Wandering around the beautiful ‘The City’, with Ola Kvaløy and Morten Abel￼
Ola Kvaløy might be a bit of an academic Superman. Economics professor and advisor to the Norwegian government on affairs like taxation and climate change by day. Indie pop master, bringing us nostalgic ’90s tunes to daydream the mundanity away, by night. We could wax lyrical about his time in Lano Places, or bringing together The Rent Seekers, or discuss his transition into academia (and then back again, straddling both spaces simultaneously) – undoubtedly, Kvaløy is an incredibly talented individual.
His most recent single, ‘The City’, features Morten Abel (oh yes, the legendary Norwegian pop star) on bass, electric guitar & vocals. If Bon Iver met The Smiths and decided to have one beautiful night involving James then I imagine the result would be something akin to this song. We begin with a minimalistic introduction, Morten Abel’s drums acting as the pulse and the synth’s echo giving us a tone of robotic loneliness, echoing around the space. Kvaløy’s dulcet tones enter the dreamscape, painting an empty scene – the streets of a city at night, without the bustle of tourists and townsfolk going about their business.
I don’t know if the intention was religious but it certainly reads that way. The themes of forgiveness and redemption – questioning this figure that does not speak yet holds so much hope – have those connotations. Some big questions come into play, ‘Are you salvation, the one we waited for?’, and the imagery of the lone blackbird coming in the morning light feels incredibly spiritual. Blackbirds can be significant symbols for those on a spiritual journey – one interpretation being that we need to trust the process and allow the pieces to fall into place (without being too reductionist, we’re all on a path so take it one step at a time). The overall tone is hopeful albeit sincere – lightened particularly by the bridge and the echoed harmonies towards the end.
As a student of literature, I know that there’s a danger to read too much into the poetry – I really must commend Kvaløy & Abel on the poetry of their songwriting – but there are great layers to this song. Musically, the second half of the song reflects the morning light, rebirth, hope; it is feel-good without following a typical ‘love song’ format. In my mind, I picture it being used in a film where the main protagonist is wandering the city looking for answers, walking into the cathedral and asking God what their purpose is to be, but instead finding inner acceptance to move onto the next chapter of their lives.
‘The City’ is the third single from his upcoming solo album, Any Other Life, produced in collaboration with Morten Abel and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Gallatin. Currently the release date is Fall 2022 which will probably make Dr Kvaløy one of the coolest professors at the University of Stavanger that semester, if not the whole year.