Next Stop: Horizon: The Harbour, My Home — It is difficult to believe that such a powerful album was forged by only two people, but Pär Hagström and Jenny Roos from Gothenburg, Sweden accomplished what is a seemingly impossible task for most modern bands– a superb pop album that is all at once catchy while still dipping its fingers and toes into the abnormal abyss. Next Stop: Horizon pull out all the stops on, The Harbour, My Home. It is all at once beautiful, dark, enlightening, with tunes that coat your brain and make your feet tap to the sheer musicality and maturity of this album.
So how is all of this accomplished? Well, The Harbour, My Home, is a bit eclectic. Not in overall song structure or album content, but in use of instruments and adapting and bending various genres of music, making something all their own. For instruments, there are the standard guitars, drums and keys. But Next Stop: Horizon doesn’t stop there. No, they throw in string instruments, electric and pump organs, instruments I can’t quite figure out; they pulled out all the bells and whistles, literally. And if that weren’t enough, they recorded it all on vintage analog equipment. All of the effort put into using this equipment and menagerie of instruments pays off in the end because the result is just an utterly fantastic album. The kicker, for me, is the vocals. These two each have a set of pipes that are distinct from one another. Ms. Roos tends has a higher, slightly smoky aroma to her voice that cuts through the tracks. Then there is Mr. Hagström. His voice is more of an upper baritone, with lots and lots of soul. His can be gruff, but in a groovy way. And with their two voices, they create lasting harmonies. I mentioned in the beginning of this review it was hard to believe only two people are in Next Stop: Horizon. The lush and full background vocals suggest a full choir, or that every instrumentalist was also a fantastic singer. This gives The Harbour, My Home its extra punch.
With all these various elements in place, what does this album actually sound like? What genre is this categorized under? Those are great questions, but not easily answered.
Take for instance, the opening track, ‘Something Rare and Something Fine’, the third track, ‘The Harbour, My Home’, and ‘The Wish’. If these were played outside the album, I would swear these were modern, secular gospel songs. They have a slow-burning quality to them, but still a slight swagger and sway that all good gospel music has. The layered harmonies resound and capture the essence of a full choir singing back up. But each of these songs are still different. ‘Something Rare and Something Fine’ has a mellow pace with more emphasis on swelling vocals, precise, emphasized drums and heavy organs. ‘The Harbour, My Home’ has a more upbeat rock feel with reverbed guitars. Then you have, ‘The Wish’. This is heavy on gospel-soul backing vocals, repeating “I Wish” while Ms. Roos croons, and on top of that, this song has almost a poly-rhythmic feel. It is in 6/8 time but with percussion layering what feels like triplets. This gives the verses a groove that is different than felt in most pop music.
Now, the gospel feel runs through most of the album, but so do elements of psychedelia. On, ‘Gonna Get It Back’, an electric organ plays a strange bass scale accompanied by other sounds and booming accented drums. You can almost smell the incense as you are transported in time and space to some warehouse show in San Francisco in the mid 60s. To top it off, Mr. Hagström speak-sings the first verse. It is dark. It is chilling. Then after the song opens up more during the chorus he breaks into a groovy, soulful, yet still utterly heavy singing that gave this reviewer goosebumps.
And of course this album is filled with all the sheen and brightness that comes from any valued pop album. ‘Rain On Me’ has the upbeat folk rock strum. It’s catchy, filled with great vocals that are fun to sing along to. There’s the more ballad driven track, ‘A Heart For Gold’, that borrows from the pop tradition of singing of betrayal with almost lilting vocals.
The Harbour, My Home, is a truly stunning album. Next Stop: Horizon have captured the elusive beauty that pop music can and should be. This is one of few albums that truly needs more attention. I tip my hat to Ms. Roos and Mr. Hagström. They are true musicians and vocalists who crafted one of the best albums of 2014 so far. It is subtle without being pretentious and powerful without being overbearing. It is just a beauty…10/10