Hanne Hukkelberg: Little Things

“I was a lonely hunter” sings 26-year-old Norwegian Hanne Hukkelberg in “Searching,” a torchy lullaby distinguished not only by its creator's smooth vocalizing but its unusual arrangement of acoustic bass, Theremin, harp, and glockenspiel. While the lyric itself might call to mind a certain well-known Icelandic songstress, Hukkelberg's vocal style is very much her own. It's generally understated, warmly inviting, and sometimes fragile; though plainer and less distinctive compared to Björk's, it's also less divisive. In addition, there's a jazzy dimension to Hukkelberg's voice which emerges in the subtle vibrato that smokily trails the end of a vocal phrase, a facet that also comes forth in “Do Not as I Do,” specifically in the off-kilter rhythms of her singing during the verses, and in “True Love” where she and the band indulge in some warped jazz-scat (musicians from Jaga Jazzist, Kaada, Shining, Kiruna, and Exploding Plastix play on the album). Often she treats her voice like an instrument and lets it swoop and soar freely (the aptly titled “Balloon”). Arrangements in other songs (“Displaced”) adopt a 'junkyard' style of banjos, tubas, pedal steel, and found sounds (pots and pans, wine glasses, bicycle spokes) that would no doubt charm Tom Waits. The jaunty romp “Little Girl,” for example, pairs her anchoring vocals with a rambunctious array of whistling, pots and pans, tuba, and banjo.

Thankfully, the album's less about eccentric sounds than memorable songwriting. Her angelic vocal nurtures a lovely intimate mood in “Cast Anchor” with the song further distinguished by bass clarinet and lap steel, while bright accordion flourishes add a European café feel to her jazzy torch emoting in “Boble.” Notwithstanding an occasional cloying moment, Little Things remains a remarkably poised and confident debut, with Hukkelberg investing the material with an emotional breadth that extends from girlish gaiety to delicate tenderness.

July 2005