Drama is an apt title for the second album from Norwegian pop outfit Hajk, the follow-up to their Spelleman Prize nominated self-titled debut – at least, interpersonal melodrama in a lyrical sense.
Sonically, the band have undergone a stylistic change in the two years since the release of the album which brought them praise from peers like Sigrid and Kimbra and an eager indie blogosphere. Their blend of organic, introspective indie pop now takes cues from smooth R’n’B; awash with polished synth, mid-fi processed beats, vocoded harmonies, and brass.
Vocalist Sigrid Aese’s syrupy sweet tones on ‘Get It Right’ shine over laidback grooves and sparkling, bubbly keys, which all carry over into the optimistic, carefree electro-pop of ‘Dancing Like This’. Here, she yearns to “let go and not look back, and catch up later”. While an irresistibly catchy number, lyrically it’s chock full of clichés.
Sadly this is a bit of a trope permeating Drama. Ballad-cum-interlude ‘Sorry’ is minimal, moody and ambient but the clumsy rhyme couplets are hard to look past. “I didn’t know right from wrong, now you’re in a song… didn’t mean to make you cry, guess this is goodbye”. Cute (!)
‘Time to Forget’ is an easy choice for an album highlight. Preben Saelid Andersen’s vocals are soulful and backed with gorgeous harmonies. The song best showcases the band’s sense of dynamics. Carried by simplistic drumming, instruments are peeled back at quieter moments with precision. This allows for a swelling synth that underpins the chorus, filling the spaces created by the minimalism from elsewhere beautifully.
However, despite the aural treats, the record does sound overcooked at times. The drums often sound compressed and treated. The filtered vocals and synthetic brass and swells of sound, especially on ‘Breathe’, distract from what could otherwise pack an emotionally powerful punch. If Hajk are trying to posit themselves as the latest prodigies of the long standing trend of Scandinavian pop chameleons, it must be said that they haven’t quite cracked it yet.
Drama is by no means a bad record. There are plenty of hooks and pretty sounds to keep the average listener invested. However its reach exceeds its grasp. At times it seems that the performance is losing a battle with the tight control of those producing it. Hajk hold back in moments where they should let go. There is a wealth of potential in this collection of songs, but not as much fun or relatability that this potential suggests.