A few years ago, I was at a show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. One minute, everything was as it should be—the next minute, Stórsveit Nix Noltes walked out on stage. What happened next was perhaps the most unreal and ethereal forty minutes of Balkan folk music to have ever been played in a Tri-State venue. One by one, the band members walked out, each carrying a bizarrely different instrument. A girl with an accordion, a boy with a keytar, a boy with an upright bass and a sousaphone…it went on and on until the stage was filled with a dozen beautiful Icelandic musicians carrying the contents of both a music store and a junk shop. They played drums, they played pots and pans. My heart swelled up in my throat and I spent the next year looking for an album– and found nothing.
Finally, April saw the release of their album, “Royal Family-Divorce” and it is magical. Ten tracks of raucous, tin-roof, Bulgaria/ Balkan blasting. The tracks are massively new and wildly old, mixing folk accordion that grandpa may have heard in the old country with electric beats and hissing. On the second track, “Krivo Sadovsko Horo,” Eastern European trumpets are pushed aside by rhythmic drums and electric whoops. “Pajdusko” sounds like a triumphant garage band playing an Albanian village wedding which is crashed at the end by a drunk 1970s punk in a bad mood. Things collapse and boom as something in the background struggles to keep the order of the innocuous folk beats.
“Kopanista” sounds like a chase through small, winding, Bulgarian village streets—streets lined with trumpets and mud, with a broken radio playing out an old woman’s window. “Cetvorno Horo” is the more expected minimalist Icelanding murmering and hazy frozen mists.
“Royal Family-Divorce” is an incredible patchwork of good things. And though I often don't write about music (I often don't even like to speak about music), Storsveit Nix Noltes create something urgently pleasant. They paint cacophonic pictures with unbridled brushstrokes. While music often accompanies memories of moments past, I'd like to save this album to accompany the best thing to come-- to tuck it into the lining of my pillow until someone wonderful enough comes along who deserves to share these bells and bassoons.