Oh Land’s self-titled, major-label debut opens with a delicate orchestral flourish, an early indication that we might be in for something more than a bit precious. Given that Oh Land (nom de disc of Danish singer-songwriter Nanna Øland Fabricius) was a trained ballerina before she decided to embark on a music career following a back injury, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But then the song’s “We Will Rock You” stomp kicks in and it’s clear that Oh Land likes to play with contrast. Dualities abound on Oh Land: soft vs. hard, life vs. death, nature vs. supernature. It’s all a little Black Swan, if you ask me.
That opening track, “Perfection,” sets the bar high, both due to its title and its actual content, and Oh Land meets that challenge with several peaks across its landscape. The album’s lead single, “Sun of a Gun,” juxtaposes a driving 4/4 beat with accompanying madrigal-style vocal harmonies sitting in for synth loops and finds Oh Land likening a fading relationship to the orbit of the Earth around the sun. The subtle sounds of shackles can be heard rattling throughout “Break the Chain,” on which she defies doctor’s orders: “He said, ‘Sorry, but you’re never gonna dance again’/But my feet just keep me movin’.” And though the spritely “White Nights” borders on twee, the sheer tenacity of its melody and the intricacy of its production make it an album highlight.
But Oh Land struggles to maintain such lofty heights. Oh Land’s cinematic arrangements bring Janelle Monáe’s ambitious approach to pop music to mind, but tracks like “Wolf & I” and “Lean” draw a bit too heavily from the trip-hop playbook (it doesn’t help that Fabricius sounds a lot like Björk) and, however well-excecuted they may be, end up sounding derivative. More importantly, while a song like “Voodoo” could break Oh Land to a wider pop audience, it isn’t anything Little Boots or La Roux aren’t already doing.