Ardor is the second album from The Opium Cartel, an outlet for the more pop orientated music of songwriter/producer Jacob Holm-Lupo from Norway’s art-rock band White Willow.
Ardor is inspired by the 80s pop of The Blue Nile, Thomas Dolby, Japan, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, as well as drawing on more modern electronic music by the likes of M83 and Air.
Fans of 80s music will also recognise the warm synth sounds of the Prophet 5, Fairlight, Oberheim OB8, and the PPG Wave, that are scattered throughout the album’s 9 tracks.
Album opener Kissing Moon features Venke Knutson and Rhys Marsh on vocals, and features some wonderful, frenetic percussion and the first appearance of those lovely warm synths!
When We Dream (stream the remixed single version below) has shades of Icehouse and a-ha in the vocal performance from Norwegian singer Alexander Stenerud. The most commercial track on the album, with a very anthemic chorus, and an addictive guitar riff. When We Dream bleed’s pure unadulterated nostalgia.
Silence Instead is an early album highlight, co-written by and featuring vocals from no-man’s Tim Bowness. A slow-burning song, with some delicious guitar work, and a synth sound that reminds me of my favourite Thomas Dolby track, Screen Kiss. Tim is a regular collaborator of Jacob’s, featuring on the debut album by The Opium Cartel as well as White Willow’s progressive masterpiece, Terminal Twilight.
“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”
If you miss a-ha (who split in 2011), you will love Northern Rains, which sounds like a long-lost 1980s ballad from Morten Harket & co, underpinned by the Peter Gabriel rhythm section from 1980.
Sorry about all the 80s references in this review, but it’s fun playing spot the influence, and it helps that the 80s homage in the music is not ironic or cheesey, but playful and pays respect to the creativity and exploration of a much maligned decade.
Watch the Ardor album trailer
Revenant features the only vocals on the album from Jacob Holm-Lupo, and is one of the albums more progressive tracks. I don’t know if it is inspired by the recent French TV series “The Returned / Les Revenants” but there are certainly some nods to the excellent Mogwai soundtrack in the instrumentation.
White Wolf was the first song written for the album, and heralds a change in the album’s direction from this point in, with each track getting steadily more progressive. The middle section is very moving, and veers off into Yes-inspired territory towards the end, with a Chris Squire-like strong, melodic bassline.
The Waiting Ground has the classic synths still present, and features a great performance from Henry Fool (and current no-man live band) keyboard player Stephen Bennett.
“If I run, where do I run to?”
Then Came the Last Days of May is Ardor‘s only non-original track, a haunting cover of a classic rock ballad from Blue Öyster Cult’s debut album from 1972. This is one for fans of Opeth’s Damnation album, and a perfect way to set-up the album finale.
Mariner, Come In is the epic that completes the album. A rare vocal outing for Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, this track is more in keeping with recent White Willow, and the latter section of the track is most definitely jazz-rock and proud of it! A wild saxophone solo from Harald Lassen on top of layered synths is reminiscent of parts of the recent Steven Wilson album, and after 11 minutes, the track and the album itself, slowly fades to a close.
Ardor is a very different beast to the first Opium Cartel album, and feels more consistent (even though it has a wider variety of vocalists). It should appeal to a wide audience – from the more mainstream fans of modern electronic / pop to lovers of modern progressive music. Oh, and fans of 80s music!