Bendik is one of our favorite Norwegian artists, first coming into our attention with her song “Aldri”, featured in the 2012 film “Flukt (Escape)”, which starred Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Westworld) in a captivating villainous turn. “Aldri” was a stunning composition, a combination of rock and electronic, with shifts in rhythm, a killer electric bass and a soaring voice that oscillated between soothing chants, rich harmonies and choruses with perfect (and we mean PERFECT) enunciation.
Further on, “Jeg tror det blir bra igjen”, perhaps our favorite Bendik song ever, solidified her status as a great composer, with arpeggiated synths, a surprising vocal delivery and beautiful chorus. The repetition of the lyrics “Det er de nettene/ Hjertet mitt slutter å slå, og skriker/ Men jeg vil, jeg vil ikke kjenne” (roughly translated as “It’s those nights/ My heart stop beating and screams/ But I don’t want, don’t want to feel”) over a crescendo combination of synths, drums and vocal harmonies is extremely potent, and the song has a massive replayable factor.
In 2020, Bendik launched Sove (Sleep), an album which had explosive, as well as intimate moments and which saw the artist experimenting with a more orchestral production level. Our favorite off Sove is “Du vil ha alt”, because it has all the above-mentioned qualities we adore in a Bendik song, the chorus filling the listener with wonder and warmth, its simple beat perfectly sequencing the song’s emotion.
The chilling video for “Sove/Ventetid (Sleep / Waiting Time)”, directed by Emilie Beck, expands Sove’s title track with a soaring, thumping electronic portion and a coda, depicting through interpretive dance a woman’s thoughts after being sexually assaulted by her best friend, who was later sentenced to prison in a case that allegedly took 754 days to be resolved.
In 2022 Bendik returned with Liv, a much more electronic and synth-leaning album, using staples like vocoders and pitched-down vocals, but retaining the rich vocal harmonies and arpeggiated synth portions. Liv feels massive in both scale and execution, but falls just short of the Bendik masterpiece everyone was waiting for after Sove. The smooth saw synth of “Noen går først” and its thumping bass make it the first highlight, but the listener is in for a lot more surprises.
The third track, “Her hos deg” is the most Highasakite-sounding Bendik tune we’ve ever heard, with a suitably catchy chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place in Ingrid Helene Håvik’s arsenal. “Pusten” (“Breathe”) provides a more pastoral and religious-like experience (Bendik’s songs always did have a slight gospel feel to them, perhaps because of the vocal harmonies and textures), with a crescendo of angelic vocals being joined by a warm guitar and soft pad.
For those who know even a bit of Swedish or Norwegian or have seen a Joachim Trier film or two, it will be immediately obvious what “Leve evig” means. The comedown from Pusten’s thick magical clouds, “Live forever” is perhaps the album’s grand statement, making it seem like it’s bound for a finish made out of a horn portion and Halsesten’s perfect enunciation, only to go in an industrial direction and properly explode. That explosion is a bit too short, but on its own “Leve evig” is one of Liv’s best moments, its truly climactic one.
The fallout from “Leve Evig” makes its way into the title track, “Liv”, a quiet violin and cello instrumental song which provides a moment of respite before launching into an orchestral ending. “Ro” skillfully takes some of the motifs and instruments heard before and distills Liv’s entire sound into a soaring rave chant which only lacks drums to be a complete masterpiece. Offbeat and off-rhythm textures come in opposition to the song’s simple, rising-wave structure – someone, make a 5 minute EDM remix to this song, PLEASE.
“En del av meg” is the fourth such crescendo in a row (“crescendo” is definitely the album’s M.O), perhaps the most potent one if taken separately, like a wilderness song that feels cleverly cinematic. However, once again there’s the lack of a proper, huge release of energy, the song opting for a more emotional “violin exit” (by now we’re positively screaming: drums, please, drums, all of this would be perfect with a drum finish and probably more bass!)
“Føles sånn her” finally heeds our demands, a synth-pop anthem that has both the percussion and the bass, but just doesn’t feel like a Bendik song, or as strong as “En del av meg”, which is the one track which would have benefited from this treatment. It’s Bendik going in a more conventional direction – perfectly fine as a potential single, but it nearly makes one regret the album not being able to capitalize on the momentum of the previous three tracks.
“Niels” is a short recorded conversation which immediately launches into the album’s closing tune, “Hymnen”, a recap of “Leve Evig” and “Ro” accompanied by a piano and celestial vocals. Liv certainly ends in style – more accurately put, in a manner similar to Imogen Heap’s by now classic vocal stylings made popular by “Hide and Seek” and “Headlock”.
Overall, “Liv” sort of feels like it fumbles when it comes to a proper release of energy, almost failing to provide that one crazy-freaky-memorable tune that is a near-requirement for any (non-ambient) electronic album. There is “Noen går først”, and that will have to do, because it’s the best danceable tune from the album. The tryptich of “Leve Evig”, “Liv” and “Ro” make it suitable for a massive video containing all three songs, or an EDM remix, and together they make up the album’s strongest moment. “Pusten” and “Hymnen” take the album in an almost pastoral, Romantic direction, and it’s clear that instead of opting for a more industrial, percussion and bass-heavy feel, Bendik wanted this to be more of a soundtrack album. A soundtrack to life, “Liv” practically begs to be remixed and sees Bendik opting for a production style which we feel can be explored even further. If this will be your first Bendik album, you might just adore it, but it definitely lacks some of the magic and energy of her previous releases.
Album highlights: “Noen går først”, “Pusten”, “Leve evig” + “Liv” +”Ro”, “En del av meg”
Most remixable songs: Ro, En del av meg
(3.75 out of 5 stars)
Featured image is “The Mountain Range ‘Trolltindene” by Peder Balke.
Reading material: The Beauty Of Romantic Scandinavia