Earlier this year I reviewed Hanne Kolstø’s fourth LP Forever Maybe, a flawed but valiant effort from a talented, tireless artist. I commented on how busy she had been: this was her fourth album in as many years. Well, to continue that theme, the fifth record of Kolstø’s “five-albums-in-five-years saga” has arrived in the form of the superb While We Still Have Light.
A vast improvement on her previous output, While We Still Have Light is a bombastic, triumphant finale to Kolstø’s ambitious quintet. It is characterised by electronic drum beats and a focus on polyrhythms and textural complexity, serving as a fitting final chapter of an impressive achievement whilst also retaining its own sense of identity and originality.
The tracks that really stand out on here are those that subvert the standard pop formula. I Like You follows a highly unusual structure and is better off as a result, entering a mighty prog-rock section full of unique synth sounds and sequencers towards its conclusion. The Circle is a little more conservative in its structure, but the sound of orchestral strings like a film score over a straightforward rock beat is highly compelling. Similarly Mono doesn’t showcase a particularly inspired songwriting style but is redeemed by a brilliant drum beat full of the complexity of a FlyLo or Four Tet track.
A problem with some tracks is their lack of ability to develop into something rewarding in the final third. I Hate You Don’t Leave Me begins very interestingly but ends up finishing off as a standard pop punk-style piece with an overreliance on bassy power chords, whilst the title track is similarly anticlimactic. However for every song that fails to realise its potential there is one that does the opposite, beginning fairly tamely but concluding with a big, epic finale. Only One is perfectly fine in its opening verses but certainly doesn’t feel like anything special, and yet by the end of the track the listener has been taken through a storm of epic pop-rock power. Mysterious is another track to share this pleasantly unpredictable nature.
Its final couple of tracks fail to produce the goods, opting for reflective piano-led balladry as opposed to the stomping bravado that is typical of the album. It’s a shame for the record to end on such a low-key note, when its strength is in the ambitious and unapologetic complexity that defines the vast majority of its tracks.
The end product of five years of hard work, While We Still Have Light is a fine display from an artist on top of her game. If after five records she still sounds this exciting, inspired and vivacious, there is no reason Hanne Kolstø cannot continue to impress for years to come.