The Quietus at Thea Hjelmeland
With her platinum blonde hair and white silk dress, Thea Hjelmeland looks like a ghost before the altar of this church. Certainly her voice could raise the dead: there are hints of eastern promise in her huge range, with occasional recollections of Jenny Hval in the upper reaches of her unusual delivery, and a intense, breathy rasp to its lower reaches. Accompanied by a solitary, wonderfully versatile gentleman on zither, percussion and much, much more, she herself focuses on guitar and what may even be a lute, her songs folksy but far more haunting and vivid than this suggests. She’s a formidable presence too: when her audience greets the end of one song with a stunned silence, she looks like she’s about to admonish us for our lack of gratitude. She’d be right, except that no one here intends to do anything but applaud with the same vigour she injects into her work, and when she steps out into the aisle for an un-amplified song, there’s a reverence most priests would murder for. If this is what music sounds like in Sognefjorden, it’s time to head west.