A lighthouse is, in itself, a contradiction, a building that sits in the depths of darkness, shining its only light out and away from itself for the sake of all others. Long seen as an inspiration for films, books, and song, most of the world’s lighthouses now sit as strange artefacts of a bygone age, still fulfilling their jobs but done so not by human endeavour but by modern technology.
The lighthouse found at Norway’s Lofoten Islands stands on a chunk of rock no bigger than a football field and is only accessible by boat. And it was here that Hjalte Ross pieced together his second record, Waves of Haste. Wrapped in blankets, under a dazzling display of the Northern Lights, Ross used the waves that surrounded him on that craggy piece of rock as a metaphor for the journeys we take through life, and they became the album’s theme: how the wavelengths of our life chapters come in different heights and lengths, how we find waves inside the waves.
This is no record of the sea however. Waves of Haste is also inspired by the travels Hjalte has taken over the past two years. It’s as much about the city and the sea, defined by the contrast between those spaces. From that tiny island he also relocated to the very heart of New York City, to hear the sounds, to feel the rush of it all, and both of those extremes bleed into these songs. “Travelling and staying in new places sets the creative parts in motion, it gives a perspective to things,” Hjalte says. “I wanted to go to New York to experience the greatest city on the planet. I wanted to embrace the city music I could hear in these new songs.”
The new album, which follows the Danish songwriter’s 2018 debut LP Embody, was once again recorded in Sebbersund near Ross's childhood home with John Wood. Best known for his work alongside John Martyn, Cat Stevens, Nico, Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, and more, Wood asked to work with Hjalte after he wrote to the legendary producer asking for advice ahead of his first record. And there’s a new sense of confidence here, an extra bite to the lyrics, an extra depth to that unhurried voice. “I have become a better songwriter, a better singer, and a better guitar player,” Hjalte emphasises. “I’ve kept the same intention as last time though, focusing on making a full-length album, focusing fully on the music.”
While there is still a strong vein of the Nordic folk which so tenderly characterised his debut ~ there is plenty of warmth and melancholy here ~ his time in New York reveals itself in a number of ways, the magical sway of the city coming to life through broader, less delicate arrangements which boast swells of brass alongside the guitar, bass, and drums.
A subtle, but undoubtedly bold expansion of his sound, Waves of Haste consists of nine spellbinding songs, and after meeting on that big apple trip, was mixed and mastered by Daniel Goodwin, a producer heralded for his work with the likes of Kevin Morby and Whitney, among many others. That pairing brings out the best in Hjalte’s songwriting, highlighting those contrasts between Norway and New York, sounding at once both modern and elegantly aged, tipping its had to the soulful sound of the 70s.
Lead track ‘Adrenaline’ is indicative of such a shift. Written in the heart of Chelsea, New York, it aches like an old soul song, beginning with a splash of piano and a shuffle of drums, the song is underpinned by a playful brass arrangement throughout which soon blossoms into an instrumental coda full of sweeping strings and measured guitar licks. Elsewhere ‘Thinking About You’ might be Hjlate’s most upbeat moment to-date, another buoyant burst of brass led soul music which radiates warmth, the title-track highlights his more withdrawn side, evocatively characterising the record as a whole, framing the recurring themes of the album inside a stripped-back moment of reflection.
The coverartwork made by Danish artist Kasper Eistrup is embodying the ‘Waves of Haste’ while really inviting the listener to be relaxed and fully attentional.
Both a journal of Hjalte’s creative travels over the past two years, and a glowing display of his growth as a singer, songwriter, and performer, Waves of Haste is an elegant and lovingly crafted album which wears its influences proudly on its sleeve: from the coastal magic of Norway, surrounded by water, to the foggy streets of New York City. It’s an album that speaks of personal memories, of the ever changing stages we go through in life via the separation from those that we love and care about; by choice, rejection, death and sickness, and of all the in between.