Nelson Can were one of two acts I stumbled across in 2017 at the Sørveiv Festival in the seaside town of Kristiansand, Norway (the other being Louien, whose album None Of My Words I reviewed for Joyzine in September 2019). Sørveiv runs over 2 days in multiple venues and Nelson Can were on at Charlie’s Bar, the smallest of these. My girlfriend and I had a gap in our planned itinerary so decided to check them out. It was a good choice. I don’t normally discuss clothing in reviews but Selina Gin (vocals), Maria Juntunen (drums) and Signe SigneSigne (bass) took to the stage outfitted all in white (even down to Gin’s Doc Martens). Despite the obvious laundry nightmare for a band at the hire-van/cheap-motel end of their career it was an impressive sight; especially when set against the dimly lit, dive bar vibe of Charlies. But such sartorial considerations were quickly swept away by their playing. At the first song it felt like someone had shot a current through the packed bar and the power that radiated from them was barely contained by the low ceiling and tiny stage; and from a band free of rhythm guitar or keyboards, just bass and drums (enhanced with effects and synthesised drum sounds) generating the fission which fuelled the titanium vocal chords of Selina Gin.
So Long Desire is Nelson Can’s second full length album since 2014’s Now Is Your Time To Deliver and this release, in tandem with a new decade, brings a newly invigorated band. The album opens with ‘Ambitious’ and although it’s a hiccup of a track running at 1:14 it feels like a call to arms: “Be ambitious, be ambitious. You know what you want, you aim high, you take what you need, it’s justified. Be ambitious’. What follows is a set of songs that swoop between light and dark, propelled by locomotive momentum and stunt-plane acrobatics. ‘Limelight’ builds from a simple bass line and kick drum over a fragile tune and ethereal harmonies into a monolithic climax full of interwoven vocals. This is a winning formula for Nelson Can and it’s not the only song on the album that follows this blueprint. After the silent rage of ‘No Longer Afraid’ with its combination of breathy and low-pitched vocals come the twin anthems of ‘Madness’ and ‘I Wanna Be With You’. ‘Madness’ starts with an intimate closeness where the gentle vocals are matched by an empathic bass tune but half-way through the song explodes and spirals into a nightmare mantra of “Love is where the madness lies” (a reference to a line from King Lear) and we’re on a ghost train ride through l’amour fou. ‘I Wanna Be With You’ opens simply with a crystalline synth line occasionally punctuated by a bass motif before we get another huge hyper-catchy chorus. The title track ‘So Long Desire (I’m Getting Over You)’ signals a more reflective second half to the album. ‘Akebono’ is a 51 second prog-like raindrop with handpan-sounding chimes that are ultimately eviscerated by a viciously distorted bass line. Then, like Alice falling into the rabbit hole we drop into ‘I Used to Sleep Through Everything’ which has the feel of tracks by Japan like ‘Ghosts’ or ‘Sons of Pioneers’. The final track ‘Yeah, I Didn’t Think So’ is a self-reflective coda on many of the themes covered on the album: love, loss and friendship and acts as a warm-down exercise after the sheer excitement of the album.
I had written this review and included a final paragraph about how this accomplished album must be the culmination of years of playing together and how they had achieved their Master Degree in Anthems and so on, but the day after I sent it across to Joyzine HQ I was greeted with the sad news on their social media feeds that they had decided to break up. In an exclusive interview for the Danish magazine/website GAFFA they go into detail about their reasons and these are, sadly, the usual things all struggling artists will have empathy with: trying to balance a personal life with band commitments, the tension of being in close confinement with your band members, not enough fun – too much admin and what Maria Juntunen describes as “…many hats to navigate”. It’s often hard to appreciate that when a band starts to get some success (but is still nowhere near a penthouse room or and private jet) they may seem ‘new’ to their growing army of fans but could have already been together as long as Nelson Can: 9 years. What starts out as fun can often become claustrophobic, with only 1% being that short, shining moment on stage versus the 99% which is a treadmill of constant travelling and loading gear in and out of venues. Actors must learn to face constant rejection before fame comes calling whereas bands can have years of schizophrenia being adulation rich and cash poor.
So thank you Nelson Can for all the hard work and sacrifice you put in to making some incredible music and putting on some powerful live shows. I will still carry on enjoying your music for many years to come but wish all three members of the band the best of luck and success in their future projects.
You can order the coloured vinyl version of So Long Desire here
Review by Paul F Cook