With the second blizzard swirling around Central Maine in exactly a month, I was reminded of a song by a Norwegian band whose history with me is kinda like the excellent HBO series, SIX FEET UNDER. I’ll explain. I didn’t mean for it to happen the way it did, but I started watching SIX FEET UNDER in 2005, its fifth and final season. I saw the brilliant finale before watching the first four seasons.
My association with the band Bel Canto started similarly, finding out about them in 1993, seven years after they formed in Tromsø, Norway (considered the northernmost city in the world with a population of more than 50,000).
In 1993, I was living in the Western Maine college town of Farmington (where I attended my second round of college), and I was working as a rep for this awful company that handled the inventory of music and video for stores like Wal-Mart and other discount department stores of the time, including long-closed stores like Ames (gone in 2002) and Bradlees (2001). It was the worst job I ever had.
I thought with the rep job involving music and video, it would be alright. I could work by myself, and I would get a company car and maybe some free stuff, but it never happened like that, and the car never happened. My job basically consisted of me dressing up and standing up or kneeling down all day to scan bar codes of what was sold and what was not, to put up cardboard displays which apparently had a thing against me, and to work with bullshit managers of the stores who didn’t want us outsiders there (one day, while dressed up, I wore a button that said, “I wonder what your head would look like on a stick.” It’s alright – he was an asshole.)
It was also a salaried job, so with some locations, I was there a good 13 hours a day. Fuckers. Well, I was done with the job in maybe four months; my choice, though one retailer was admittedly not impressed with me or my work, which got back to my boss. How can you do your best at a job that sucks to begin with?
Anyway, the piece-of-shit used car I had at the time only had a radio, no tape deck (which was still a thing in 1993). So, I had to rely on the radio for music to and from my daily service routes. And, Maine radio compounded with the music that was out in 1993 wasn’t pressing my car radio buttons, if you know what I mean. But, a year before I discovered (and later became involved with) WMPG community radio, I found this radio station out of Portland called WCLZ (their current slogan is, “different is good”). To me, WCLZ was like an alt-commercial station, or more community than commercial.
Long story longer, on some of my service route trips, WCLZ played this song, which was infectious and beautiful and ethereal, and it always use to bug the piss out of me when they wouldn’t back-announce it so I could figure out what it was! Well, one day, the streak was broken, and they DID back-announce the song and the band – “Unicorn” by Bel Canto.
After that, it didn’t take long for me to pick up the CD with “Unicorn” on it – SHIMMERING, WARM AND BRIGHT, released in 1992. Bel Canto (which means “beautiful singing” or “beautiful song” in Italian) has been oft-compared to the also-ethereal Cocteau Twins, but I think Bel Canto can be a bit more diverse with their music. Vocalist Anneli Drecker and multi-instrumentalist Nils Johansen truly compliment each other with their music, and on this album, they have songs in English, French and German and then some. It’s still one of my all-time favorite albums.
Over time, I learned more about Bel Canto, and started purchasing more of their music, like 1996’s MAGIC BOX (which was a brave and different move for them musically), and, after my STUCK IN THE 80s show started on WMPG in 1996, I eventually found out Bel Canto released two albums in the 80s – 1989’s BIRDS OF PASSAGE and 1987’s WHITE-OUT CONDITIONS.
On their debut album, WHITE-OUT CONDITIONS, Bel Canto (then a trio, with Geir Jenssen on synthesizer) sounded like a dark, New-Agey, New Wavey, Dreampop band, not like the World music sound they incorporated on their 90s albums. But, it was all really great, Anneli Decker’s vocals were (like on all their albums) gorgeous and stunning, and quite different from the music I DID listen to in 1987.
The dark title track to WHITE-OUT CONDITIONS has a hint of The Cure and maybe Bauhaus, especially at the song’s starting point. And, tonight, as the winds whip the snow around with great force in the light of the last Tuesday night before Spring, I thought this song was appropriate to share today (er, tonight)…
“In the light of my fire / I see footsteps in snow / In white-out conditions / My eyes have no view / In the light of my fire / I see grey sticks in snow / In white-out conditions / There’s no trace of the track at all… A peak is blazed with the light from the moon / And there is no view in darkness / I search for the moonlight…”