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Fra Lippo Lippi
Rune Arkiv

Housing it in strapping cardboard spotted with the album's original artwork, Rune Arkiv gives the renowned Norwegian duo Fra Lippo Lippi's most admired album a second life. After Small Mercies, which communicated a relentlessly sad, even morose outlook on human relationships through funereal percussion, dour, sluggish basslines and baleful moans, Songs saw the pair open the blinds a crack, whereupon beams of sunny synthesizers and wet rain-beads of piano streaked through their room, drawing slowly revolving, tranquil shapes on the walls. While their music and Per Oystein Sorensen's words still harbored the mark of certain past misgivings, they discovered that these emotions do not exhaust a person entirely, that there is much else to be concerned with. Their sound now bore these marks as well, sounding no longer primitively one-dimensional, but more varied, open, and, in this sense, honest.

The album's pristine, chiming piano, breezy, clustered synth tones, saccharine saxophone interludes, and Sorensen's deep, melodious tenor remind one very quickly that this work stems from the '80s. That generation's infatuation with new wave and synth-pop, despite such particular permutations as the Postal Service sprouting through the soil now and again, has lost much of its force at this point; Sorensen's lyrics, however, seem often to touch upon moods of a person stuck between two cultures, of someone who had lost sight of a standard, and here Fra Lippo Lippi prove relevant still.

On "Leaving," one of the album's more calm, meditative compositions — and a precursor to latter day Talk Talk — all of this is made most clear. Beside a mournful church organ, Sorensen intones, "She stands alone by the blossom tree/ Letting her thoughts to the wind/ Is it a loss or a victory/ Giving up love to be free?" Synthesizers float portentously on top of sparse piano chords like masses of grey cloud and tremulous chimes trickle down upon Sorensen as he narrates: "She walks the path by the old canal/ Follows it down to the sea/ A million thoughts come and go/ Breaking her heart in two."

The reflective mood is furthered on album closer "Coming Home," as stately piano arpeggios emit pensive, elegiac shades against a bare sky where, in a hymnal tone, Sorensen ruminates, "Now I start to realize/ It's not too late for new beginnings/ All the colors gather here/ As if to wave the sun goodbye/ And all the winds are blowing here/ Just to make me wonder why/ I'm coming home/ I'm going back to where I belong."

Even if taken out of context, Songs, taken as a whole, isn't completely defined or limited by its original time, and for this reason, remains capable of stirring emotion today.

by Max Schaefer

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