REVIEW: Alterne – Alterne

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It is rather peculiar that a newly formed dream-folk act that sings in Danish opens their debut album with a song entitled “Finland” – and judging by the melancholic beauty of the song, I reckon it isn’t about drinking this time. We Finns do have a reputation, you know. The thing is, the up-and-coming folk outfit, ALTERNE, is releasing their exciting and ambitious, eponymous debut album via GO’ Danish Folk Music on April 19 th, 2024. In their own words, ALTERNE seek to unite traditional music with a modern feel, delving into timeless themes such as love, longing, memories, and the passage of time – the depths of the human experience – and the result is pretty haunting, I would say. Dream folk is a pretty accurate description of their signature sound. The album is indeed dreamy and infused with a good pinch of melancholy which is not particularly Slavic but rather more universal, resonating with the air of the atmospheric electronica of THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA, even, here and there.

The title of the opener probably derives from the fact that the trio – Ida Marie Jessen from Denmark, Belgian violinist Oscar Beerten, and Estonian accordionist Maimu Jõgeda – met at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland (and according to the band’s Facebook profile, they are set in Helsinki at the moment). Apart from the album closer, the lyrics are in Danish, so I’m not exactly sure about what Jessen sings. The song is a poignant, ambient folk hymn, something similar to Sylvaine‘s most recent endeavors, so I reckon this country must have made quite a positive impact. The atmospheric opener sets the tone for the whole outing; the modus operandi is about being light as a feather, so this is not perhaps the best music to put on unless you’re not going to really listen to it. I doubt this would work as mere background music, say, while driving down the highway.

What I like about this album especially is how it avoids recycling the most clichéd tropes of the folk genre. For instance, “Lad Mig Ligge Her Pt. 2” could be a trance song, basically, what with the accordion pulsing like a gated Roland JP-8000 chord sequence in a vintage club classic. The arpeggiated guitar sounds particularly delicious, resonating slightly with the air of the KITKALIITTO and Petteri Sariola collaboration track, “Traveler,” from way back.

That said, the album also has a good ounce of that tradition-savvy stuff. “Polsan,” for one, is a song that nods toward the folk sound of the decades long gone. Then, “Stille Hjerte” is quite similar, at face value, before things take off on a wild tangent toward downright prog folk, with a spirited violin solo and wicked licks in oddball meters. The most progressive banger is “Morgensolen” with its JETHRO TULL vibes.

My instant favorite track is “Alle Terner.” It is also the song that triggers THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA flashbacks the most, perhaps due to the arpeggiated guitar motif, which would fit quite neatly on their “Ma Fleur” album from 2007. Some of the violin licks and vocal phrasings give away that this is contemporary folk and not some fancy new coffee-table-electronica outfit. There are no electronic elements on this album, mind you, so these kinds of impressions stem from the general vibe rather than technical details.

The closer, “Go Down River” is the only song with English lyrics, suggesting that it might be a cover but I reckon it is not. About why the song is sung in English I haven’t got the faintest idea, but it works – it wraps up the selection rather nicely, both musically and lyrically. Released as a single ahead of the album, it is one of the strongest tracks, for sure. The musical colors of the accordion, the violin, and Jessen’s voice are the perfect match for each other – and not only on this track but on the album as a whole. The arrangements are worth mentioning, in particular, as they set a nice balance between the traditional and more contemporary flourishes. Even if European folk music is not exactly your go-to genre, I would strongly suggest checking this bunch out if atmospheric melancholy is anywhere close to your tonal preferences. Plus, according to the band’s Spotify stats, they only have 172 monthly listeners, which is a criminally low number, given the quality of their music.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Finland
  2. Alle Terner
  3. Morgensolen
  4. Det Haver Så Nyligen Regnet
  5. Lad Mig Ligge Her Pt. 1
  6. Lad Mig Ligge Her Pt. 2
  7. Polsan
  8. Stille Hjerte
  9. Go Down River

Lineup

Ida Marie Jessen – vocals, kantele

Oscar Beerten – violin, backing vocals, Hardanger fiddle, guitars

Maimu Jõgeda – accordion, stomp box

Label

GO’ Danish Folk Music

Links

https://www.facebook.com/people/Alterne/61554667012660/

https://www.instagram.com/alternemusic/