Along the Oregon coast protrudes a giant, monolith called Haystack Rock. Standing 235-feet tall, it is the easily the most defining item in Cannon Beach, giving the seaside town a short drive south from Astoria its fame. I know the Cannon Beach (and surrounding) area quite well from my childhood, having spent several week-long summer vacations along the northern Oregon coast in the late ’80s.
Cannon Beach is also the name selected by a minimalist lo-fi folk duo from Scandinavia. Simon Hjortdal (Denmark) provides vocals and writes the lyrics, also lending expertise on acoustic guitar, organ, drums and autoharp. Ole Jørgen Kristensen (Norway) you’ll find on electric guitar, organ, drums, piano, synthesizer and bass. Of note, too, is Signe Bøgh Tonnesen’s backup vocals on “Crooked Eris”.
Concrete, People And Things is their debut album and it features a mixture of styles, all within the minimalist folk sub genre. For Cannon Beach’s style of minimalist folk, it works; the album can be divided into three distinct categories, all of which swirl together quite cohesively.
Tracks such as opener “Owls” and the subtle Mount Eerie-style “Organ Song” could easily be classified as drone. You could also toss the super soft closer “Maria” into this collection. Then there are the songs that integrate a more standard and melodic folk, such as the “Hotel Earle” and “Pink Lune”, both of which reference (perhaps) a pre-Junip Jose Gonzales.
The third style is darker and more ominous. “I’ll Be Dead” and its successor “Sacred Harp” are a bit more voluptuous with heavy percussion (the former) or high-volume, drone-ish guitar riffs (the latter). However, despite several standouts throughout the LP, the monumental “Sacred Heart” and the quieter, emotive “Loki” are where things shine brightest. “Loki” features a soft strum, lyrics that inspired the album’s namesake, a buzzing electric guitar, and other elements that set it apart from the others on the album.
I had a brief chat with Ole, who provided some insight into Cannon Beach’s songwriting process. Ole states:
Simon is our Danish member, and has written all the lyrics and some of the songs. On most of the songs on the album, Simon would make a song on acoustic guitar, record it, and give it to me. Ole (me) is the Norwegian counterpart. I would then add/remove elements (for example add drums, or remove the guitar and replace it with something else). Other songs we would make together.
This seems fairly standard for a long-distance collaborative creative process; in fact, I believe it’s precisely how The Postal Service made Give Up.
As Ole continues, he goes into more detail surrounding how the two met (a four-month “do-whatever-you-want kind of High School foreign to what we have here in the States) and, of particular interest to me, both what inspired the name of the band and what’s depicted on the album’s cover:
Simon was on a big roadtrip across the states some years ago, and he was (sic) a day at Cannon Beach (the one you’re talking about), and apparently had a good day. The album cover is a photo of a German bunker from WW2 on a beach in Denmark, and has no connection the the name.
So that answers that. Concrete, People And Things is available now as a free download on Ikenai! Records. Below you can sample a few tracks from the LP, but I would encourage you to go ahead and grab it in its entirety from the above bandcamp link.
Ikenai! Records [Digital LP, 2013]
4. Crooked Eris
5. Hotel Earle
6. Pink Lune
7. Organ Song
8. I’ll Be Dead
9. Sacred Harp