Northern Portrait - Criminal Art Lovers

matcd054  /  January 2010
Northern Portrait - Criminal Art Lovers
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Northern Portrait - Criminal Art Lovers

matcd054  /  January 2010

Highly anticipated debut album from distinguished Danish band Northern Portrait! Following the very well received ‘Fallen Aristocracy’ and ‘Napoleon Sweetheart’ EPs in 2008, the band spent most of 2009 refining its live set with shows in the UK, Denmark, Germany and USA including performances at the prestigious San Francisco Popfest and Indietracks Festival. These shows also provided an opportunity to preview some of the songs that comprise ‘Criminal Art Lovers’ to favorable response. The resulting ten track album is a triumph for the band that should help solidify their status as one of indiepop’s most loved new bands.

Lead track ‘The Münchhausen in Me’ starts things off in decidedly jangling fashion with 12-string guitars plus autoharp and glockenspiel adding a special touch to the sound. Navigating between truth and semi-truth can be a difficult thing—sometimes fainting might be the only way out. ‘When Goodness Falls’ is an incredibly catchy song about people who are scared to remain true to themselves, and what a wonderful feeling it is to go against their will and completely, intentionally disappoint them. Musically bright, the song is the natural heir to the Smiths classic ‘This Charming Man’.

Third track ‘Crazy’ is the only previously released song on the album, although this is a slightly different mix than the one contained on the debut single. The mix of acoustic and electric Rickenbackers jangle in all the right places and the vocals suit the music perfectly. A song that has been around since the very first day of Northern Portrait, it is a modern pop classic that has been incredibly well received for good reason.

‘The Operation Worked But The Patient Died’ is the sound of Northern Portrait trying to write a British Sea Power song. With a touch of The La's and Sleeper-esque guitars, the song adds a dose of essential drama to the album. Meanwhile, superb title track ‘Criminal Art Lovers’ is a song about beatniks on picnics, busy tourists, and the comfy life…or perhaps just a not-so-good day at the office. With nice bursts of percussion, the song builds to an extraordinarily melodic ending that will have you reaching straight for the repeat button.

Side two begins with lush guitar track ‘Life Returns To Normal.’ Lyrically the song draws upon a poem about Volvo Estate cars, perhaps providing the line “my estate will take you anywhere” a clever double meaning. In any event, the song is another classic that will have you dancing by the end. This will serve you well as the album continues with ‘Murder Weapon’ keeping things sonically upbeat, even if the song is inspired by an article in British Vogue about women's sophisticated cruelty towards one other when it comes to fashion and style.

‘What Happens Next?’ is an up-tempo and energetic song about the collision of people with completely different agendas. It is one of the earliest Northern Portrait songs, initially recorded with the two tracks that would go on to serve as lead tracks for the band’s initial EPs. Returning to the same rhythm as 'When Goodness Falls', the song is a favorite of the Northern Portrait live repertoire.

With its slow build-up and rich sound, ‘That's When My Headaches Begin’ has a certain widescreen feel to it that takes the listener somewhere beyond the other tunes found on the album. Musically inspired by early Suede, the lyrics return to the theme from the Napoleon Sweetheart EP track 'In An Empty Hotel'. Ending the record on a positive note, ‘New Favourite Moment’ is a catchy, Rickenbacker dance track with an instrumental chorus, so people won’t have to learn any lyrics and can focus on twisting their bodies instead! Just try to resist…

Building on the amazing promise demonstrated by its two EPs, Northern Portrait have delivered the consummate debut album as ‘Criminal Art Lovers’ is the first certified album of the year contender for 2010.

  1. The Münchhausen In Me
  2. When Goodness Falls
  3. Crazy
  4. The Operation Worked But The Patient Died
  5. Criminal Art Lovers
  6. Life Returns To Normal
  7. Murder Weapon
  8. What Happens Next?
  9. That's When My Headaches Begin
  10. New Favourite Moment


Every great book deserves a great cover, and Matinée marquee signing Northern Portrait's new long-playing record (OK then, CD) is clad in a lush three-panel digipak sleeve clothed in shots of Le Corbusier's sleek white Villa Savoye. The architectural avant-garde doesn't immediately leap to mind when considering parallels to Northern Portrait's rather more raffishly classical indiepop art, but we guess that Le C. and the Portrait share a certain unshakeable *resolve*, and an unblinking dynamism that's expressed by the former in the Savoye's ramps and slopes, by the latter in the ever-effervescing froth of guitars that by this third release is approaching tidal wave momentum. Yes, I know: as you can tell, "Criminal Art Lovers" (for that is it's name) is a messy blighter to review, not because it isn't brilliant (occasionally it's spellbindingly so), but more that once you've lazily thrown the regulation - but entirely apposite - One Thousand Violins and Smiths comparisons at them (as we felt compelled to when considering their almost-fearsomely promising "The Fallen Aristocracy" and "Napoleon Sweetheart" EPs), there's a limit to how much more you can enlighteningly add, especially when one part of the band's "resolve" is clearly not to be deflected from their chosen path by the criticism that they wear one or two of their 1980s influences a little *too* starkly. So perhaps the tack to take with this their debut album is to note that it sounds much as you thought and probably hoped it would, a patchwork quilt of mesmeric jangle, of lyrical ache and longing, of masterly song arrangement sugared with generous dabs of knowingly Mozza-esque vox. Happily, nine of the ten tracks are entirely new, with only a reprised "Crazy", from the first EP, looking back to the rather special singles that got the ball rolling. And it says much for the other tracks that "New Favourite Moment", which actually takes the role of album closer, could just as easily be a bolting opener - or indeed a single itself - what with its iridescent powerpop glow and sparkling Rickenbacker hook, a hook that jangles with the brilliance of the Four Brothers (notwithstanding the disconcerting undertow of the drums approximating an early 90s' shuffle-beat). But yer actual first track, "The Munchausen In Me", is of course *fighting fit* for purpose: spry, self-mocking ("fainting... / may be my only chance") and with a keenly-observed storyline, it cuts at the POP! jugular before culminating with a falsetto flourish. Hot on its heels, "When Goodness Falls" is alive with sprightly joy, sharing its veritable rushes with later tune "What Happens Next ?" and in doing so uniting the band's newer repertoire with one of their earliest tunes. For many, the peak will be "The Operation Worked But The Patient Died": we alone seem to hear some Harper Lee in the crystalline, layered intro and opening verse before the song unfurls like a butterfly about two minutes in and tears the place to oblivion, but there's no doubt that "Operation"'s majesty and ambition provides the perfect set up for the more laconical title track, which vanquishes dreams of a "comfy life" before ending with a valiant coda: "as you walk on by / please keep walking", guitar trills raining down munificently. And if you really want to go a bundle on the Smiths connect, then "Life Returns To Normal" is your cue: the guitars unapologetically canter around shapes worthy of the young Marr while Stefan Larsen twinkingly drawls "I wanna help you" in the manner of "Disappointed"'s "young boy, I wanna help you..." To be sure, Northern Portrait's sound is a grown-up sound, and that won't be to everybody's taste. After all, debate about the Orchids' rightful place in the Sarah pecking order rages on even now. While to others - those not inclined to listen properly - this will be dismissed as the label's second Smiths tribute LP, following the treasurable, if slightly in-awe of its subject "Romantic And Square Is Hip And Aware". But *our* fears - our only fears - for this album, which were that the first two EPs saw them maturing so fast that a full ten-tracker risked veering into M.O.R., were *completely* unfounded: when the Portrait are in full, crooning flow, there's more than enough excitement to go around. (We tumbled out of the White Swan the other night just in time to catch Northern Portrait playing live at Baby Honey, and it was the best indiepop set we have seen for *years*: and yes, his voice is that expressive in real life). Maybe there's nothing here that quite set our senses as instantly aflame as much as our favourite NP songs to date, "The Fallen Aristocracy" and "I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me". But then those were the kind of punches that floored you partly because they came from an unexpected quarter, from a band who'd appeared from nowhere yet already seemed in some kind of easy prime, some kind of higher orbit. "Criminal Art Lovers", on the other hand, was an album that we waited for and wanted and had high expectations of from the very off. One listen was enough to show us it was blatantly up to meeting them. And by the fourth or fifth spin, it had revealed itself as a true achievement. There's lots of talk as we swan into this second decade of the millennium about how the once-trusty album format is dead as an art form, but if "Criminal Art Lovers" is anything to go by, it's a format you're gonna have to forcibly wrest from our cold, dead hands.   --In Love With These Times In Spite Of These Times
It's October 1987 and Stephen Morrissey has spent the past five years changing the face of contemporary music forever. He's appeared on TOTP with gladioli emerging from the back of his trousers and The South Bank Show is heralding his recently disbanded band as being wholly unique with the understatement of being "the most original English band of recent years". The eighties had seen a troubled transition in music, with punk having somehow evolved into new romantic, New Order moved from doom to disco and Bruce Springsteen being hailed as the future of rock n roll. The Smiths stood high and mighty amongst the decade's offerings and did indeed play the leading role in creating the seeds of the rich period to follow. Fast-forward then to the first decade of the new century and we have seen something of an unhealthy musical return to the eighties. If we are to herald the likes of La Roux and Lady Ga Ga as being worthy of major accolade, then we have not progressed surely? Interpol and Editors have contributed arguably the only credible eighties influenced material and so we surely need another Smiths to send us blazing into the next decade – introducing Northern Portrait. Many fans of The Smiths felt that, whilst they bonded with the solo Morrissey, none of the material ever matched up to his former manifestation - indication that the influence of Johnny Marr had always been underscored whilst they were a unit. Listening here to the opening hollow punchy drums and jangly guitar sounds of 'The Münchhausen In Me' and you are taken back to those heady days; then the vocals cut in, with a tale of despair and boredom, convincing you that this is indeed some unearthed treasures from the band of yore. The style continues throughout the album and there will no doubt be cries of plagiarism and treacherous mimicry, yet one needs to reflect on the quality of what is delivered and it is difficult not to allocate a level of credibility for that alone. There's a quintessential Englishness about the whole experience too, from lyrics like "I'm gay in the old-fashioned sense of the word" to the uncluttered arrangements and the forceless manner of the execution. But here's the rub, these guys hark from some considerable distance away from Manchester – Denmark to be precise! For those not familiar with the band, they released two exceptional EPs last year, 'The Fallen Aristocracy' and 'Napoleon Sweetheart' giving rise to a degree of critical acclaim and then a few select gigs both in the UK and US. This, the debut album, has taken some time to put together and includes but one track from those EPs, the splendid 'Crazy'. This is a little surprising and, particularly given the relative shortness of the album, one would have liked to have seen second outings for more of the other previous material, like 'I'll Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me' or 'A Quiet Night In Copenhagen'. But putting that to one side, we do have an album that brightly illuminates an indie world that was rather too dimly lit during 2009 and so this, being one of the New Year's earliest releases, may well set us off on a serious recovery trail. Lyrically, it lacks the cynicism and insight of Morrissey but there is a tongue-in-cheek charm and poignant wit to it, like "days of writing on the walls, never-ending, scratching letters all the time, never sending" from 'New Favourite Moment'. One of the stand out tracks here was originally written for the EPs, 'The Operation Worked But The Patient Died' and is given a neat re-work, with a piercing beat and Stefan Larsen's quivering vocals pleading for compassion. Then there's the lushness of 'That's When My Headaches Begin' where the pace is dropped to accommodate the morosity: "armed with my weapons of self distraction". It's hard not to pick out 'Crazy' though as the class jewel on display here, with it's rich musical depth and beautiful melody; it's the track that first gained the band attention and rightly so. Larsen writes compelling music and professes to have not even heard of The Smiths when he started out. He is though, in so many senses, that same frail understated man who is content within the expression of his own existence. Should he, similarly, develop the ability to place a wry slant on life's grander scale inequalities, then there's no telling where he might take his band . . .if the world will listen. For now at least this could indeed be your new favourite moment and if the queen really is dead, then Northern Portrait are perfect regal successors!   --God Is In The TV
Swoon-worthy and charming, Northern Portrait is twee at its finest. Smitten with melancholy and jangly guitar, its January debut, Criminal Art Lovers (Matinée), is indie pop for the literati and fans of the Smiths. Heavily reminiscent of the best of Britpop, Northern Portrait's sound is familiar yet unique: Johnny Marr-inspired riffs accompany frontman Stefan Larsen's near-falsetto crooned nonchalance. Instrumentally bright and shining, "New Favourite Moment" is concisely coy lyric-wise. A befitting soundtrack to any Godard film, Northern Portrait is the musical manifestation of the films' existential groans. In short, it's smashing!   --Magnet Magazine
To say I was looking forward to this album is rather a big understatement. After managing to see Northern Portrait twice last year, this album seems to have been a long time coming. This Danish band seem to divide opinion between those who think they're nothing much more than a Smiths tribute band, and those, like me, who are TRUE and RIGHT, who think that they make swoonful, gliding pop music. And you know that if Morrissey made an album anywhere near as good as this, then people would be wetting their pants. But that's by the by... Most of the tracks here will be familiar to those who saw the band at their UK shows last year. "Hit" single 'Crazy' is here, as is 'What Happens Next'. Songs like 'The Operation Worked but the Patient Died' are already faithfully etched on my brain, and closer 'New Favourite Moment' makes me shiver and think back to Northern Portrait's triumphant Indietracks performance last year. Now, I'm pretty excited to have this band in my life, but it does make me wonder just how thrilled I'd be to discover Northern Portrait if I was 14 years old. I think it'd be comparable to your first extra curricular fumble with that boy or girl you've had your eye on all the way through double maths, or getting drunk on Skol for the first time. Life-changing, in other words. Alas, I'm too old to have my life changed too much by music nowadays, but if you can't remember the Soviet Union or when the Tories were in power, then brace yourself...   --A Layer of Chips
I don't think it would be too far-fetched to suggest that this lot own a few Smiths albums. In fact, some of the vocal affectations and extravagantly jangly guitars on this record would suggest that the band name is a gentle and affectionate nod to their Mancunian forefathers, acknowledging their not inconsiderable influence. This is, let's be clear, a very good thing. 'New Favourite Moment' is glorious indie pop with a crowd pleasing chorus while 'When Goodness Falls' features the lyric, "I'm so glad to disappoint you", making you wonder if there's a punctured bicycle somewhere nearby, on a hillside, desolate.   --Clash Magazine
We've been there: every year there's a deluge of new bands and new sounds, all of them competing for your attention, all of them seemingly full of promise. More than any year in recent memory, 2010 has already seen the arrival of a boatload of intriguing new talents. Whether it's Northern Portrait's aching update of the Smiths' sunny jangle or the Magic Kids' irresistible '60s shoo-wop, the oncoming year has something for every taste.   --emusic Artists to Watch
Gene spent much of their career trying to shrug of the tag of 'Smiths copyists', a label which I never quite understood. Certainly, there were occasional musical echoes and Martin Rossiter did manipulate and molest his vocal chords into certain Moz-like directions from time to time, but I always felt there was a not inconsiderable bit of The Jam in there as well and I couldn't really grasp why it was The Smiths that the press was always so keen to bang on about. Not that it should really have been a hindrance. The Smiths were fucking marvellous and the enduring appeal of those albums is proof enough that their influence on music lovers the world over is considerable. What exactly would be so bad about sounding like The Smiths anyway? So think Northern Portrait. The band name could be a wry wink in that direction, as many of their, frankly wonderful, songs display a sizeable love of all things Morrissey and Marr, but for the fact that they claimed in an interview last summer to have only recently heard of The Smiths. I bow down before Gideon Coe for this one. One evening in the summer of 2008, I was listening to his peerless 6music late show when he played a track from the band's 'Fallen Aristocracy' EP. I remember thinking, 'sounds a bit Smithsy, I'd like to hear that again'. Within fifteen minutes, I'd sent a pifflingly small amount of money via Paypal to US-based Matinée Recordings. Soon after, the CD arrived, delivering on that early promise with four wonderful indie-pop tunes contained within artwork which even had that mid-Eighties indie release feel to it. I was in for the long haul and kept an eye on the Matinée site, waiting for another EP. 'Napoleon Sweetheart' followed and a similar approach was adopted – dated sleeve and jangly indie of the highest order. This Danish band have a finely honed sound and, as is so often the case with debut albums, they've whittled down their early songs to the very best they have to offer and have just released them for the world to pass judgement. Or just have a little listen. You really should. Second track, 'When Goodness Falls' highlights the Moz influence with the gloriously embittered lyric, "I'm so glad to disappoint you", bouncing along with shimmering guitar lines which leave you pondering just how charming the man singing really is. Do you see what I did there? Do you? Ok, I'll stop now. The album in question will be available in the UK from March, but you can already order it direct from Matinée Recordings at a very reasonable price and I can't think of any reason not to. Its title, 'Criminal Art Lovers', could be taken as a further acknowledgement of the heavy debt their music owes to various musical forefathers and the title track has a hint of Just Played faves, Trashcan Sinatras about it, while 'Life Returns To Normal' brings to mind a slightly subdued Housemartins. You must be sold by now, surely? 'Crazy' was on that first EP I ordered after Gideon's airplay and it sounds glorious, sandwiched within all of this new material. Indeed, along with a couple of other tracks on 'Criminal Art Lovers', it also brings to mind the aforementioned Mr Rossiter. Oh, the irony, a Smithsy band who actually sound really rather like Gene. 'The Operation Worked But The Patient Died' is another title that Steven Patrick Morrissey would be ever so charmed by, but the musical affectations on this one definitely evoke Gene from their epic, 'Drawn To The Deep End' phase. No bad thing again. Album closer, 'New Favourite Moment', is a wonderfully catchy way to wrap things up and if you don't find yourself singing along with it soon after its first play then you have clearly lost the ability to enjoy yourself. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you can't find something to like in this song then I'm not sure we can ever truly be friends. In truth, the entire album is littered with hooks and I'm struggling to think of a duff song to mention in the well-it's-not-perfect-bit-before-I-wrap-things-up-on-a-positive-note section. The album's mastered quite loud. That's about the only thing I can think of to moan about right now. I've thoroughly enjoyed explaining why I love this band. I've recently written a brief review of the record for publication in March in which I overplayed the comparisons with The Smiths in order to hammer home the point, but there's plenty more going on in these songs and if even one person clicks through from this site to order the album after reading these words, I'll be chuffed. Literate, emotive indie is often hard to find and when another band pop up delivering captivating songs to such a high standard it's cause for celebration.   --Just Played
Granted, Criminal is the 2009 debut LP from Denmark's Northern Portrait, but it strikes me as the kind of album that should have been ensconced in my CD collection 20 years ago between The Smiths and any given Trash Can Sinatras or Sundays disk. Not to call them out on being derivative (because they aren't), the strummy, chiming fret-work that occupies so much of this echoes that of Johnny Marr. Stefen Larsen's songwriting isn't quite as ironically disgruntled as that of Morrissey, but prose such as “The Operation Worked But the Patient Died,” is still fairly, um… ironic and pointed. In fairness, what's here is substantially impressive, and while Criminal hemorrhages copious retro maneuvers, it's cloaked in a succulent candy coating that's very much with the times.   --The Big Takeover Magazine
Oh, how you swept me away Northern Portrait! I was willing to write you off as faithful followers of the Smiths and a band who successfully mimicked their style, but you are apparently so much more. With Criminal Art Lovers you have presented yourselves as a group coming into their own. Sure, you reflect previous musical trends, but you use them as a guide, not a crutch. I must admit I was a huge fan of the Smiths back in the '80s. I am probably in the minority when I say my favorite Smiths album is still Strangeways, Here We Come. I played the heck out of the cassette and memorized every chord. Somewhere I still have the autographed book Morrissey put together discussing the cover art for every Smiths single and album sent to me by the great Jerry Rubino in my radio days. The point is I really liked the Smiths, especially musically. Though many have tried, I haven't heard a band so successfully absorb the essence of them in the 23 years since they disbanded. Northern Portrait seems to have it covered. I first discovered this five-piece band from Denmark in early July 2008 when I found 'Crazy' from The Fallen Aristocracy EP. From the Smiths-like EP cover to the acoustic guitar plucking to the tambourine this was very good, but not necessarily anything amazing. Then I heard songwriter/vocalist Stefan Larsen sing. If anyone could channel Morrissey apparently it was Larsen. From his phrasing to the subject matter, this was stunningly similar to something the Smiths singer would have released. Considering the band only formed in the summer 2007 and actually released the EP in March 2008 on Matinée Records, the results were even more impressive. Many bands try but never produce work as accomplished as 'Crazy.' It was near the top of my 2008 best-of list. Fast forward to this year. The debut full-length, Criminal Art Lovers, was released last month on Matinée. It contains the sound of a band maturing, but still retains the signature sound of what made them interesting. One listen to 'New Favourite Moment' might have you checking the calendar as it sounds fresh yet can transport one back to 1987. The title track reminds me a bit musically of something the Church might have done back in The Blurred Crusade era, never a bad thing. The polished results are all the more impressive considering the album was recorded and produced entirely by the band in a bedroom. Criminal Art Lovers proves massive budgets aren't required (as nice as they may be) to achieve stunning results. Stefan Larsen had an interview with the SlowdiveMusic Blog where he lists his musical influences as The Beatles, Pulp, early Suede, Roy Orbison, The Smiths, The Housemartins, and The Lightning Seeds. He and the band clearly have an affinity for pure pop, and are well on their way to adding their names to the list of today's important bands. More releases like Criminal Art Lovers will only engrave Northern Portrait's name in stone.   --The Subpopstar Project
It's literally impossible to estimate how many bands The Smiths influenced over the years, but to peg it in the thousands is by no means ridiculous. Of Morrissey and Marr's thousands upon thousands of disciples, how many have been able to manage anything more than a gross, out-of-focus approximation of the act's classic jangle sound? Not very many, that's certain. After feeling its way through a pair of EPs, Danish act Northern Portrait comes pretty close to replicating the original Smiths sound on Criminal Art Lovers. At the heart of that success sits the band's classic pairing, putting Larsen's evocative, full-bodied voice on top of chiming guitars that well understand that a zillion tiny integrated hooks are better than one or two massive ones every day. It's the sort of lesson that generations of pop lovers have learned from repeated listenings to The Queen is Dead, but so precious few have been able to internalize. Northern Portrait doesn't intend to reinvent the wheel as much as it wants to get it simply rolling again. The classic British indie roots guide the band through its paces. "The Münhhausen in Me" opens the album with a sparkling guitar arrangement, as a 12-string guitar amplifies the jangle factor, as Larsen weaves a lighthearted tune about stretching the truth. If you don't listen sharp enough to "What Happens Next?" you'll swear it was a poorly produced B-side that was cut from Louder Than Bombs' final track list, with those artfully cutting guitar tones that are clarion-clear but just this side of piercing riding over an uptempo rhythm as Larsen's vocal tracks retreat into the mix. "Crazy" and "Murder Weapon" are perfectly balanced doses of sunshine and despair, clipping through tempos that are built to get pop fans dancing in their bedrooms. Northern Portrait is still working in The Smiths' shadow on Criminal Art Lovers, but it does it so well, so lovingly and expertly, it's hard to fault them for sticking to the format with religious fervor. After 23 years without a band able to approximate The Smiths' formula, it's hard to fault Northern Portrait for finally getting it right, isn't it?
Rolling Stone named "Crazy" the best song of the 00s. That was the 2006 Gnarls Barkley hit, not the 2009 single of the same name from the Danish indie-pop group Northern Portrait, but sometimes it's nice to imagine alternate versions of history. I wouldn't call Northern Portrait's "Crazy" the song of the decade exactly, but it is a great song, sounding just as nice now, as part of their debut album Criminal Art Lovers, as it did when I first heard it. Like the more famous "Crazy", it depicts the psyche of someone conflicted and confused – in other words, our collective psyche so much of the time – and also manages to crack jokes ("I could tell you baby / but then I'd have to kill you right away"), make potential political statements (with its references to shaking things up, and "steal(ing) the code", hacker-like), and be a catchy tune with a wealth of jingle-jangle guitars. The note of questioning and defiance in that song lurks throughout the album, often tied closely to a sense of the bittersweet and just as closely to the band's heavy debut to the Smiths. Besides the musical similarity (and, especially, vocal), the bands share an interest in power dynamics, among people as much as structures, a sense of drama in their presentation, and a way of capturing a particular moment vividly, like on "That's When My Headaches Begin", where the general heaviness of the album turns to flight. It builds in a transcendent way at that point where a moment of deception and regret leads to our singer closing his eyes and drifting away, still hyper-aware of his surroundings while trying to escape them. At the song's height, he goes through a litany of 'listen' lines: "listen to the sea as it kisses the shore / like so many million times before / listen to the hand that slams the door / and someone's screaming 'no more'." The line "Listen to the songs that make you wanna cry" tells part of where the band is coming from: the art of capturing that sad feeling through storytelling in song. Another striking song of a similar bent is "The Operation Worked But the Patient Died". Songs like this give the album a general area of the serious, but with a pointed aim and dramatic sweep. But like "Crazy" there are other songs that tackle the same ideas with a musically lighter stride and a sense of humor, like "When Goodness Fails", where he declares "I have come to disappoint you", and the closing track, "New Favorite Moment", possibly my favorite song here. It is a somewhat more hopeful way to end the album, in spirit at least, though it also plays as a clever dig at our chronicle-everything-immediately culture, imaging people making lists of their favorite seconds as they tick away, continually updating their lists.   --Erasing Clouds
There has not been anything on the Matinée label which I haven't enjoyed, but Northern Portrait have since being introduced to my humble life completely blown me away, Even though they come from Denmark, they are the new Smiths. They have released two EPs so far and now we have their debut album, 'Criminal Art Lovers'. It opens with 'The Munchhausen in Me', which has a fresh crisp sound the best side of the Smiths or 1,000 Violins. It is refreshing and very alive. 'When Goodness Falls' also recalls the Smiths too perfection, It is reminiscent of Rourke, Joyce and Marr in all the right places and has a charming vocal from Stefan Larsen that is guaranteed to put a stupid grin on your face. 'Crazy' is an oldie, the first track off their first EP, 'The Northern Aristocracy' and is acoustic with the pace of Aztec Camera. 'The Operation Worked but the Patient Died' is a song to lose yourself in and is both heartfelt and dreamy. The title track is full of jangly guitars and dreams, and a perfect Rickenbacker indie pop number. 'Life Returns to Normal' is airy in sound, fresh as the morning air and a song that the Smiths would be proud of. 'Murder Weapon' is fast and full of sweet chords that jingle jangle in all the right places and is absolutely charming. 'What Happens Next' is a fast assault with sharp rickenbackers that sparkle and with a glossy vocal over the top. It is absolutely lovely. 'That's When My Headaches Begin' is the longest track here and is drawn out in a 'Reel around the Fountain' way. It is a moody but glorious track. 'New Favourite Moment' is big and bold, a perfect end too a great album. A fantastic album.   --Pennyblack Magazine
Are you feeling a little dirty from listening to too much garage, punk, and lo-fi? Well come on in, wash your greasy hands, take off your overalls and come into the parlour where the fire crackles and the hi-fi hums. Don't be put off by the smooth sounds coming out of the speakers or the tea and crumpets. Try to refrain from demanding a PBR and have a spot of tea and a listen to Northern Portrait's new album Criminal Art Lovers. The songs are all Rickenbacker fueled jangling beauties, and Stefan Larsen with his smooth tenor croon sounds like he is half Morrissey and half Frank Reader (Trashcan Sinatras). Dear reader you must know that one can't live on adrenaline charged shouted choruses alone. Even if you think that you don't need it, one listen to Northern Portrait's debut will slip you into billowy haze of feathers and cause you to daydream of picnics in fields of daisies, or bicycling on the beach at sundown (or maybe it's the tea). Your life may not be such that those kinds of things are common day occurrences, but surely a kid can dream can't he? How do you get to that daisy field, or sitting room with the crackling fire, or the breezy beach at sundown you may ask? It's quite simple actually, more tea and Northern Portrait's new album can take you there.   --The Finest Kiss
After two rather brilliant EPs (Fallen aristocracy and Napoleon sweetheart) in 2008, this was one of the albums I was looking forward to most in 2009. When I interviewed the band early last year, "sometime in May" was mentioned as the release date. Except, it was delayed. And delayed some more. And then it wasn't 2009 anymore. But here it is, finally: a first contender for favourite album of 2010. The album almost feels like a golden oldie already: Crazy is on there, and quite some of the other songs have bee available on myspace or the Matinée website over the months. Add to that the overall timeless (but not dated) feel that's part of all of Northern Portrait's repertoire, and it's impossible to not love this album right from the start.   --All That Ever Mattered
Allow me to introduce you to Jesper Bonde, Stefan Larsen, Rune Reholt, Caspar Bock Sorensen, and Michael Sorensen – better known as the Danish quintet Northern Portrait. They prove something that I have said over and over again: Scandinavian musicians are amazing and amazingly underestimated in the Anglo-American musical scenes. Harkening back to the 1980s for their cues (most obviously from Echo and the Bunneymen and The Smiths), their debut album, "Criminal Art Lovers" (18 January 2010 in the USA), delivers sleek guitar playing and dramatic vocals. And of course we have been living in a decade long revival of the 80s, but to lump Northern Portrait into the category of being a tribute band, rehashing the past, would be a bit insane. Beneath all of the cues, beneath our own desires to relive the heydays of Madchester or The Smiths, is a young band from Copenhagen that has written an album that is both infectious and thought provoking. Right from the opening, "The Münchhausen in Me," it is obvious that this band has some pretty sophisticated arrangements, especially towards the end of the song when the vocal arrangement is basically used in much the same way you would arrange strings or keys. The song's uplifting tempo and joie de vivre is carried over to "When Goodness Falls." And then it hits you: the sophistication to be able to write a song that is lyrically the antithesis of the music. Though the lyrics could easily inspire you to wallow in your own self-deprecation, the music drives you in another direction. And it is that feel of lyrical/musical divergence that you experience all over the album. It is that lyrical/musical divergence that helps to create the alluring, visceral connection with the band, while tapping your feet or full out dancing. "Crazy," accompanied with some beautiful strumming and lead guitar interplay, is a stand out jewel on the album: "Crazy, what is this thing that is happening to me? I'm going crazy, it's always happening to me. I rock the boat whenever there's a chance… I'd slit the throat on anyone who wants to put me down." Again, that interplay, that divergence, but what really caught my ear about this song is that it is not that standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus-chorus crap that so many bands rely on. Their ability to conceptualize a song and what it needs is obvious from beginning to end. There is no attempt to fit any of the songs in a mold, and there isn't any attempt to hide the musical savvy and talent behind production gimmicks or tricks. Danish may be their first language, but they understand tongue-in-cheek as well as any native speaker of English. Just check out the title of this track: "The Operation Worked but the Patient Died" – too boot, Larsen crones "Don't ask me how it feels?" And for those who are as attracted to intelligent sarcasm as I am, this will be one of those songs you cannot stop singing in your head over and over. And, as a friend of mine pointed out to me, if that tongue-and-cheek was not enough, in "Life Returns to Normal," the band plays with the Volvo "my estate will take you anywhere" – forming a beautiful double entendre. The intellectual sophistication is matched by the often-time complex musical arrangements, and the way the vocals and music are constantly interplaying with one another. If the band's goal was to write a sophisticated album, they have succeeded. The only fault you will find with "Criminal Art Love" is that it ends. Northern Portrait has composed a musical experience that will sadden you that it does not last for hours – that is how infectious they are. Never does the album sacrifice its own sound and identity to fit nicely into the 80s revival; instead the band ingeniously meshes their 80s cues with a bit of Britpop and contemporary indie and their own unique approach and ideas, creating a mix of music and lyrical cleverness that really demonstrates artistry, sophistication, and urgency. Do not allow this listening experience pass you by.   --Slowdive Music
Si Morrisey se ausenta por un tiempo porque se enfada con el mundo (véase casa de discos o mánager) y no saca material nuevo, no importa. Aquí está el recambio. Pruébese en cualquier pista de baile a poner cualquier clásico de The Smiths y de inmediato alguno de los temas señalados de este álbum. Cuela. Seguro. Son daneses y ya amagaban con el homenaje a sus ídolos (también les gustan Housemartins o Echo and the Bunnymen) desde el ayer de algún EP anterior (sólo dos, pues se crearon hace poco menos de tres años), incluida la rendición hasta en la portada. Ahora, Stefan Larsen, que es el jefe de esta banda de Copenhague y compositor de los temas que interpreta el quinteto, ha entregado a la etiqueta Matinée el que el sello considera como uno de los lanzamientos-objetivo de 2010. Con la apertura de The munchhausen in me ya se ve por dónde discurre esta colección de temas de pop sofisticado de guitarras, con textos que hablan del corazón, del alma y de la mente. Por cierto, buena noticia: 18 y 19 de febrero, en Madrid y Murcia, minigira por nuestro país.   --Calle 20
“Ver para creer”, “hasta que no lo vea, no lo creeré”, “lo he visto con mis propios ojos” etc…Todas éstas expresiones que más de una vez hemos empleado para dejar patente nuestra incredulidad sobre una cuestión quedan en nada en más de una ocasión, al comprobar que nuestra vista también puede engañarnos. Finalmente no todo es lo que parece, aunque creamos tener la prueba frente a nosotros. Este verano pasado andábamos de conciertos por una pequeña localidad británica donde muchos de nuestros grupos favoritos nos hicieron disfrutar de un fin de semana inolvidable. Entre los participantes al evento estaban la última promesa del Pop nórdico, los daneses Northern Portrait, grupo que nos tenía absolutamente rendidos con sendos Ep's publicados por el siempre interesante sello estadounidense Matinée Recordings. La expectación casi se podía palpar en el ambiente de una vieja nave industrial llena como en otros pocos momentos del fin de semana, todo para contemplar la defensa que Northern Portrait hacía de viejos y nuevos temas que formarían parte de su Lp de debut. Y bien, realmente creemos que todo el revuelo montado alrededor del grupo se vio recompensado por un concierto que satisfizo a casi todos sus seguidores, y decimos casi porque nuestra impresión del concierto fue realmente confusa. Impecablemente efectivos con sus instrumentos, una voz perfecta, repertorio bien seleccionado….¿qué pasó para que no lográramos conectar con Northern Portrait? Ni más ni menos que nuestra vista nos mostraba lo que no queríamos ver, a un Stefan Larsen que aún estando a una altura tremenda, caía en directo en esa mitomanía hacia los Smiths que los discos de su grupo apuntan. Realmente aquel fue un concierto mucho más que digno, pero contemplar a Stefan Larsen emulando a Mozz era más de lo que podíamos soportar, sobre todo después de comprobar que Northern Portrait eran un grupo con genio, capaz de estar a la altura de cualquier comparación con sus compañeros de escenarios en aquel fin de semana. Una lástima que un sinfín de gestos y actitudes nos hicieran sentir una pequeña decepción que no se correspondía con lo que estábamos escuchando aquella tarde. Por fortuna somos algo olvidadizos y tendemos a perdonar absolutamente todo, así que cuando por fin llegó a nosotros la noticia de la publicación de Criminal Art Lovers, el Lp de debut de Northern Portrait, corrimos a escuchar el primer trabajo largo de la banda como si nuestra vista no nos hubiera jugado una mala pasada. En el momento en el que empezamos a disfrutar de la escucha de estos diez nuevos (bueno, nueve en realidad, uno ya es conocido) temas de Northern Portrait nos dimos cuenta de que la experiencia y la música acumulada en nuestras estanterías desde hace más de veinte años nos había jugado una mala pasada en directo. Criminal Art Lovers vuelve por a transitar la senda marcada por The Fallen Aristocracy y Napoleon Sweetheart, los dos Ep's previos del grupo. De inmediato vienen a nuestra memoria los comentarios e influencias hechos sobre la música de los daneses tiempo atrás, todos ellos permanecen vigentes y pueden ser reafirmados después de la escucha completa de este Criminal Art Lovers. Sin embargo aquí no solo hay continuidad, si no también un trabajo de pulido que hace que Northern Portrait logren perfeccionar la fórmula ya conocida, The Münchhausen In Me consigue alcanzar las mismas cotas líricas de antes, pero se ve rematada por una guitarra de doce cuerdas que nos hace alcanzar el cielo y nos impulsa a abordar el resto de temas del álbum con cierta avidez. When Goodness Falls empieza, como no podía ser de otra forma, al más puro estilo de su banda mancuniana favorita, pero lo más destacable (homenaje indisimulado a parte) es que nos encontramos con una letra de nivel muy superior a acostumbrado. De Crazy poco podemos decir, es uno de sus temas más reconocidos, y nos sigue pareciendo que tiene el toque de gracia de unos Trash Can Sinatras, otra de las bandas de las que Northern Portrait parecen tomar nota. Uno de los momentos álgidos de toda la grabación llega con The Operation Worked But The Patient Died que, título estupendo al margen, lo cierto es que nos encontramos con un buen medio tiempo que aúna a la perfección calidez y melancolía. Pero si hablamos de favoritos hemos de acordarnos del tema que titula este álbum, Criminal Art Lovers convence de principio a fin por su melodía que no parece tener fin, pareciendo prolongarse a lo largo de toda su duración. Life Returns To Normal vuelve de nuevo intentar emular a los Smiths, cosa que no acaba de cuadrarnos puesto que el grupo obtiene igual resultado, en cuanto a su valoración, cuando se adentra en un estilo algo más personal. En fin, todos tenemos nuestras filias, y resulta muy difícil deshacernos de ellas…Murder Weapon acelera para erigirse como una de esas piezas del catálogo de Northern Portrait que quedan en la memoria como perfecto ejemplo de la influencia del Jangle Pop en su música. What Happens Next?, según cuentan desde Matinée, es una pieza primeriza rescatada para la ocasión, cerrando el disco That's When My Headaches Begin (gran título de nuevo) y New Favourite Moment, la primera nos traslada al Brit Pop de mediados de los 90's, con una atmósfera cargada que recuerda los momentos de inspiración glam del Pop británico de la pasada década. A New Favourite Moment le queda la labor de despedirnos, y el grupo no desaprovecha la ocasión, dotando a su despedida (por el momento) de un cierto tono épico que le sienta a las mil maravillas. Criminal Art Lovers es exactamente aquello que esperábamos de una banda como Northern Portrait, los daneses siguen ahondando en su estilo, buscando su personalidad entre la amalgama de estilos e influencias a las que se encuentran sujetos. No resultará fácil que se libren de más de un sambenito que les ha caído encima (lo de los Smiths clama al cielo) pero lo cierto es que tienen todavía mucho tiempo por delante, y por ahora no parecen faltos de inspiración. Así pues, mejor creer lo que se escucha, no lo que se ve.   --360º de Separación
Credo che per apprezzare a pieno quest'album si debba essere innamorati, sarà forse per quell'aria di romanticismo che traspare ascoltando Criminal Art Lovers, per quella voce che fa tanto Morrissey, anche se alla fine basta poco per apprezzare ed inchinarsi alle dieci canzoni presenti nel disco, belle quanto basta per farsele piacere sin dal primo ascolto. Sapevo che alla fine i Northern Portrait non mi avrebbero deluso, e così, dopo due splendidi ep, ecco che con il loro disco d'esordio uscito via Matinèe records mi arriva l'ennesima riconferma. E' vero, in fondo tutto è già stato ascoltato, ma oramai quale gruppo non è e sarà il clone di un altro, e soprattutto degli Smiths? L'importante è cogliere l'emozioni che si provano, ed ascoltando Criminal Art Lovers ne avverto tante e così ecco che mi vien voglia di stringere la mano alla prima persona che ho vicino, per poterle trasmettere i miei stessi sentimenti.   --Frigopop!
Come suonerebbero gli Smiths nel 2010, dopo l'avvento dell'indie-pop? Probabilmente proprio come i Northern Portrait. A prendere per buone le dichiarazioni del frontman della band, però, la "forte somiglianza" del giovane gruppo danese con la band di Manchester è, ben più che una conscia (e furba) scelta sonora, una vera e propria sorta di fatidica predestinazione. Scoperti dalla californiana Matinée (la Sarah Records degli anni 2000?), i Northern Portrait sono infine giunti a pubblicare il loro esordio sulla lunga distanza, "Criminal Art Lovers", dopo alcune peripezie e la grande attesa creata dall'uscita, negli anni scorsi, di due appetitosi Ep ("The Fallen Aristocracy" e "Napoleon Sweetheart"). Pur rischiando di innescare l'annoso dibattito su cosa sia derivativo e cosa no, va chiarito fin da subito che dall'estetica morrisseyana la band danese attinge a piene mani. Il cantato composto e insieme coinvolto (e coinvolgente) di Larsen e, spesso, lo stesso timbro vocale, ricalcano (in alcuni casi al limite del plagio: "When Goodness Falls") mood e modi di colui che per molti resta l'icona pop degli anni Ottanta. E, se ciò non bastasse, anche le successioni di accordi in minore e maggiore a incalzarsi, ricalchi tematici di tanto romanticismo pop (valga ad esempio l'assonanza, non solo nel titolo, tra "The Operation Worked But The Patient Died" e "Girlfriend In A Coma") sono fortemente consonanti con il sound della band di Manchester. Sussistono, fortunatamente, differenze anche palpabili tra i Nostri e gli Smiths: benché non debba essere considerato strettamente un demerito, la costruzione chitarristica dei pezzi presenti su "Criminal Art Lovers" non raggiunge la complessità delle composizioni da Marr, se non in pochi esempi ("When Goodness Falls") e anche la base ritmica è ingentilita rispetto al battito secco, quasi new wave, degli illustri predecessori. In realtà, come si diceva in premessa, il suono dei Northern Portrait, con il suo riecheggiare pungente e frizzante delle chitarre, il sommesso suono delle tastiere, la batteria metronomica e discreta, è debitore, così come degli Smiths, anche di tutto l'indie-pop dei primi anni Novanta. Senza l'esperienza della Sarah Records e di alcuni esponenti dell'etichetta di Bristol (Sea Urchins, Hit Parade, Another Sunny Day) e, in misura minore, senza band quali gli Housemartins, probabilmente un album come "Criminal Art Lovers" non avrebbe potuto vedere la luce. Derivativi dunque, senza dubbio. Ciò che, tuttavia, contraddistingue la giovane band danese dagli innumerevoli tentativi di imitazione degli Smiths (che ne hanno avuti più della Settimana Enigmistica...), oltre a quanto già detto, è la straordinaria capacità di scrivere canzoni brillanti e di immediata presa: così l'accusa di scarsa personalità e originalità cade lentamente via via che si progredisce nell'ascolto del disco e si scoprono pezzi di innegabile nitore pop. Le semplici scorribande su accordi elementari del singolo "Crazy" (già presente nell'Ep d'esordio), la purezza cristallina della melodia in brani come "New Favourite Moment", ogni singola pennata che pare minuziosamente incasellata in un grandioso mosaico, pur costituito dai soli colori primari ("What Happens Next?"), sono tutti fulgidi esempi di una scioltezza compositiva e di un'ispirazione melodica di assoluto rilievo. Al punto che il tentativo di analizzare criticamente l'esordio dei danesi si potrebbe ridurre a un accademico esercizio intellettualistico che ruba tempo all'ascolto di "Criminal Art Lovers": al primo squillo della pioggia primaverile di Re, Sol e La di "The Munchausen In Me", diverrà improvvisamente chiaro a chiunque sia in cerca di squisitezze pop che questo scrigno ne è pieno. Importa davvero poco, così, se e quanto i Northern Portrait siano originali, quanto il loro suono sia puro frutto dell'ispirazione, poiché, come accade per ogni album di grandi canzoni pop sono solo queste che, alla fine, con buona pace dei tromboni della ricerca sonora, contano davvero.   --Ondarock
Si Platon, au lieu de chroniquer les dialogues de Socrate, avait été amateur de musique pop, nul doute qu'il aurait qualifié le premier disque de Northern Portrait d'album aporétique. "Criminal Art Lovers" s'adresse en effet à un public impossible : celui qui achèterait les disques du label Matinée Records mais qui n'aurait jamais entendu une seule chanson des Smiths ni la voix de Morrissey. Pourtant, à l'instar de toutes les équations insolubles, l'exercice de style de Northern Portrait apparait du coup comme un objet paradoxalement fascinant, et cette fascination (bien qu'involontaire) semble alors être la seule manière sensée d'appréhender ce disque. Plus que la vieille question relative à la notion de pastiche (énervant et dénué d'intérêt pour les uns, preuve de talent ultime pour les autres), c'est celle de la propriété intellectuelle qui est ici mise en cause. Ce qui apparaissait comme un "style" unique, inventif et personnel chez des groupes du passé (les Beatles, les Smiths, les Field Mice, etc.) se transforme aujourd'hui en un "genre" à part entière duquel on s'empare et qu'on s'approprie, comme si les droits de reproduction en étaient tombés dans le domaine public. Cette réécriture de codes, copiés/collés à l'infini sans le moindre souci de les réinventer, place la conception même de la musique pop dans une nouvelle dimension, dans une forme étrange de post-modernité. Pourquoi le vénéré Moz serait-il le seul à pouvoir écrire l'histoire des Smiths ? Et pourquoi serait-il le seul autorisé à écrire des chansons des Smiths ? Force est de reconnaître que de nombreux jeunots courent aujourd'hui plus vite que lui dans la course à la perfect pop song de la Trademark Morrissey. A l'heure où l'on transfigure le mythe pourtant intouchable du Prisonnier (version 2.0) et où le Doctor Who continue, au fil des régénérations, à se réinventer selon les codes et les modes de la société contemporaine, "Criminal Art Lovers" de Northern Portrait participe donc lui aussi au débat éternel de l'identité créée à travers la culture pop. Le résultat est efficace : les guitares sonnent à merveille, la voix de Stefan Larsen s'envole juste comme il faut, et les dix chansons frôlent posément le sans faute. Les paroles, empreintes de maladie et de solitude, évoquent la petite folie ordinaire, à l'image de ce syndrome de Münchhausen qui ouvre le disque et auquel il pourrait finalement se résumer. Comme le vieux Baron, Northern Portrait use et abuse en effet des artifices pour nous jeter de la poudre aux yeux et attirer l'attention.   --Pop News