The simple life” is Norwegian pop pixie Magnet’s fourth solo album. Released this week in Norway, it has given cause for animation and heartfelt praise.
Magnet, aka Even Johansen, is a reclusive character. He lives his simple life on a little farm on an island outside Bergen. There he has his studio and there he makes his records, doing almost everything himself. At least that has been the formula thus far. His previous records have been masterfully nuanced and meticulous pieces of music. Few people pay more attention to detail and the subtlety of production than Magnet. Operating in the twilight of folk pop and electronic escapism his music has been hailed especially for its dreamy and slow transcendent qualities. It is a complex one-man edifice where intense beauty and elusiveness is merged with playful, naive influxes and some truly original traits. His songs are like a velvety maze of sounds and phrases and melodies with his close-absent, gentle voice as a guide. Electronic elements coupled with acoustic instruments played by Magnet himself has been the trademark –reminiscent of an anaesthetised Beck- and the interlacing is laid out in layer upon layer of careful handicraft, like intricately embroidered pieces of warming cloth. Melody and dream and the mastery of juxtaposing the nearness of sound –and the pure timbre of acoustics- with the opposite property; elements falling away, dreaming and disappearing, -these are Magnets assets, earning him comparisons with a plethora of shimmering names, from Gram Parsons to Air. Magnet’s records are “inner” kind of entities; both in creation and for the recipient: music permeating the listener in a situation of distance to the friction of exteriority.
But on The simple life something new has happened: Much of the electronic elements and the studio wizardry is gone. Magnet says he has found a new approach, or refund a more basic one, as it were: “It is like a brand new Magnet,” says Even: “It is an all acoustic recording this time, with strings and brass and unusual arrangements for this day and age. It kind of feels like a new soul record form somewhere where they’ve just found their soul.”
For those who know Magnet’s music this probably makes sense, for no-one is in doubt that his music is a matter of the soul, and a newly found soul would, perhaps, have to be played acoustically and in some kind of immediate relationship with sound and the basic wellsprings of music.
Magnet has already long since won a global name, not in terms of massive sales and mainstream fame, but rather as an exclusive, and select artist whose unique music makes its appearance in tacit, special and intelligent ways. It has featured in TV-series and Hollywood films –his version of Dylan’s Lay lady lay, appeared in Mr and Mrs Smith- and it reaches out by force of its captivating, transparent soul, rather than by trailing a name and fame. Magnet is a musicians’ musician, his name is a lot more familiar in the influential spheres of music than among the masses. Luckily the former have great impact, and it is thus that Magnet is a name among pop cognoscenti around the world. In Norway the appeal is more general because Magnet is an artist whose songs are simply shimmering pieces of creation that attracts a lot of attention and admiration and love as soon as people become aware of it, and in Norway we are.
The simple life has reaped warm reviews commending Even Johansen’s quite unique sense of writing pop songs that oscillate between melancholy and wit, and between distance and utter nearness in ways that seem to cater to so many people’s conceptions of what the soundtrack to what Magnet calls “the sad and beautiful world,” should be like.