottie Brazier
Listening to Oslo-based Pom Poko for the first time was like a trip back to my teenage years. Growing up inspired by bands like Polvo, Deerhoof and Built to Spill, but also the high octane pace of hardcore punk, I was excited to find that Pom Poko capture that same energy. What makes Pom Poko stand out, however, is the way in which they bring a surreal wit to their lyrics, as well as their music. Named after the Studio Ghibli film, Pom Poko’s whole palette has an almost cartoonish, collaged sense of time and pace. Like the shape-shifting raccoons of their namesake, Pom Poko have a devilish sense of humour and surprise you with outrageously creative ideas. The band name itself was an off-the-cuff moment of inspiration, arising from a Wikipedia search just after the band formed and were already set to play at a festival.
The way that Pom Poko play off light and shade, heavy and jangly, quiet and loud also harks back to the Pixies and The Breeders, who used contrasts to create inner tension. Here it is reversed, with Pom Poko going for mega choruses and quieter verses; somewhat more traditional you might think. But the Norwegian band are never too obvious. Pom Poko also shows that you can create an infectious hook that bears little resemblance to contemporary pop production values by developing their own fresh and exciting mode. Their catchiness is raw – hard edged too – but their aggression always errs on the side of playful. Pom Poko are smart; silly smart.
It’s refreshing to hear a band take a traditional set-up and elevate it into the realms of something completely unique. Their acute sense of timing, and ear for the unusual is perhaps the result of the band’s music school origins. Songs like ‘My Candidacy’ fall over themselves, with singer Ragnhild Fangel weaving more intricate melodies inside the space created by the guitar and drum setup. The vocal melodies lift off from guitar riffs, as if answering them in a hectic call-and-response. It’s incredible to think that the band write many of their songs in an improvisational way; a real testament to how in-sync with each other these players are.
You can find much of this dynamism in their live shows: the band leaping around the stage while still miraculously staying virtuoso. Take, for instance, tracks such as ‘Like a Lady’ off their release this year ‘Cheater’, with the song’s title stuttered over a patchwork of guitar riffs, some heavy, some jangly. Pom Poko have a remarkable mix of stamina and skill. Expect (if you can even expect this kind of thing) face-melting solos, singer Ragnhild Fangel’s vocals performing acrobatics, not unlike Bjork’s in The Sugarcubes. whether you can understand her cryptic words, there’s liberation behind her delivery.
The Norwegian band have grown since their debut album, Birthday. It would be wrong to describe Pom Poko as any more polished or slick, however, their ability to craft memorable melodies is clearly going from strength to strength. Their new work is slightly less grungy and fuzz pedal reliant, instead now opting for woozy, and sparkling chorus tones. At times it may be unclear that Pom Poko is a traditional, guitar headed band, but if nothing else that is testament to their ability to flip the expected on its head.
This article was published with the support of Liveurope.
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