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Stina Nordenstam: The World Is Saved (2004)

September 2, 2011

stina nordemstam world is savedRoll: 3-6-10
Album: Stina Nordenstam, The World Is Saved

Swedish songstress Stina Nordenstam has a voice that’s been described as being like “an icicle melting through butter.” Or something to that effect. Even if I’m remembering it wrong, the description is apt. Her voice has the sharp, chilly fragility of an ice crystal, yet is somehow comforting like being submersed in a duvet. The former quality due to some sneaky EQ in the studio and the latter by her innate beguilingly coquettish delivery.

Well, her music is comforting, that is, if you’re comforted by being buried under an avalanche of insurmountable misery. Even her most upbeat songs are chock-a-block with couplets of debilitating pathos such as “Men claim the right of living/So you became an expert on dying” and “Why is there love/Why is there all this pain” (from “Lori Glory“, This is Stina Nordemstam, 2002).

Misery and pathos is how I came to Stina Nordenstam’s music. At first it was her sophomore album, And She Closed Her Eyes (1994), that appealed to my general appreciation for dour, dismal romanticism (she’s suitably covered Leonard Cohen songs a few times). As dismal she may have already been at that point, she hadn’t yet succumbed to the truly dire bleakness that would prevade her work from her nearly impenetrable Dynamite (1996) onward.

But what really cemented Stina as my go-to-girl for wallowing in self-pity was the slightly more gentle song “Soon After Christmas” from her 1991 debut, Memories of a Colour. It seemed that a few years ago I was perennially being disappointed in matters of the heart shortly before or after the holidays. Whenever the situation arose I would put this song on repeat as the balm for my wounded heart.

I’ve called you now a thousand times
I think I know now
You’re not home
I’ve said your name a thousand times
To be prepared if you’d be there

I wanted so to have you
And I wanted you to know
I wanted to write songs
About how we’re walking in the snow

You’ve got me slightly disappointed
Just a bit and just enough
To keep me up another night
Waiting for another day

The city’s taking a day off
The streets are empty
No one’s out tonight
My life is in another’s hands

I wanted so to have you
And I wanted you to know
I wanted to write songs
About how we’re walking in the snow

But there’s no snow this winter
there’s no words for what I feel for you
It’s not enough
Though it’s too much
Why must it always be like that?

The TV screen is lighting up my room
The film has ended
Every inch of my skin is crying for your hands

And I wanted so…

You’ve got me slightly disappointed
Just a bit and just enough
To keep me up another night
Waiting for another day

Sometimes this would happen thrice in a season. Soon after Christmas of 2006 I confided in a friend about being disappointed—just a bit and just enough to keep me up another night—by a woman I’d been courting up until the beginning of December. Hanging out with her helped me take the song off repeat during long, weepy shifts at my job doing layout for a hydroponics magazine. Of course, I then proceeded to fall in love with her own understanding and supportive heart which lead to the song being placed back on repeat for the remainder of January. The ridiculousness of this situation is not lost on me in hindsight.

My romantic life up to (and including) that point was truly ridiculous. I came to realize this and “Failing To Fly” (an eerie, ethereal wisp of a “bonus” track available on most versions of The World Is Saved) became my mantra for the new year.

Failing to fly, it’s what I do
I’m doing fine, no worse than you
Failing to lie, it’s what I do

Can’t help being true

Failing to die for one more day
Failing to give it all away
I guess I’m used to breathing out
To laughing out loud

Failing to trade my soul for the keys
Failing to trust authorities
I’m without power, the way they see it
But I’m not on my knees

Failing to melt in with the rest
I never passed the normality test
And out of all my failures in life
I like that the best

Again, the ridiculousness of this situation is not lost on me in hindsight. Though I can see that I was clearly at an existential turning point—an adolescent crisis come 15 years too late—it’s hard for me to reconcile the person I am now with the mopey recluse I spent the next six months being. But I’d had it with failing to fly, not just in love but in life. Though I’d always being a staunch non-conformist, I realized I’d always been trying to pass the normality test. Somewhere in this period, I put the pencil down and walked out of the room leaving the exam unfinished. And, ironically, started acting more normal.

I also left town.

As has Nordenstam, it seems. Since The World Is Saved in 2004, she hasn’t released anything (barring numerous vocal cameos in 2006). Having “Failing To Fly” cap off the album suggests she’s retired. It has the feeling of her saying, “That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’m out of here.”

In fact, the whole album sounds a bit like a goodbye letter— to a lover or perhaps to the world. This isn’t so much tear-in-your-beer music as it is arterial-blood-in-the-bathwater music. Though all the more darkly beautiful for the unrelentingly bleak but frighteningly delicate frost obscuring any glimmer of hope, it’s easy to see why the album didn’t catch on with mainstream audiences. Or any audience outside of Nordenstam’s loyal following.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a magnum opus and, as with any of Nordenstam’s criminally overlooked catalogue, is worth the price of admission. There might be better places to start with her oeuvre (Memories of a Colour, And She Closed Her Eyes, This is…), but The World Is Saved is a meticulously crafted pop-noir album in its own right. Given the right frame of mind, it’s close to perfect. Think of this as a Songs of Love and Hate or Blue for the 21st century.

Only not as bubbly and effervescent as either of those titles. Actually, for a collection of songs titled The World Is Saved, the tone is downright apocalyptic. I’ll leave you with a few choice snippets:

Get on with your life

All over the world they get out of bed
Love dies every second
I can’t get this creature out of my way
Killing it is not an option

‘Til the battery dies
Get on with your life

Winter Killing

You say winter’s killing you
That you can’t stand the season
It has no smell or flavor
I left the city for you
There was no other reason
I did your wife a favour

You’re safer with me here
And you there

Staring out the world

Indifferent she looks back
There isn’t much to see
A wound about to heal
And about to bleed
I still have blood enough to stand
Blood enough to keep
Staring out the world

A bullet dancing in my brain
Could end it any day now
Oh I’ll break in that scene
I’ll lift it on my own

Without a stop in raining
Without a shift in daylight
It could be any day now

From Cayman Islands With Love

I bought the postcard
Now I have to write the words
I left the country
There’s a chance you may have heard

I want to see you
Even want to see you bleed
I can’t believe I paid for this
There’s nothing here I need

Grand Cayman is great
Of course it is
Weather like this

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