Northern Comfort - The Reykjavik Grapevine

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Tilbury

Northern Comfort

A subtle and quietly remarkable set of songs that ask questions of the listener.


Published January 19, 2014

It seems fair to say that most forms of entertainment value a certain sense of drama. From Shakespeare to Wuthering Heights to Citizen Kane to Arcade Fire, situations and stories are often presented through a certain lens and with a story arc designed to accentuate the dramatic tension in the subject matter.

This is, perhaps, what makes for gripping entertainment–escapism, or a break from the norm. Because, for many, large parts of daily life are noticeably undramatic, made up of quotidian tasks like shopping, cooking, commuting, working, bill-paying, etc. So it could equally be said that continuous portrayals of high drama create a distance and dissonance between the contents of art and life.

When Lars Von Trier and the Dogme 95 film movement arrived and attempted to tell stories without the trappings of dramatic narrative, such as background music and special effects, it was considered an avant-garde approach. And something about Tilbury’s music brings the Dogme movement to mind. The melodies on their second album, ‘Northern Comfort,’ are sparingly arranged, tightly played, perfectly formed, without much adornment. Band mainstay Þormóður Dagsson’s vocals are delivered plainly and plaintively, without overt emotion. There is a sense of purposeful reserve that runs through all aspects of the album.

In this respect, Tilbury’s music presents a marked contrast to the rehearsed, quasi-emotional content of much contemporary pop or rock ’n’ roll. On the LP’s title track, the lyrics are almost whispered, with such a flat delivery that it seems Þormóður would almost rather not be heard at all. His sense of abiding stoicism is Tilbury’s defining characteristic, and it’s played out in the band’s lyrics. “Turbulence,” a masterful standout track, presents in-flight buffeting as an allegory for life events that intrude into inner calm–in this case, the emotions associated with falling in love. The chorus of the track blossoms beautifully, with the line “I’m smiling on the inside” knowingly tipping the lyricist’s hand.

It’s one of the few moments on ‘Northern Comfort’ to get the listener’s pulse racing, but there’s something compelling about the approach shown here. Perhaps it’s that this reservedness comes from an understandable desire to avoid social conflict, as spelled out in the lyrics of “Cool Confrontation,” or, perhaps, from an internal battle with the difficulty of sharing oneself, as described on “Shook Up.” Both will be easy to relate to for many, and aren’t the easiest of topics to pin down in a pop song.

Musically, there’s much to admire in ‘Northern Comfort.’ There’s craftsmanship in both the songwriting and the playing, and the airy production is warm and clear throughout. “Frozen” offers a magical, twinkling melody, and the choruses on tracks like “Animals” are catchy and likeable. Overall, the album leaves a light footprint, somehow. It’s an enjoyable listen, and whether ‘Northern Comfort’s’ particularly subtle and unassuming brand of perfection will continue to resonate over the long term is something only time can tell.

See also:

Track Of The Issue, “Hollows” by Tilbury.

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