Northern Portrait - Napoleon Sweetheart EP

matinée 070  /  September 2008
Northern Portrait - Napoleon Sweetheart EP
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Northern Portrait - Napoleon Sweetheart EP

matinée 070  /  September 2008

Stunning second single from new Matinée favorites Northern Portrait! Upon release of their debut ‘The Fallen Aristocracy’ EP earlier this year, the accolades started pouring in for this new Danish band: “as perfect as jangling guitar pop can get”… “an instant classic”… “the bar has been set very high indeed”…“these songs are second to none”… “outstanding is an understatement”…“a modern pop classic”…“single of the year!” The EP has topped the Matinée best sellers chart every month since its release with good reason.

On the highly anticipated ‘Napoleon Sweetheart’ EP, the band worked to expand its sound slightly while retaining the classic appeal of its debut. The brilliant lead track ‘I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me’ was the second song ever recorded by the band but has been completely remixed and remastered for this EP. Featuring jangling guitars, keyboards, superb vocals and bright melodies, the song is a three-minute classic inspired by the feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

‘Sporting A Scar’ is the first of three additional tracks on the EP—thematically close but more self-reflective than the lead track, with especially superb lyrics and more breezy keyboards. It’s another gem! ‘In An Empty Hotel’ is a short and catchy tune about the clash between hopeful dreams and the practical problems that can occur, while the nearly epic ‘Our Lambrusco Days’ is a slightly sentimental and warm ballad with relatively simple instrumentation and open guitar tuning giving the song a special sound.

Reviewers of the first EP rightly questioned how Northern Portrait could possibly follow such a strong debut single. The band has responded in brilliant fashion, as ‘Napoleon Sweetheart’ is another solid contender for single of the year. The bar has been set very high indeed. Limited to 1000 copies in custom minijacket sleeve.

  1. I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me
  2. Sporting A Scar
  3. In An Empty Hotel
  4. Our Lambrusco Days


Hearing the new Northern Portrait EP, "Napoleon Sweetheart", one's tempted to ask where the bloody hell they were in the late 80s, when we were all crying out for the new Smiths and being fobbed off instead with a plethora of anaemic, uber-ropey carbons. The answer, no doubt, is that the three of them were gurgling contentedly away in their carry-cots, but that's barely sufficient excuse: we were in dire need of a tonic back then and this is the sort of thing that could have delivered. (And yes, secretly, we knew that *actually* discovering a new Smiths was an unattainable object, but it was really a code for just wanting a band with the same trembling combination of insouciance, sprightliness and technique, a band that could play a neat one-two with the legacy of Salford's finest and at least run with it a bit. That's how high we set our sights in those days. And no, Suede never fitted the bill). Whereas Northern Portrait's first record, "The Fallen Aristocracy", carried echoes not only of the Smiths but also the jangling Walkeresque potency of One Thousand Violins in full flow, this second CD-EP carries undertones of... well yes, the fab four again, but also perhaps some slightly later bands in time. "Napoleon Sweetheart" has the pace, yearning and Morrissey-ish werewolf falsettos of their debut, but also a lilting gravitas akin to classy post-shambling moments like Bradford's "Skin Storm", the Cradle's "It's Too High", the Railway Children's "Brighter", that kind of thing. It starts, like the last EP's "Crazy", with a pretty solid demonstration that pop songs can be infectious without being inane: it's called "I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me" and you'll be having it buzz round your cranium 'til the cows come home. Singer & songwriter Stefan Larsen is still pitching deep - "I'm so tired / of the way she's selling out... I want something that's real / and perfectly genuine" - as the song bounds along impatiently, the chiming guitars dancing sympathetically around him. It's a peerless number that screams "A-side", absolutely hollers it. But the best extended-plays need to maintain premium quality over four tracks, and that's perhaps the most enthralling thing about both Northern Portrait records to date. Here, "Sporting A Scar" sneaks up a little more subtly, a tangle of wiry guitars mourning "the best thing that never happened to me", before "In An Empty Hotel" simply breezes in, palpably borrowing from the heavenly strums of Mr Marr, with melodies to match. Wonderful. The finish line, in contrast to the all-out jangle bombardment of the title track last time round, is the drizzly semi-balladry of "Our Lambrusco Days", a contemplative indie-pop hymn with dark lyrical turns - "life can be such a death-affirming experience" - of which Moz would be proud. And there are passages on this record, not least the too-short instrumental sections that bring the curtain down on the last couple of songs, where Northern Portrait start doing that Harper Lee trick of making us suddenly feel all soppy with love and unblinking adoration, and rather regretful that we don't feel that way more often. As we get all wrapped up in glistening, intertwining guitars we picture a dark sky suddenly picked through by the gleam of thousands of tiny stars, and wish the world hadn't changed so much that we can't revisit our own Lambrusco days when records like this came on vinyl, when we could gently drop the needle and watch it spin serenely through the grooves. It's no bad thing, after their super soaraway debut, that NP didn't hang around before releasing this exceptional second single: the longer they left it, the more we'd have had cause to wonder whether "The Fallen Aristocracy"'s polished, sophisticated charm was a one-off. Instead, they're making hay while the sun shines. It's remarkable, for a band that seems to have emerged in an instant, how they've already acquired the poise and grace of a Laudrup or a Simonsen, so our only concern for them now is that they don't 'mature' (dread word) too fully, too fast: after all, we remember how the Railway Children bowled us over with the jab of "A Gentle Sound" and the cross of "Brighter", ultimately to fade into major label malaise while our backs were turned. But right now, Northern Portrait are nigh-irresistible. So yeah, this is pop deluxe. It's on Matinée Recordings. You might want to buy it.   --In Love With These Times In Spite Of These Times
Californian label Matinée Recordings appears, at least with this release and that of Bubblegum Lemonade, to be looking back to the mid-to-late 80s indie scene, particularly the point where bands would look to fuse 60s influences with punk and post-punk inspirations and ethics. Although the diverse scene would ultimately be lumped together, celebrated and derided as the ‘C-86’ or ‘shambling’ scene by music journalists seeking the ‘next big scene’ (and who would conveniently forget the diversity of many of the bands involved), in recent years this period has been the subject of much interest with a series of re-issues, compilations, websites and celebratory articles. It has also remained a period of influence on a number of contemporary bands as well as labels and club nights. Upon first plays, Denmark’s Northern Portrait and Glasgow’s Bubblegum Lemonade appear to be coming from diametrically opposed ends of the 80s indie spectrum. The former have a rich, elegant sound that speaks highly of the influence of The Smiths and the appeal of good musicianship, while the latter look to the fuzzy, chaotic sound of the Jesus and Marychain and their wonderful, yet often musically inept offspring. Ultimately, though, both The Smiths and the Marychain were, at heart, pop classicists, harking back to better times while looking forward from hard times. Northern Portrait’s sound is very classy and sophisticated, full of neat hooks and twists. Opening song, ‘I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me’ – a challenge I immediately threw back at the band and lost – has a neat intro dripping with melodrama from the opening chords and lines: “Shake my arm when it’s over/This whole thing is killing me/I don’t want to be killed.” Driven along by a feisty chiming acoustic guitar and a contagiously catchy tune, the rich, arch vocalist sings of a girl “with a million dollar face” who “doesn’t excite me”. Northern Portrait manage to make ennui and misery sound utterly joyous. ‘Sporting A Scar’ has a beautiful, melancholy feel and an expansive sound. ‘In An Empty Hotel’ wears its Smiths influence most proudly, but it’s a wonderful song in its own right; catchy, inventive and equal parts sordid and defiant as Northern Portrait sing ‘In an empty hotel… We can go down in style’. ‘Our Lambrusco Days’ begins in a subdued, stripped down fashion, full of longing and hurt as it reflects upon a past that cannot be re-captured or possibly never really existed: “I close my eyes/And I am right/Back to those days/Those silly days.” The song builds up into an elegant, world-weary climax. With each subsequent play this record has really grown on me. The songs are rather splendid, the playing and production perfect and any initial traces of cynicism and wariness I first held quickly turned to admiration of and for this E.P.   --Is This Music?
The outstanding ‘Fallen Aristocracy’ EP by Danish band Northern Portrait has been one of my most played singles this year. And remarkably the band have gone one better on the follow up ‘Napoleon Sweetheart’ EP. The band are, by their own admission, heavily influenced by The Smiths and this is prevalent throughout the EP from the Johnny Marr like guitars to Stefan Larsen's dulcet vocals which are as impressive as ever and are comparable to the miserable one. All the songs here are worthy of being the lead track but as catchy as ‘I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me’ is it's ‘In An Empty Hotel’ which should take the plaudits. Not only do the lyrics sound like they were scribbled by the hand of Steven Patrick himself but the song would not be out of place on ‘The Queen Is Dead’. How long the band can keep this up and replicate their obvious influences remains to be seen. The forthcoming début album ‘Criminal Art Lovers’ will hopefully give us some clues but in the meantime just get hold of this EP reminiscent of classic English jangle pop - via Copenhagen of course! Truly glorious stuff. The ‘Napoleon Sweetheart’ EP is out now on Matinée Recordings.
Copenhagen’s Northern Portrait release their second EP, and it’s an absolute classic. Lead track I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me reminds me of delightful forgotten gems, like The Man From Delmonte and Trashcan Sinatras. It’s in the shimmery, sparkling guitars and the way the singer half croons, his voice equal parts optimism and sadness. The perfect pop of this, the lead track is another cause for a delve into the deepest recesses of my indie pop memory. A gorgeous start. Sporting A Scar shows a more reflective side, it’s coy and self-effacing, but is still rather beautiful. In An Empty Hotel brings to mind the Morrissey croon and Marr gentle jangling, or even a restrained Jake Shillingford from My Life Story. Our Lambrusco Days is pared down to just voice and delightfully jangling guitar, which proves just as effective as the full band. It’s a really superb EP, especially for only their second release.   --Russell’s Reviews
‘Napoleon Sweetheart’ is the second release from Danish band Northern Portrait and follows on from their ‘Fallen’ Aristocracy’ EP of earlier this year. It features another great four songs that carry on the spirit of early Gene, the Smiths and One Thousand Violins. It opens with ‘I Give You Two Seconds to Entertain Me’, which was the second song that Northern Portrait ever recorded, but this is a remix of that original. It has crisp and clean vocals from singer Stefan Larsen and a sharp acoustic guitar sound. It is very much a sing-a-long song, and is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face. ‘Sporting a Scar’ is another song that speaks straight to the heart and has strong guitars to assist.‘In an Empty Hotel’ is basically a rewrite of the Smiths’ ‘The Boy with the Thorn in his Side’, but with different lyrics. ‘Our Lambrusco Days’ is a soul searching number and starts off as an acoustic track, before the rest of the band kick in and add their magic. EP of the year, along with their last one ! My new favourite band of the year.   --Pennyblack Magazine
You'll always love The Smiths' music. Loving The Smiths gets a little harder every time Morrisssey opens his mouth, be it to bad-mouth another record label, wax arrogant about his position as indie-rock's eldest statesman or to announce yet another cash-grab compilation or deluxe-edition reissue of an old album. Talk about Big Mouth Strikes again. Northern Portrait have you covered. The Danes’ second EP this year, Napoleon Sweetheart, picks right back up reverse-engineering the Smiths' sound. So far, they've found a workaround to avoid the loud-mouth singer portion of the formula. A great companion to the band's debut EP, ‘The Fallen Aristocracy’ (Matinée), these four songs come close to evoking the same spirit as those fallen indie gods Morrissey and Johnny Marr once could without seeming to try. "Our Lambrusco Days" wraps up unabashed romanticism in shimmering guitars as singer Larson's vocals steals the show from an amazing guitar-pop tune. His vocals, which were almost certainly polished by singing along to The Queen is Dead, are the stuff of pure awkward longing, without ever getting too awkward or laying the longing on too thickly. "I Give You Two Seconds to Entertain Me" sees the singer jumping between his soaring baritone and a high-register delivery for accents, as guitars craft the best jangle-pop you're likely to hear this year; just see if Morrissey manages anything this good on his next album. "Sporting a Scar" pulls back into the bedroom a little bit, cutting the '80s pop influences with doses of Lucksmiths-like hesitancy that only makes everything all the more enjoyable. Better than the real thing? Don't be silly. It's unlikely Northern Portrait -- or any band, for that matter -- will best The Smiths at their own game. Napoleon Sweetheart offers something the idols can't, though: guilt-free listening without all the baggage from Morrissey's tenure in the spotlight. As a side dish to great pop songs, how can any pop-aholic say no to Northern Portrait?
I am always excited when Matinée Recordings release something new, because so far (and they have a long history) EVERYTHING have been good from this label. The recent years have been better than ever, and one of the bands from the label that really has made my heart beat faster recently, is the Danish indiepop-trio Northern Portrait. Earlier this year, they released their fabulous debut ep “The Fallen Aristocracy”, with the intensely catchy “Crazy” as the leading track. Now they have released a new 4 track EP, “Napoleon Sweetheart EP”, and it’s another super-brilliant release from the band! In many ways, it’s even better than their debut. “I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me” is a classic pop song with a chorus to die for, and the vocals are …mmmm! Stefan Larsen’s vocals are among the best out there. He’s been compared to people like Morrissey and Jens Lekman, but they are both far below him on my list. Please teach this poor Norwegian writer some more superlatives to use for this review… Northern Portrait’s songs have a rare quality, and like on their debut, all of the four songs on this EP could have been the a-side of a single. “Sporting a Scar”, “Our Lambrusco Days” and especially “In an Empty Hotel” are all really, really good songs that will be played over and over again on my stereo. Now I’ve got 8 songs plus a cover from this fabulous band, and I already want more. The band have recorded their debut album, and from what I’ve understood, it will be a Matinée release too. The label will release new albums from several bands we love in the coming months: Would-Be-Goods, The Lucksmiths, Bubblegum Lemonade and The Guild League… Oh, I love Matinée!   --Eardrums
The Copenhagan-based band Northern Portrait’s second EP impresses me even more than the first, ‘The Fallen Aristocracy’. The band is still clearly indebted to the Smiths and other similar witty-melancholy UK groups from the ‘80s and ‘90s – not that it’s a bad template to follow. But these four luxurious sad songs hold together in such a cohesive way as to possess their own space and mood. Images of late-night tears in hotel rooms abound, not only because of the song titled “In an Empty Hotel”. The opening track “I Give You Two Seconds to Entertain Me” blazes out an agenda against empty beauty/wealth, against artists who aren’t trying to connect with us on a sincere emotional level. “I want something that’s real and perfectly genuine / a place where I can feel that I belong,” Stefan Larsen sings, at the same time that the band does their best to create such a place. If that song is the manifesto, the anthem, the others are scene-setters, tales that carry their own sad grace and romantic turmoil. The final song, “Our Lambrusco Days”, is especially exquisite, striding by with talk of days gone by, of changes and more carefree, gone-by times.   --Erasing Clouds
This trio of Danes have been causing quite a stir amongst the Matinée Recordings fanbase with their straight out of the 80's pop. If Sarah Records were still alive these would be the jewels in the crown without a doubt. Barely 18 months old and two top selling Matinée singles means that you should put away your Smiths best of (for now) and get a taste of Northern Portrait.   --I'd Rather Be Fat Than Be Confused
It hasn't been too long since this band's debut EP, and these four songs are just as excellent as the four we heard before! And just as the first single's A-side was the first song the band had ever written, this EP's A-side, "I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me", is the second song they've ever recorded (though it has been remixed for this release). It's impossible not to compare this band to the Smiths, as listening to these songs, you can't help but hear the likeness in the music, lyrics and vocals. But where one might say that this could be passed off as "lost Smiths b-sides" from any of the countless bands that have copied the Smiths' sound since that band's debut nearly 25 years ago, instead I would say this was an entire lost single - and one that would've easily been a big hit in the mid '80s...   --IndiePages
In my review of Denmark's Northern Portrait debut EP this spring, I pegged one of their tracks as being a contemporary analogue for "Jeane," one of The Smiths' long forgotten stellar B-sides. With their second offering this year, Northern Portrait hone their focus even greater on the stylings of the Morrissey/Marr songbook. Opener "I Give You Two Seconds to Entertain Me" rides on a sparse, but thick rhythm section to bounce the insistent guitar strum along into something simultaneously lilting and nervy. It's easily as aching as "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side." "In an Empty Hotel" jangles up some spry finger-picking to complement singer Stefan Larsen's most interesting vocal turn. "Sporting a Scar" and "Our Lambrusco Days" both delve into the soft focus droning nostalgia of autumn reflection '80s English post-punk evoked so well. With two high quality teasers now released, we can only hope that when Northern Portrait finally get around to releasing a full-length it will live up to the foundation they've spent laying in 2008.   --Ink 19
There were some fine releases on the Matinée label this year, but far and away my favourite was this slice of soaring guitar driven Pop by Denmark’s Northern Portrait. Think the sound of Gene, Bradford, The Railway Children, Faith Brothers and, yes, The Smiths at their giddiest peak (or some other more contemporary group if you’re a younger person than I). Like ‘The Good Old Days’ this was one of the songs guaranteed this year to have me leaping like a loon; my heart carousing and crashing with heady abandon.   --Unpopular
Just saw Claude Lelouch's ‘Un Homme et Une Femme’, which won at Cannes in 1966. Surprisingly conventional, but very very pretty. One of the most interesting things was that the female character's telephone number was the same as the title of Popundret's only album. I never knew where that came from until now! A record both similar in sound to Popundret and similar in style to Lelouch's mise-en-scène is Northern Portrait's new ep ‘Napolean Sweetheart’. Following up on the Matinée debut from earlier this year, my immediate reaction was that the songs were not as strong as "Crazy" and "A Quiet Night In Copenhagen". But apart from the fact that those songs are ingeniously simply, that proved to be wrong. The new songs are less simple, admittedly, but also more rewarding. I discovered this after compulsively singing bits of opening track "I Give You Two Seconds to Entertain Me" over and over the last few days. Especially the bit where the vocal line drops: 'I'm so tired of the way she's selling out'. 'This whole thing is killing me - I don't want to be killed' is cute is well. But the stand-out track is without a doubt "In an Empty Hotel" that jangles passionately. They also try their hand at a longer composition with "Our Lambrusco Days" and emerge triumphant. Northern Portrait continue to outclass every Swedish band apart from Days, we ought to call it a disgrace. But let's call it pop instead.   --Heaven Is Above Your Head
A little over a year ago Copenhagen’s Northern Portrait solidified under the direction of singer/songwriter Stefan Larsen and drummer Michael Sorensen, both longtime friends and bandmates. Shortly after adding friend and guitarist Rune Reholt, the trio was courted heavily by several labels, eventually settling in with the very appropriate Matinée Recordings. Larsen often classifies the band’s sound as sophisticated guitar pop. In reality, it is that and so much more. Most tracks on their two EPs fall in the slow- to mid-tempo range, buoyed by dramatic yet simple guitar melodies and Larsen’s heart wrenching vocals. It’s those vocals that have attracted the most attention thus far, consisting of a delivery akin to Morrissey and sounding like a cross between Moz and Chris Isaak. But this is a complete band and all three members are well studied in the art of ’80s Britpop, more so than any group to come along in some time. Having just released their 2nd EP, the band is already well on their way to releasing a full-length album and hopefully departing on a world tour. Live chemistry is reportedly outstanding, but the band is yet to find the extra stage musicians to fit the bill.   --KEXP Song of the Day
Good lord, am I smitten. I picked up both this recently released 4-song EP and its only slightly-less-recently-released companion, "Fallen Aristocracy," a couple of days ago... and I haven't stopped listening to either one since. This Danish trio captures the manic, joyous strum of the Trashcan Sinatras - with strong echoes of the Smiths and Sundays - much in the same way that The Shout Out Louds created the best Cure album in decades with "Our Ill Wills." Don't believe me? Check out "I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me'... and tell me this music doesn't have a place in your life. I defy you.   --Two Busy
Circa quattro mesi fa abbiamo parlato in termini estremamente positivi (qui) dell'EP di debutto dei danesi Northern Portrait. In quell'occasione abbiamo già avuto modo di dire che a garantire la qualità della musica dei tre ragazzi di Copenhagen c'era innanzitutto la statura artistica della loro etichetta, la Matinée, che raramente sbaglia un colpo e, senza preconcetti geografici nella scelta delle sue band (dalla natia California al Brasile, dall'Australia dei Lucksmiths alla Scandinavia), sta scrivendo le pagine più importanti del "pop gentile" dell'ultimo decennio. Sappiamo bene che i Northern Portrait sono devoti al pop inglese tra gli '80 e i '90, tracciando una linea ideale che parte dal canone Smiths/Morrissey, si nutre delle chitarre jangly e del timido romanticismo delle band Sarah e Creation (dai Blueboy ai Felt e ai La's), attraversa gli angoli più smithsiani della stagione britpop (Suede, James, Strangelove) e fiorisce oggi tra molte simili suggestioni di marca scandinava (Starlet, Starflower e Cats On Fire ad esempio). Se The fallen aristocracy EP apriva scorci interessanti sul futuro del gruppo danese, le quattro canzoni di Napoleon Sweetheart EP spalancano davanti ai Nostri orizzonti ancora più ampi e luminosi. Mentre, all'esordio, i NP sembravano eleganti ma vagamente algidi nelle loro atmosfere malinconiche, ora danno l'impressione di aver raggiunto una perfezione sia formale che espressiva quasi sorprendente: nella voce vibrante di Stefan Larsen, nello scintillio leggero delle chitarre, nella purezza cristallina e immediata delle melodie (difficile fare una classifica fra I give you two seconds to entertain me, Sporting a scar, In an empty hotel e Our Lambrusco days, tutte ugualmente morbide e aeree). Da ascoltare tutto d'un fiato, riascoltare, e riascoltare ancora..   --Just Another Pop Song