Effortlessly gentle, the beguiling voice of Jenny Lysander paints landscapes of light and nature in each song on her debut album, Northern Folk. Described without hyperbole by producer Piers Faccini as a “twenty one year old Swedish folk prodigy”, Lysander’s bare but beautiful reveries bring to mind at turns warm meadows, sun-dappled forests, icy seas and a hint of ethereal worlds within them. She secretly whispers confidences into your ear, her melodic voice enhanced by Scandinavian intonations, soft trills and clipped consonants that embellish each wispy vowel with crisp precision.
Yet despite its title and Lysander’s icy homeland her songs are suffused with summer warmth, peppered with bees, blackbirds and lavender. Even in the more sombre ‘Giving Thanks’, depicting hardships overcome, a lilting Sicilian guitar still evokes a sense of summertime, perhaps because Lysander drew inspiration from the rural Mediterranean location of Faccini’s studio where the album was produced.
This juxtaposition of warmth and light with crispness and clarity is like pressing your warm-booted foot down into deep soft snow to hear the threatening crunch and crack of the ice beneath. Lysander’s songs are bitter-sweet; the ‘Blackbird’ of the album’s single is dead, the only Swedish track ‘Jag Målade Fan På Väggen’ translates as ‘I Assume The Worst’ (literally, “paint the devil on the wall”) and she cautions us ominously in her title track to:
“Hush your dogs and hush your child/Northern folk have barren hearts/When you mean to think of us/Turn your eyes toward the morning sun”
Describing the songwriting process as “yoga for the mind”, Lysander prefers to write in the solitude of the night where she can explore undisturbed her own, internal world; an intimate landscape which like her native land is both sparse and sparkling. Her youth is no impediment to profound and poetic lyrics, for example as she sends a message to her older self in ‘Giving Thanks’:
“Carry the tale at the tip of my tongue/The tales of the time that I’ve spent/…Sending my love with all of my heart/To the woman I thought I’d become”
Reminiscent of a young Janis Ian, Lysander’s velvet tones and precise delivery, coupled with a depth and insightfulness remarkable in one so young, creates a wistful yet defiant tone. And with its graceful languor, Northern Folk is undeniably an understated, melancholic tour de force.