Sunday, September 30, 2018

REVIEW: Still Life - Peter Kvint

It is the end of September 2018 as I write this, and I am here to tell you about the album of the year.


Still Life is the debut album from Swedish songwriter and producer Peter Kvint. Kvint has had a long career behind the scenes, working with acts like Andreas Johnson, Britney Spears and Morten Harket. Having enjoyed Kvint's work on Harket's contributions to a-ha's last studio album Cast In Steel, I was moved to check out his solo material. And I'm so glad I did.

Still Life, for me at least, is the album of the year. And yes, I know there are still a few months left of 2018, but this album has impacted me so much that I'm sure if anything will top it.

The album has had a long gestation period; Kvint himself suggests he had no real intention to become a performer, but he found himself with a number of songs he'd written and performed for special occasions - songs so personal to him that he couldn't see anyone else but him fronting them.

Still Life is well named, with its title having a double meaning; still life in that it is a snapshot in time, a portrait of the life of a man reaching middle age, but also still life in the sense that we're still here and we still have to live, whether life is good or bad, or a combination of both.

Opening track (and lead single) Seasons In You is a gorgeous, melodic tribute to Kvint's wife (he wrote and performed it for her 50th birthday), where Kvint tracks their relationship and his feelings for his wife against the four seasons. It also sets the sonic template for the album; largely driven by acoustic guitar but peppered with electric guitar and electronics, the sound of the album is reflective and organic.

Sea of Heart is possibly the key departure from this sound; it's almost like a-ha doing Bobby Darin, but its dreamy texture and wall of 1950s Americana backing vocals impresses.

Perspective is a punchy journey into Kvint trying to understand the man he is now at this stage of life, as compared to the person he always assumed he was, with these thoughts culminating in an impressive instrumental break.

The next two tracks are possibly the album's highpoints. Willow Tree is a superb ballad, with a melody that is worthy of Lennon & McCartney; Kvint contemplates his marriage in which he and his wife have, like the tree in the title, bent to life's demands, but have not been broken by it. The lines of the chorus - "I'm picking up the pieces of you / You're picking up the pieces of me" - are moving, especially with Kvint's delivery, and the extended choral coda which brings the song to its conclusion is beautiful.

Opening with some noodling synths, The Chaos Theory has a melancholic melody which gets you right in the heart; I can't listen to this track without getting a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. Kvint expresses the view that modern life is hard, but we need to stay strong and keep the big picture in mind. The emotion of the chorus - "Butterflies will flap their wings again / Hurricanes will rock your world, my friend / Count your love and multiply" - makes this song an instant classic.

Sculpture discusses how we are shaped by life and the people around us, and how that shaping never ends, with Kvint again taking stock of his life. Kvint adds some lovely brass/woodwind to this track, which gives it a real jazzy feel.

Turn My World Around Again is a restrained yet emotional paean to a close friend of Kvint's who sadly passed away; it was this track, which Kvint performed at the funeral, which instigated the whole album. This plaintive piece expresses the pain of losing a loved one, with Kvint's lyrics - "Shine a light on my friend / Lead his way until the end / Bring him home / Turn my world around again" - bringing tears to my eyes when I think of those who have passed on.

Battleships is a further departure, with its beefier production moving away from the intimacy that permeates most of the album and towards a radio hit. It is possibly one of the most immediate tracks on the album, with its lyrics seeing Kvint in fighting mode; the more contemplative Kvint gives way to a man determined to stand his ground instead of retreating.

Life Is Complicated brings Kvint back to the album's recurring theme, about how life can be a struggle at times but that doen't mean that one should avoid living it to the full -- a message reinforced by the track's laidback guitars and percussion. Some lovely backing vocals and a winning chorus make this track the dark horse of the album.

The Puzzle opens with an amazing extended instrumental intro, a lovely mix of woodwind, strings and guitars, before we get to the brilliant opening lyric - "There's a hole right inside of you / Where the people see right through you". This epic piece - all 7 minutes and 31 seconds of it - has Kvint address the listener directly; we're all incomplete in some way, there's something about us all which isn't quite right, and we spend much of our life trying to understand it.

Many artists probably would have ended the album on the anthemic The Puzzle, but Kvint ends -- as he began -- with a low-key tribute to his family, this time to his children, on Singing Every Song For You. Kvint talks about his children starting to making their own way in life but reminds them that everything he does is for them and that he's always there for them, even when he's not at the their side. It's a gorgeous track, and is absolutely the right way to close such a personal album as this.

This album has really stuck with me; the lyrics have made me think, and the melodies have made me feel. I'm a few years younger than Kvint, but I can really relate to the themes he has tackled on this brilliant album.

After a few days of listening to the album on Spotify, I knew I had to actually own the album (and support Kvint more directly) so I stumped up to get the CD shipped from Sweden. But if you don't want to do that, then it is available on Spotify and also available from the usual downloads sites such as iTunes. I'd urge you to give it a try; it might not be to everyone's taste, but this album is such a heartfelt and poignant piece of work that it deserves to be better known.

Kvint himself has been so inspired by the process that he has started work on a follow up, and I am really looking forward to hear what he comes up with. Until then, I will continue to spend some more time with Still Life. Which, may I remind you, is the album of the year.

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