Thomas Dybdahl | Science (Recall)

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qh_dybdahl.jpgIf Dybdahl isn't necessarily blinding you with Science, he sure is beckoning you with it, albeit in a shy, Nick Drake-ish manner.




Lovers of the delicate, listen up! This Thomas Dybdahl fellow sings in such a soft, fragile voice on his latest album Science, that you have to strain to hear what's emanating from his vocal chords at times. Dybdahl's been building a following in his native Norway for many years (even earning a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy), but not until 2006, with the release of One Day You Will Dance For Me, New York City, did most Americans get a chance to check out this emotive singer. Science, the follow-up, had a previous release, but has now been rereleased more widely on Recall.

And if Dybdahl isn't necessarily blinding you with Science, he sure is beckoning you with it, albeit in a shy, Nick Drake-ish manner. The ramshackle opening cut, "Something Real," doesn't necessarily signal greatness to follow, and Dybdahl's opening lyric, "I'm sorry that you put people to sleep," almost invites a critical zinger. Also, the spoken word intros for "How It Feels" and "Still My Body Aches" are a tad cloying. "Once upon a time I was feeling fine/ I was in my youth's prime and there was nothing I could do but/ Hang loose and let the world take me places I had never seen," whispers Dybdahl on the latter tune, after which he recites that title in a near-wimper, several times. It's enough to make your own body ache.

Fortunately, the album picks up in a big way after that. "No One Would Ever Know" is a genuinely pretty ballad graced with deft guitar chording and gorgeous strings. And "Dice"—a duet with female singer Silje Salomonsen (from unsigned band Attention Now!)—is utterly exquisite, with a level of melodic bliss that you're not expecting after those opening cuts. You'll be singing along on the chorus of "But I am only once not twice/ At the mercy of dice" before you know it.

The album stays pretty solid musically after that, although eccentric even by Scandinavian standards. The lush orchestration that opens "Always" sets up an expectation of a "Long and Winding Road"-style ballad, before Dybdahl zings you in your sonic psyche with a strange, low-pitched vocal that sounds like something off a Ween CD. "u" and "This Year" are smooth, R&B-flavored croonfests, the former featuring some nice falsetto and the latter generating a curious retro vibe with David Wallumrod's sensual Hammond organ. "Maury the Pawn" and "B a Part" are also terrific tunes. You get some CSN-style harmonies, pump organ, pedal steel guitar and a delightfully odd arrangement on "Part" that's vintage Nordic musicality.

There's something rather schizophrenic about this album, and yet it's strangely compelling—you can't get it out of your mind, even though some of it's too nakedly emotional for comfort. But Dybdahl's got the songwriting and arranging goods, and he's concocted enough of a winning formula on Science to be of interest to fans of male singers proudly expressing their feminine side. B | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Tim Buckley, Damien Rice, M Ward

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