For more than a decade, Norwegian singer-songwriter Thomas Dybdahl has been crafting wispy, folk-informed pop songs, relying heavily on arresting orchestrations and his own multi-octave whisper-to-an-angelic-croon vocals. Obvious touchstones for Dybdahl’s work include Nick Drake, Scott Walker, and both Buckleys, though he bears some similarities to José González as well, and to the wave of British and Scandinavian acts that emerged in the early ’00s, all committed to investing their records with a kind of dramatic, cinematic sweep. Dybdahl has yet to gain much of a foothold Stateside, but perhaps that’ll change with Songs, an artfully chosen and ordered 14-track sampler. At least it should change.
If nothing else, Songs reveals how consistent Dybdahl has been over the years; there’s no significant variance in sound or quality between the songs from his 2002 debut LP, …that great October sound, and the ones from the four albums that followed. Songs opens with October’s beautiful “From Grace”—all brushed drums, rapidly picked guitar, and quavering organ—and it draws most of its material from 2004’s One Day You’ll Dance For Me, New York City, the album where Dybdahl struck the best balance between his extended, moody instrumental passages and his minimalist verses and choruses. If Songs does finally break Dybdahl wider, it’ll be because of songs like New York City’s “Don’t Lose Yourself,” a contemplative ballad that drifts easily from a somber hush to little drumrolls and slide-guitar grace-notes, poking hopefully through like gloom.