Northern Portrait - The Fallen Aristocracy EP

matinée 068  /  March 2008
Northern Portrait - The Fallen Aristocracy EP
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Northern Portrait - The Fallen Aristocracy EP

matinée 068  /  March 2008

Magnificent debut release from new Danish trio Northern Portrait who are ready to take the world by storm with one of the strongest singles released by Matinée to date! The release has all the makings of a modern pop classic and, according to somebody in the know, will “shake the indiepop world to its very foundations.” The band lists indie legends The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Housemartins among its influences and they certainly should appeal to fans of these and other classic pop groups plus contemporary favorites like Math and Physics Club too.

Lead track ‘Crazy’ is the one that got the band noticed when it appeared on a newly-christened Myspace page late last summer. Written and recorded in a four-hour time frame which marked the beginning of Northern Portrait, the song was completed intuitively with absolutely nothing prepared until guitars plugged in. A mix of acoustic and electric Rickenbackers, the guitars jangle in all the right places recalling Smiths classics like ‘This Charming Man’, and the vocals fit the music perfectly. It’s a hit!

‘A Quiet Night In Copenhagen’ is the first of three additional tracks on the EP and sets the bar pretty high with more jangling guitars, nice tempo changes and other instrumentation. Short and to the point, the song is a fairly universal tale of a kind of voluntary outsiderism. ‘Waiting For A Chance’ is a bit slower and recalls the brightness of The Trash Can Sinatras or The Sundays if they had a male singer. The song features more of the characteristic Northern Portrait guitar sounds plus some nice keyboards. Final track ‘The Fallen Aristocracy’ is an ode to all romantics—bittersweet, but definitely more sweet than bitter. Using glockenspiel in addition to guitars, the song bounces along nicely and just might make the case of saving the strongest track for last.

This debut demonstrates amazing promise for a new band and leads one to wonder if the b-sides are this good just what does Northern Portrait have in store for its debut album?

  1. Crazy
  2. A Quiet Night in Copenhagen
  3. Waiting for a Chance
  4. The Fallen Aristocracy


If 2007 was the year of Finland's Cats On Fire then 2008 could surely be the year of Danish band Northern Portrait. The similarities with both bands are striking. Both are heavily influenced by The Smiths and each have charismatic frontmen with striking vocal styles. The Fallen Aristocracy EP is the band's debut release and the bar has been set very high indeed. It opens with Crazy with singer Stefan Larsen crooning over the Marr like guitars which sound like they have been lifted straight from The Boy with the Thorn In His Side. Strangely enough though it's not the strongest song here! The rest of the EP expands the band’s sound as they force their own imprint onto the songs whilst drawing from other 1980's influences. The remaining three tracks are as perfect as jangling guitar pop can get and choosing a favourite would be an injustice to the others. Whether it's the maudlin sound of A Quiet Night In Copenhagen, the slow building but infectious Waiting For A Chance or the glorious finale that is the title track these songs are second to none. If you are a fan of clever guitar pop (Housemartins, East Village, The Lodger etc) then this is a release for you. Outstanding is an understatement.
I first heard Denmark’s Northern Portrait last autumn at a club in Gothenburg with two (warning: in-joke alert) Great Pop Mates (see comments to previous post): it was one of those too-rare moments when everyone recognised immediately a great new sound. Northern Portrait’s debut ep, The Fallen Aristocracy, is a solid start creating what they call “sophisticated guitar pop” (think The Lodger, The Siddeleys, The Housemartins), although there are moments when it sounds a little too heavily influenced by The Smiths. Crazy – which their label Matinée are serving up as an mp3 – leans a little too much towards Smiths tribute band The Sundays’ Here’s Where The Story Ends for comfort. The title track, though, is not just Northern Portrait’s strongest effort, but an instant classic. Taking its cue from Pulp’s retro pop grandeur, The Fallen Aristocracy is eloquent and nervy and melodramatic, combining louche degradation with the slyly insistent pop of early 80s Factory. If they can build on this classic, then their debut album will be an essential purchase.   --Fire Escape Talking
This one is a biggie. Staying with the mini-renaissance, we shift our gaze from Sweden to Denmark for the tour de force that is Northern Portrait's "The Fallen Aristocracy" EP. Lead tune "Crazy" is the one the kids and blogs have been propping, the one where the singer accompanies breezy, lush instrumentation with a debonair vocal that isn't too far away from the swooning croon of One Thousand Violins' Vince Keenan, in the days when the latter were making utterly ignored pop classics like "If I Had A Bullet Then For Sure I'd Find A Way To Your Heart". "Crazy", is, of course, less wordy, a little less clumsy, if yet to stand the same test of time: it's a single sumptious chord sequence that is gently overlaid with embellishments as it progresses, but rarely have raffish charm and polished pop been deployed with a surer hand. And after all that, the title track, another that veritably gleams with 1,000 Violins-isms, is possibly even better - again, the hooks seem to rain down, the writing to brim with natural, not misplaced confidence. And Math & Physics now have some real competition, because the whole EP (completed by the crisp, twinkling Marr-isms of "Waiting For A Chance" and the defiant post-Morrissey poetics of "A Quiet Night In Copenhagen") is deeply impressive: as well as that long, magnific shadow of the Smiths, there are glimpses of quality only achieved more recently by former Matinée flagship bands like Harper Lee or the still-missed Windmills. The acid test will be, as ever, an album.   --In Love With These Times In Spite Of These Times
There is so much currency in a happy song, enough to even tilt exchange rates in your favour if it successfully recalls bands like the incomparable Sunday’s (listen to the light charge of them acoustic guitars). Northern Portrait are a brand new band from Copenhagen and are signed to that treasure chest of jangle pop Matinée Recordings. ‘Crazy’ is the lead song from their debut ‘The Fallen Aristocracy’ EP and if it could be bottled you’d have a fortune-making de facto happy pill on your hands. Because we are living in the real world though it may be better to swing open the doors and give the birds in the trees a 3 minute break from their sweet tweeting. And you know the best thing, behind the sweet sounds lies a disarming description of some not-so-well controlled psychotic behaviour, the most memorable I've heard in fact since South Ambulance discussed the merits of their ex-girlfriend.   --mp3 hugger
'The Fallen Aristocracy' is the debut EP from Danish group Northern Portrait, who formed in Copenhagen in July 2007, and what a total joy it is too. It opens with 'Crazy', which is total jangly guitar heaven. Think of 1000 Violins during the era of their original vocalist, John Little. As it moves on, it also recalls the Smiths at the height of their powers. 'A Quiet Night in Copenhagen' is reminiscent of 'Jeane', the B side to the Smiths' This Charming Man' in its rhythms. While singer Stefan Larsen's vocals recollect the 1000 Violins again and Martin Rossiter from Gene, the music features more of those full on jingle jangle guitars. 'Waiting For A Chance' sounds like a slowed down 'The Boy With the Thorn in His Side'. It also could be a Gene B side. Reflective and somewhat moody, it finds Stefan looking out of a window and dreaming of a better life. It ends with title track which again sounds like the Violins at the time of 'You Ungrateful Bastard'. Fast in tone, it brings back memories of all which was good about the C86 era. Totally perfect, it is the Single of the year so far.   --Pennyblack Magazine
I love the Northern Portrait 'Fallen Aristocracy' EP on Matinée. It sounds delicious. Uplifting, cascading guitars. You know the score. They sound like Gene if you remember them and if you care. Which means they also sound like The Faith Brothers. I always play that card, and hardly anyone knows what it means or if it’s even accurate. Not that it matters. I do not even own a Faith Brothers record. They are part of a strange memory of a strained time in the dreaded 1980s. Did they not support REM on their Reconstruction of The Fables tour? And were they not sparkling? Perhaps, perhaps not. But when I hear Northern Portrait I am reminded of moments in the sun and rain, holding out a hope for a dream that could never come true. And thank goodness for that. Northern Portrait also remind me of the likes of Windmills and East Village and High Five and Hurrah! All those things that should mean a lot.   --Unpopular
Leave it to indie-pop stalwarts Matinée Recordings to keep the EP going strong as a format, even if now it's all CD-EPs instead of vinyl. There's something unexplainable, really magical, about putting on a great short recording, where songs captivate you and then disappear. Even better if there's eye-catching artwork, a memorable photo or graphic image. So far this year Matinée has released four EPs by newer bands, keeping that mystique going while building their roster of bands with a genuine grasp on the art of crafting a song plus an equally strong awareness of pop/rock music history. Like Matinée artists in general, Copenhagen, Denmark's Northern Portrait is clearly taking their cues from classic pop-rock groups of the past. After looking at the cover of their EP, you get one guess, and one guess alone, at one of the bands standing at the front of Northern Portrait's influence queue. Let's see…the cover has the same color scheme as The Queen Is Dead, and the EP title is "The Fallen Aristocracy"? If that doesn't do it, some Morrissey-ish vocal inflections on the first track. Then again, that song, "Crazy", really sounds very little like the Smiths when you get down to it, and is insanely catchy, one of those ridiculous tunes that just won't quit. Influence here is foundation more than distraction. The Fallen Aristocracy pairs musically light pop tunes with more dour ones, and all four are shot through with melancholy. By its very nature, "Crazy" can't help but overshadow the others, but that's no jab. An EP with one A-side and three B-sides, but no less enjoyable for it.   --Erasing Clouds
It's about time I said something about Northern Portrait's first ep The Fallen Aristocracy since the next one is almost here.... I remember hearing "Crazy" and "A Quiet Night In Copenhagen" for the first time and not quite believing they were from Denmark. With even just an ounce of their perfection they could have swept the floor with every Danish pop band in recorded history. In full glory they are comfortably playing ball in Sweden's premier pop league, scoring a few goals past Happydeadmen even. That's the band I keep returning to when trying to describe Northern Portrait's music; they have almost exactly the same sound, with the twin jangle of acoustic and electric guitars. That first time was at the start of my new degree last autumn and I was sitting behind a uni computer in one of the cellar room, earphones plugged in, wondering to myself if I was actually humming along audibly. Now I can sing along all I want to, cd spinning in my stereo, and I do, because these four songs are all could-be radio hits. I tried to get Northern Portrait to play at Don't Die On My Doorstep when we had bands, as they're just a bridge and a tunnel away but I think they still haven't done any gigs. And right now they are probably busy mastering the new ep Napoleon Sweetheart and then recording for the full-length. No rest for us.   --Heaven Is Above Your Head
If you enjoy smart Australian pop or a group like The Smiths, then you'll love Northern Portrait. Not that they're British or even Australian, in fact they're from Denmark. But they have an ear for catchy, jangle-y melodies that are aplenty such as during the gorgeous 'Crazy"—which also resembles The Go-Betweens to a certain extent. At the same time, the equally punchy and well-crafted 'A Quiet Night in Copenhagen" shines and is a real stunning piece of work. The only snag with this effort overall is it's just too damn short at four songs and just over 10 glorious minutes. If you need more proof of this beauty then give 'Waiting for a Chance" a spin or two, a nugget along the lines of Crowded House or Morrissey. The chipper closer and the title track, 'The Fallen Aristocracy", sounds like something Robert Smith concocted à la 'Friday I'm In Love".   --Pop Matters
They may not be Morrissey and Marr, but singer Stefan Larsen and guitarist Rune Reholt of this Danish trio do their best to resurrect the spirit of The Smiths on this four-song debut. Larsen has an excellent voice and all the right mannerisms, and Reholt strums and jangles like he stepped straight out of 1987. In classic Smiths fashion "Crazy," the best of the bunch, marries a winsome melody with a deliciously dark lyric. Larsen isn't near the match of Morrissey's witty romanticism, but he's no slouch, either. The rest are not quite as compelling, but they sound fresh nonetheless, simply because the band is so utterly committed to the classic sound of '80s indie guitar pop. I look forward to hearing more from these gents.   --The Big Takeover Magazine
If you are a Trashcan Sinatras fan, then you probably were pretty psyched when they came out of hiding a few years ago with an excellent new album and a tour of the States. Well it’s been a while and if you’re like me you are probably growing impatient for the next Trashcan Sinatras album. I think Northern Portrait got tired of waiting and formed their band with a sound that is very reminiscent of that Scottish band. When I first heard Northern Portrait, I was caught by how jangly and catchy their first song Crazy was. It had the jangle of the Smiths‘ this Charming Man or Cemetry Gates, with vocals that had a bit of Morrissey in them. But being a Trashcan Sinatras fan, I can’t get over the similarities of these two bands, right down to their clever lyrics. Northern Portrait are pretty new, they got together last summer and are based in Copenhagen, Denmark. All three guys were previously in other bands, but from the sounds of it they’ve really gelled as a trio, and have already written a bunch of really catchy songs. Besides that they’ve gone and gotten signed to Matinée Records, home of the Lucksmiths and Math and Physics Club among others. If you are fan of jangly pop songs, these guys will put a smile on your face. Matinée is releasing a four song ep this month, but I sure hope that they have a album up their sleeves, because I don’t know how long four songs will last me. Jangly pop like this is like candy and I find myself lapping it all up in one sitting only to look for more as soon as the sugar rush wares off. Four songs should last me, but I’ll be anxiously looking for that album. According to their myspace, they are currently recording songs for an album, so the wait may not be that long.   --The Finest Kiss
You know how I love to talk about my favourite labels, and here I go again… Matinée Recordings has two goodies ready for release, - both are among their best releases ever, and both are from the Nordic countries. The next one is the one I'm most excited about. The Danish indiepop trio Northern Portrait has released a fantastic debut-ep called 'The Fallen Aristocracy EP". All four songs could have been the leading single-tracks here. I love everything about this EP—the sound, the guitars, the melodies, the vocals, the Smiths-influenced cover-art… everything. The opening track 'Crazy" is a modern pop classic.   --Eardrums
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
Non è certo un caso se la Matinèe ha deciso di pubblicare insieme, nello stesso momento, gli ep di The Electric Pop Group e Northern Portrait: a significare probabilmente una solida apertura della band californiana all'indie-pop scandinavo, il che non può non farci molto piacere. Già detto tutto degli svedesi Electric Pop Group, non resta che spendere qualche parola per i danesi Northern Portrait, che esordiscono alla grande con questo The fallen aristocracy ep. Tutte le 4 canzoni del dischetto parlano la lingua di Morrissey e degli Smiths, sia in superficie (la bicromatica copertina smithsiana) che nel contenuto, dall'uso della voce alla leggerezza delle chitarre jangly, dalle melodie chiare e penetranti (che rimandano in modo diretto all'apparente spensieratezza degli Housemartins) alle atmosfere romantiche e accorate evidenti anche nei testi (sentite A quiet night in Copenhagen). Non c'è dubbio che i modelli dei tre ragazzi di Copenhagen siano pochi e ben definiti (quelli già citati, in sostanza), però c'è da dire che, tra tante band (scandinave magari, come Starlet o Cats on fire) dedite a ricreare il suono delle chitarre di Marr e la liricità spinta di Morrissey, i Northern Portrait spiccano per una notevole levità di tocco e un evidente talento compositivo, che fa presagire una carriera più che brillante, magari - ce lo auguriamo - proprio sotto le insegne della Matinèe.   --(Just Another) Pop Song
Vaya por delante que el comentario que hoy nos ocupa es considerado por aquí como una excepción, hace más de dos años comenzábamos a teclear con la única premisa de escribir sobre grupos o discos que nos entusiasmaran. Poco a poco las entradas fueron creciendo y de modo asombroso empezaron a llegar ofertas de algunos sellos interesados en que escucháramos sus productos. Como no nos gusta perder el escaso tiempo libre que tenemos, en la mayoría de las ocasiones (que tampoco son tantas) declinamos el ofrecimiento todo lo amablemente que podemos, a sabiendas que los discos que se nos ofrecen pese a entrar dentro de nuestros gustos personales no entran dentro del estilo que suele comentarse en 360º de Separación, o peor aún, sí podrían encontrar su hueco aquí, pero sería a costa de recibir comentarios no muy positivos, y siempre es mejor empeñar nuestras fuerzas en dar nuestra opinión sobre artistas que nos gustan. En los últimos días andamos ocupados dando buena cuenta de algunos de esos discos que han llegado a casa por cortesía de los responsables de algunos sellos discográficos, en este caso gracias a Matinée Recordings, discos que en muchas ocasiones hubiéramos terminado comentando al tener la sana costumbre de hacernos con todas las referencias que el sello estadounidense pone en el mercado. De lo comentado hasta el momento Would-Be-Goods y The Electric Pop Group han puesto el listón muy alto, como también lo harán en futuras reseñas The Lucksmiths y Bubblegum Lemonade, sin embargo hoy toca enfrentarse a un grupo del que en principio no éramos muy devotos, los daneses Northern Portrait y su Pop inspirado en las canciones de Morrissey & Marr. Sin acabar de entender el pequeño revuelo montado por los dos Ep’s producidos hasta la fecha por Northern Portrait nos acercamos a este The Fallen Aristocracy Ep (primero de los dos trabajos) con la lección bien aprendida tras haber desestimado en un principio las canciones de Math & Physics Club o Days, para acabar totalmente rendidos a ellos pese ser otros manifiestos émulos de los Smiths. Al igual que éstos, los de Copenhague no se esconden ni intentan disimular sus orígenes, basta echar un vistazo a la portada de The Fallen Aristocracy Ep para saber perfectamente qué nos espera en su interior, siempre guardando un pequeño resquicio para la sorpresa, que también la hay. Hablamos de sorpresa, algo llamativo teniendo en cuenta la paleta en la que Northern Portrait impregnan sus pinceles, pero lo cierto es que después de las poco atentas escuchas que habíamos realizado a las canciones del grupo, nos embarcamos ahora en una respetuosa escucha que nos desvela guiños a otra gente que ya varió en su momento el discurso del grupo más famoso de Manchester. Crazy abre el Ep. posicionándose rápidamente como un auténtico hit para todos aquellos amantes de las guitarras jangle pop, acústicas y rickenbackers se entrelazan para crear un sonido arrebatador que arropa a la perfección a un cantante que bien podría imitar a Morrissey, pero que a algunos nos hace pensar en un grupo que nos encontramos a las claras en Waiting For A Chance. Aquí la sospecha que sobrevolaba Crazy se hace realidad, nadie dudará de la devoción de Northern Portrait por el gran ególatra del pop británico, pero más clara aún resulta su admiración por la música de los grandísimos The Trash Can Sinatras (todavía nos gusta escribir su nombre como cuando les conocimos). Auténticos genios del Pop acústico que dejan su huella a lo largo de Waiting For A Chance, el ritmo, las guitarras, la voz…..todo nos traslada al mundo de los escoceses, lo que siempre es digno de alabanza. Sorprendentemente no todo es Smiths en el mundo de estos nórdicos, y aunque ésta sea la más clara influencia aquí se revela tamizada por la de otros grupos, porque A Quiet Night In Copenhagen realmente puede ser puro Smiths, pero todavía recuerda más a la inmediatez de los Gene de Martin Rossiter, grupo que sedujo a todos aquellos seguidores de la estela de los mancunianos durante los 90’s. Después de toda esta amalgama de influencias The Fallen Aristocracy cierra el Ep. aportando los pasajes más románticos del disco y quizás también quedando como la más completa de todas las canciones, gracias fundamentalmente a una sección rítmica francamente buena y a un ir y venir de detalles que enriquecen el tema con cada nueva escucha. Como siempre decimos cuando abordamos a grupos tan deudores del pasado como Northern Portrait, la banda tiene un muy difícil camino por delante, aquel que les conduzca a la búsqueda de un sonido que sin terminar de librarles del lastre que supone la emulación de héroes personales, sí les lleve a la consecución de un sonido al que logren aportar su particular sello. Su segundo Ep. Napoleon Sweetheart repite los resultados obtenidos en este pequeño debut, un disco que se deja escuchar con cariño pero que sigue pidiendo a gritos una mayor dosis de originalidad, así pues quedamos emplazados a la próxima publicación de lo que será el Lp de debut de los daneses mientras les damos un voto de confianza en base a las estupendas melodías aquí trazadas.   --360º de Separación