On title alone, this album’s scary. Travelling Ants Who Got Eaten By Moskus, the first full-length from Norway’s Low Frequency In Stereo, brings to mind confusing images of tiny insects and grotesque beasts, predator and prey in some unknown Nordic landscape. Approach with care then, but don’t run away.
Travelling Ants is an impressive mix of songs that runs the full sonic spectrum — layered ballads, revamped fifties juke-box burners, cool jazz, Brit-rock swagger — all without warning, all without missing a step. On first listen, it’s an eclectic collection, as unknown to most as the band’s homeland is: icy, directionless, a little foreign. The beauty of the album, however, is not in disparity. All the songs traffic in similar concepts, from the Brubeck jazz of “Element,” to ambience of “Karm,” to “Stargazer,” an ethereal wash of electric slide guitar and tinkling piano — it’s Mazzy Star meets Minus the Bear for the best prom song you never had. The music is half in the garage, half in the cosmos, and in between the songs manage to lodge inside your head. Think of it as mood music for someone who can’t make up his mind.
After the disappointing opener “Man Don’t Walk,” “Hi-Ace,” rocking a Dick Dale surf-vibe and sock-hop rhythm, and the greasy seventies funk of “Astro-Kopp” (already fulfilling its destiny as a movie-soundtrack classic in the Danish film Nordkraft), announce a band with wild ideas and stylistic shifts to burn. So the band established that it’s funky and a little retro. But what band would put a Beastie Boys funk instrumental (think the songs from 1996’s The In Sound From Way Out!), on the same album as “Limousine,” an Oasis-size guitar crush with fuzzed-out female screams? Low Frequency not only does it, but the album loses nothing in the leap.
If it takes a few listens to notice a pattern, it’s more than worth it. Low Frequency’s genius, the thread throughout, is its adept way of establishing a recognizable hook or mood using little to no vocals — singer/keyboard/sampler Hanne Andersen and bassist Per Steinar offer words only on rare occasion — and then extrapolating in whatever style they’ve chosen. The bass is thick and insistent, the drums are wide open, the guitars are everywhere. It’s a little Mogwai, a little Pink Floyd. It’s precise but loose, airy but heavy, and above all, it’s always holding a groove.
The real feat is that Low Frequency never seems to be faking it. The band conquers the minute and grandiose in equal measure, showing the awesome potential of a band with creativity, ambition and diverse influences, and confidence enough to mix them all together. Suddenly, the Norwegian landscape, as explained on Travelling Ants, makes sense: it’s certainly foreign, but with a band this good as ambassadors, it’s also far more interesting than the bland stuff ’round here.