[U OK?; 2020]

On her new album, A Temporary Soothing, Norwegian musician Siv Jakobsen faces her problems head on. She sought to answer introspective questions about whether she willingly creates sadness in her mind to write better songs; “This album was conceived from this building fear that I wouldn’t be able to be both happy and a good writer at the same time,” she explains. She took on and picked apart her relationship with her fears and her nerves and she managed to come out on the better side. Her method? She personified her creative spirit, her anxiety, her inner muse that brings her songs into existence. She worries over them, fears losing them, and ultimately loves them. It’s a difficult relationship, but all good, meaningful relationships need to sit down and talk at some point. By the end of the record she declares unabashedly: “I call it love.”

Jakobsen sings wistfully, carefully, and at times her voice coos like everything might just be on the line. The fragility, the doubt, and introverted anxiety lurches out of each inflection. It’s honest and bare, even when she is surrounded by music. “I’ve got my license / But I’m scared of driving / So I keep walking everywhere,” she contemplates on “Anywhere Else”, painting a real, everyday worry. “I don’t know how to rid myself of fear / So I keep walking / It takes me so long to get anywhere else but here,” she adds in the chorus. Maybe it’s not the best solution, but it’s a determined and relatable message to keep on keeping on and not let our worst fears overtake us.

The more you focus on the lyrics, on all the doubt Jakobsen lays out across these songs, the greater the rewards – but also the greater the sense of sadness. There are shimmers of hope (the chirpy “Island”, or the forward charge of instruments in the final 90 seconds of “From Morning Made to Evening Laid”), but this is an album of real, everyday human crisis. There’s bland reassurances from others (“Only Life”), internal struggles (“From Morning Made to Evening Laid”), to wordless moments of uneasy calm (the instrumental interlude “Mothercombe”). That she weaves it all around the creative struggle of writing songs also adds a layer of relation for other musicians and artists who are struggling with themselves and their creative process. “What would I write about if I don’t fear the fear inside my bones?” she asks on opening track “Fear the Fear”, and from there the exploration of how her mind brings about art begins.

Compared to Jakobsen’s previous releases, the instrumentation on A Temporary Soothing feels all the more subtle and blended. Before the strings and percussion could be on-the-nose, and it felt like you could picture the string quartet plonked into the recording studio beside her. Here, producer Chris Bond makes sure the instrumentation and overall sound is never intrusive, always helping to carry the message of the song and to accentuate the feel of Jakobsen’s performance. On “Shine” it sounds like flashes of light are breaking through with wispy wordless vocals, and the sweet swirls of Celtic strings on “Fraud, Failure” bring a mystical flavour. The choir, theremin, and almost-syrupy strings over the plodding piano chords on album closer “I Call It Love” is a smidgen over the top, but does add an affecting, regal sweep to the album’s final (and titular) sentiment. As a whole though, the splashes of additional instrumentation (be it marimba, thumb piano, or pizzicato strings) help keep tracks from ever sounding too grey or entirely hopeless.

Some songs could also be accused of meandering into extended instrumental passages or codas, but it’s in their nature; this is a record about exploring, scrutinising, and trying to find answers about where feelings, words, and inspiration comes from. On “A Feeling Felt or A Feeling Made” Jakobsen wonders out loud, “if loneliness is a feeling felt or a feeling made,” and it’s as much a question as it is a rhetorical existential statement to challenge her own mind.

Answers might not come in simple terms, but Jakobsen’s accepting and understanding of her nerves and anxieties is the rewarding content. This is a concept record of self-reflection, and while there are plenty of sentiments for listeners to relate to here, it’s real success and power is ultimately from how she captures all the confusion and doubt in her head and makes it a tangible piece of art for us to understand.

So when winter hits (in the Northern hemisphere at least), A Temporary Soothing feels like it will really blossom. This is a record for chilly nights; the frigid cold of Norway’s snowy pathways and freezing rain comes out in the delicate brushes and plucks of acoustic guitar, the gentle sweep of strings, and the lonely ache of Jakobsen’s voice. This is a record that will come alive against flickering candlelight, in lonely nights of self-doubt, and when you’re wrapped up in all your thickest blankets against the harsh winds of winter blowing outside. 

A Temporary Soothing is a much-needed respite in a world which is currently in limbo between states of isolation and activity; it is a lifeline for when feelings of anxiety and loneliness hit too hard, or when depression guilts you for not being creative or productive enough. Jakobsen is there in those moments to remind you that not only are you not alone, but that it’s perfectly normal to feel overridden by anxiety. The hope is that we can all learn to understand ours like she does hers.