Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Väsen Brings the Noose to the SW

By Michael Henningsen

MARCH 1, 1999:  Bloody Vikings! For nearly three centuries--from the eighth through the 10th--these Norwegian warriors plundered Northern and Western Europe, stealing everything in their path. When they returned home after each excursion, they jammed righteously. And the music they played was as surprisingly graceful as it was powerful. Once Europe got wise and stole gunpowder from the Chinese, the bloody Vikings stayed home, awaiting the advent of the bicycle, and not a peep was heard until Schwinn began selling franchises. But the bands--and the music--played on. Children skied to school, and God was in His heaven.

Much like the Celts, the Swedes had a penchant for rollicking tunes conducive to slurping grog, gorging on near-raw meat and throwing large rocks at each other. The music was played on joyous violins, lively percussion and an ancient keyed fiddle, unique to the Swedes, called the nyckelharpa. The music was their soundtrack, an historical account of conquest and conscience.

And the music lives on. Väsen (pronounced Veh'-sen) are a Swedish quartet whose knowledge of the traditional tunes is complemented by their collective ability to cast folk music in a contemporary light. The instruments employed do not deviate from the instruments of the past, yet the sound is at once hypnotically ancient and uniquely modern. Väsen project a playful, improvisational quality that brings new life to centuries-old technique and instrumentation.

The group's latest recording, Whirled (NorthSide), is their first as a quartet and features striking musicianship (the nyckelharpa, incidentally, is an extremely rare and difficult instrument to play) on an enchanting collection of original tunes struck from ancient casts. The sounds that result are dervish-like, laden with instantaneous vitality and age-old importance. Truly, there's nothing quite like it.

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