Norwegian quintet Hajk had their music career start a little bit ahead of them: with only three songs under their belt and not even a full line-up in their ranks, the five-piece were offered stage time at Norway’s biggest festival, Øyafestivalen. It was a hell of a gig, which came mostly from the airplay of their first two singles “Common Sense” and “Magazine.” A cursory listen to either song and it’s little wonder why the band started making tracks so soon in their lifetime. Humbly boasting a nimble pop edge with lyrics that read like extracts from the diary of a young adult coming of age, there’s a lot to like.
After settling down briefly from the whirl of publicity that blessed the band in their early days, they took a short time to head into the studio and put together their self-titled debut album. Capturing the same energy that caught the attention of so many with their first singles, the band show themselves to be versatile and able to sound more thematically cohesive than most bands can muster on their debut. Hajk is an album that continues with the stories told in “Magazine” and “Common Sense”; here we have what sounds like young adolescents navigating the troubles of romance and love, as well as dealing with the weightier issues of finding a purposeful existence in the world.
“Magazine” opens the album and it sets the tone perfectly. Over a tumble of drums, summery guitar, and bleary-eyed synths, singer Sigrid Aase ponders, “Everything you said last night got stuck in my head / Now I’ve got my headphones on trying to think about something else / Looking through a magazine I’m in a bad dream / I’m not sure what I’m supposed to believe.” It’s a full image that paints a picture with just the right amount of detail; combined with the balmy edge of the music (especially Aase’s harmonization with other lead singer Preben Sælid Anderson), “Magazine” rings out as an effortless pop song soaked in regret and doubt.
Alternating singing duties, Aase and Anderson create a dynamic that fuels the drama of the album. Often it sounds like they are singing about the same thing from a different perspective, like they are longing for answers to the same questions through their respective rain-soaked window. The lyrics relish on this back and forth, and the crux of many songs and album themes comes from presenting juxtaposing sentiments. On “Magazine” Aase sings, “You’re the one I want / But you’re not what I need” with a plainspoken air while on following track “Nothing Left To Say” Anderson declares, “Everything is wrong / But it feels so right” over a lurching, swaggering bass line. It telling also that a track titled “Best Friend” comes with an accusation of “Lair, lying to my face!” in it’s opening seconds while also being followed up by a track called “My Enemy” a few songs later.
The contrasts at play add to the depth that makes this an album worth spending time with and digging that bit deeper into. But Aase and Anderson’s lyrics themselves draw enough detail to mull over and empathise with. On “I Don’t Remember” Aase asks, “Could I ever be as good as when she puts her make up on? Will I ever find a place where I belong?,” while on “Not Anymore” Anderson pleads gently, “I don’t want you to get over me,” tears infused in the acoustic jangle of the song. When the band dial back the flare of their dreamy pop – the kind that is executed with such ease and precision that comparisons to acts like Dirty Projectors become warranted –their gentle side only allows them flourish with more delicacy. “Look around the walls are caving in / Bricks are falling from the ceiling,” Aase warns on “Medicine,” her voice stretching out with a tinge of genuine anguish. “Flowerdust” has the gentle rumble of some kind of aftermath, which is only confirmed when Aase sings, “I know this could work if we tried just one more time, baby” and when Anderson starts singing alongside her. When they sing “I got lost” over and over together, there’s a beautiful and tender echo of Hot Chip’s “And I Was A Boy From School.”
All the drama and uncertainty that’s painted across the album comes to a head on final track “Somebody Else,” which is arguably the band’s most sublime moment. “I’ve got the situation under control,” Aase reassures us, but when she wishes “sometimes I wish I could be somebody else” in the chorus, her genuineness is up in the air. One could interpret her words to be about depression, self-harm, or even suicide, making her ached performance all the more heart-wrenching. This is a pop-ballad that the likes of Katy Perry or Adele would kill for, but expertly Hajk manage to remain restrained, never letting the song go over the top and become too sickly. “Whatever happens,” Aase repeats as she and a few tender staccato piano chords usher the song to an end. There’s a hint of positivity in her sentiment, but the darkness still lingers. Once again, the juxtaposition brings the power. As fast the band’s career may have accelerated, “Somebody Else” slows everything down for both them and the listener, and puts everyone in the here and now.