Moddi @ The Wilmington Arms, London 13.02.11

Last year, as Bearded made it’s way through the fairy light strung trees and animal masks adorning their trunks, we chanced upon an impromptu performance in a mock living room nestled in the heart of enchanted woodland at Dorset's End of the Road festival.

Feb 13th, 2011 at The Wilmington Arms, London / By Melanie McGovern
Moddi The performer occupying this space was Moddi, and all that illuminated the faces of himself and his two accompanists were a couple of candles and, on occasion, the flash of a camera that dared to interrupt such a beauteous scene. There was something unique in his style of Scandinavian folk; his delicate cover of Joanna Newsom's 'Bridges and Balloons', the musical saw he employed and the reed brushes aiding percussion.

With his debut album Floriography set for release in April, following a string of EPs and an intimate but increasing following, the Norway native’s brand of ambient folk teeters on the edge of comfort and despair, sharing a similar oscillation between the Nordic climes’ months of darkness and of light as the soul does between happiness and sadness. The nine-track LP has been produced by Iceland’s Bedroom Community collective composer Valgeir Sigurdsson, and so for those familiar it may point to the kind of experimental peppering Moddi dusts over traditional folk sounds.

Performing at The Wilmington Arms on Sunday evening Pål Moddi Knutsen announced he was pleased to find crowds growing each time he returns to England. "The first time it was four people and now it is about twenty" he beamed to the attentive crowd gathered around tables and flickering tea lights. Amongst a set of six songs, he and his accompanist waltzed through weary accordion tracks that bookended the performance, on to intricately picked guitar folk songs of an often harrowing intensity: One in particular Moddi mentioned was about "Dependency do you call it....addiction?" and with snarling vocals, denying his boyish, youthful looks, he projected forth the confrontational lyrics, "My brain tells me you’re dangerous and my belly says you’re just too hard to find."

There is a delicacy too however, and a certain childlike enthusiasm both himself and his cellist/vocalist possess. Their interaction is subtly excited, and the stark juxtaposition of their contrasting vocals works beautifully: Moddi's a yelping, at times colloquial hybrid between his Norwegian accent and that of an Englishman, while at other moments his voice is gruff and shakes with an internalised emotion that reminds one of an early Bright Eyes. His female counterpart's vocals conversely convey a sweet girlish innocence, which add a quizzical naivety to songs about addiction and escape.

If there is a defining quality to the sounds produced it is the manipulation of volume; the louds and quiets that punctuate the set, the sighing of the accordion between pushes and pulls and the gasping of the vocalist between each thought shared. On piano ballad 'Moonchild', which Knutsen aptly dedicated to "Small people in large cities", the sombre tone was made all the more haunting by the creak of its pedals beneath the weight of the song, as melodic cello accompaniments wound their way around the tinkering keys and words of mourning.

As with Norwegian folklore the elfin troubadour's lyricisms find themselves steeped in the imagery of childhood stories and the isolated landscapes of the island Senja, off the coast of Norway, on which Moddi grew up. He toys with pathetic fallacy and denotes human qualities to the inanimate to breathe life into the often macabre scenes of nature he presents. But ultimately at the heart of these tales of lament there is something very accessible in their unguarded nature; the way our performer talks freely to the audience, jokingly and intelligently, chastising the lack of raised hands in the audience when asked if there were any philosophy scholars amongst us: "Do yourselves a favour."

The closing lyrics of ‘7!’ suggest “What’s left of the day will eventually come down as rain”, and coming from the regions he does it is of no surprise emotion and environment are so closely bound in his work. Too on a dreary, grey London afternoon we can certainly agree with the observations of this wonderfully honest performer.

Moddi plays a further two shows at the Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell on 28th and 29th March 2011.