Deriving their name from one of the more unusual films ever released by Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, Pom Poko is a rising Norwegian act — Ragnhild Fangel (vocals), Martin Miguel Tonne (guitar), Jonas Krøvel (bass) and Ola Djupvik (drums) — that can trace their origins back to 2016 when the members of the band met while they were studying jazz at Trondheim Music Conservatory, And as the story goes, the members of the rising Norwegian quartet bonded over their mutual desire to play punk rock at a literature festival, rather than jazz.
Individually, the members of Pom Poko have publicly cited a wide and eclectic array of influences including Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Touré, Vulfpeck, Palm, KNOWER, Hella, Death Grips, Jenny Hval and Nick Drake among others. Interestingly, the rising Norwegian act has firmly established a sound and approach that defies easy description or categorization. “We’ve all done lots of improvised music in the past, and I think that shapes the way we play, even though the tunes are not improvised,” the band explained in press notes. “We like when new and strange things happen in an old song, and that music can change over time by being played live, because that removes predictability and the ‘recipe’ that some genres of music have.”
Last year’s full-length debut Birthday was released to praise from Interview Magazine, The Line of Best Fit, The Independent, Clash Magazine, DIY Magazine and NME, who picked Pom Poko as one of the acts to watch out for in 2019. Adding to a growing national and international profile, the album received airplay on BBC Radio 6, as well as Norwegian Grammy (Spellemannprisen) Award and Nordic Music Prize nominations.
Building upon the growing momentum of the past year or so, the rising Norwegian quartet’s Marcus Forsgren-produced sophomore album Cheater is slated for a January 15, 2021 release through Bella Union Records. Written during a rather prolific and busy period that saw them release a one-off singles “Leg Day” and “Praise,” Cheater reportedly finds the band further developing the sound that has won them national and international acclaim. But the major difference between Birthday and Cheater is that the latter’s material wasn’t road-tested before they went into the studio to record it. ”That meant we had to practice the songs in a more serious way, but it also meant the songs had more potential to change when we recorded them since we didn’t have such a clear image of what each song should/could be as the last time,” Pom Poko’s Ragnhild Fangel explains.
“I think it’s very accurate to say that we wanted to embrace our extremes a bit more. In the production process, I think we aimed more for some sort of contrast between the meticulously written and arranged songs and a more chaotic execution and recording but also let ourselves explore the less frantic part of the Pom Poko universe,” Fangel says of the differences between Birthday and Cheater. “I think both in the more extreme and painful way, and in the sweet and lovely way, this album is kind of amplified.”
Earlier this year, I wrote about breakneck album single “My Candidacy.” Centered around the classic grunge rock song structure of alternating saccharine quiet verses and arena rock choruses, “My Candidacy,” evokes the urgently swooning rush of new love. According to the band “the song itself is about the wish to be able to believe in unconditional love, even though you know that there probably is no such thing. We, at least, believe in unconditional love for riffy tunes with sing-song choruses.”
Cheater’s latest single “Like A Lady” continues a run of infectious, grunge-like material featuring saccharine verses delivered with a brash coquettishness paired with blistering, power chord-driven, mosh pit friendly choruses. Interestingly, the song finds the band balancing mischievous levity with a brooding and probing seriousness.
“’Like A Lady’ was one of the first songs we wrote for the album – we started writing it in a cabin near Oslo and finished it in Piemonte in Italy, where we also started recording it,” the members of Pom Poko explain in press notes. “The whole song actually started with a long, jam-like sort of noise-rock intro, but when it was time to record it our friend/engineer/co-producer Marcus Forsgren suggested more of a Breeders/grungy intro that we just went with on the fly. The lyrics for the song slowly grew out from just jamming together, and are about what makes, or what one thinks makes, a woman, what even being a woman means, and it’s also a kind of tribute to all the different ways of being a woman that are out there.”
Directed by Marin Håskjold, the recently released video for “Like A Lady” stars Desiree Bøgh Vaksdal, Lærke Grøntved, Josephine Kylén Collins, Ann-Christin Kongsness and the members of Pom Poko subverting gender roles and rules in a way that points out their utter ridiculousness — and how gender roles deny one’s individuality.