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The Opium Cartel - Night Blooms - CD Cover
click image to visit band's website
cover illustration by Mako
image © Termo Records 2009


.: more Opium Cartel :.
Ardor (2013)

.: related material by White Willow :.
Sacrament (2000)
Live at Spirit of 66 (2002)
(interview, review and photos)
Storm Season (2004)
Signal to Noise (2006)

.: related material by Tirill Mohn :.
Nine and Fifty Swans (2011)
Tales from Tranquil August Gardens (2011) interview and photos (2004)
A Dance With The Shadows (2004)

Sylvia Skellestad
click image to visit band's FaceBbook
Sylvia Skellestad (vocals)
image © Termo Records 2009

Jacob Holm-Lupo
click image to visit band's MySpace
Jacob Holm-Lupo (electric, acoustic guitars; bass, synths, mellotron; vocals)
image © Termo Records 2009

Rachel Haden
click image to visit band's MySpace
Rachel Haden (vocals)
image © Termo Records 2009

 

(31 May 2009, updated 27 October 2013) As White Willow goes from strength to strength, so do the individual artists that comprise Norway's most notably acclaimed progressive rock band. The Opium Cartel is a project put together by songwriter / guitarist / producer Jacob Holm-Lupo working with members of White Willow and others. With something of a split cult following, White Willow has influenced both the modern psych-folk scene. Their 1995 debut, Ignus Fatuus is considered one of the forerunners of the psych-folk revivial. The band is equally sought out by the extreme metal scene. In fact, the White Willow's fans include Norway's Enslaved and Emporer, England's Cathedral and US group The Soil Bleeds Black.

Gathering up his favorite singers and musicians including, Rachel Haden, Sylvia Skjellestad, Tim Bowness, Ketil Einarsen, Rhys Marsh, Mattias Olsson, Sigrun Eng and Lars Fredrik Frøislie, Jacob Holm-Lupo wanted to make a more eclectic and personal album. Made on a laptop in the comfort of the various contributors' homes, the album was made leisurely over an extended period. Most songs were build around orginal sketches recorded on dictaphones or minidiscs, and the end result is a patchwork of material sourced from different places and eras. All songs are by Jacob Holm-Lupo except "By This River" by Enio/Roedelius/Moebius and the intro to "The Last Rose of Summer" by Ketil Einarsen. Recorded, mixed, mastered and produced with stunning quality, credit also flows to Jacob Holm-Lupo.

The Opium Cartel's nine-track debut album is entitled Night Blooms (Termo Records (Norway) 7090001911835, 2009). Musically, this is partly a back-to-the-roots dip into the folk-rock that originally inspired Holm-Lupo, although the album touches on a variety of genres, from electronically impaired folk ("Heavenman," "Three Sleepers") via garagey power-pop ("Honeybee") and art-pop ("Skinnydip") to proggy exursions ("Beach House"). The album also features a cover of "By This River" from Brian Eno's album Before and After Science, one of Jacob's favorites. A common thread on the album is Mattias Olsson's sound mangling and an abundance of wobbly, vintage keyboards like Mellotrons and Optigans.

The album opens with the familiar sound of White Willow in the gentle ballad "Heavenman," but with Rhys Marsh's vocal work. The lovely melody that follows immediately draws listeners in. Although sparsely arranged, yet with stunning guitar solo, the album's production quality is superb from the start. Whispers female backing vocals hint that more will follow. Rhys also sings the guitar-led rocker "Better Days Than Here" features a wonderfu tempo changing instrumental break fed with swirling keyboards.

The songs featuring female vocals are certain to draw a special level of attention from our readers. "Skinnydip" is the first, and an album standout. A gentle almost-pop ballad sung wonderfully as a duet between White Willow stalwart, Sylvia Skjellestad, and Stephen Bennett. Sylvia's vocalwork is delivered so evocatively that it is quite liternally spinetingling. She returns in the track "Three Sleeps," accompanied by warm strings, keyboard washes and acoustic guitar. Not unlike the other longer tracks, novel instrumental breaks parse the songs's individual passages. Sylvia's additional harmony layers and lovely vocalise add a wonderful texture to the lush arrangement.

"Flicker Girl," led by Rachel Hayden's crystalline vocals, is another track streamed on the band's MySpace. Clearly another album standout, Rachel's sweetly delivered multi-layered harmonies work extremely well with the light string-based arrangement. While the verses are terrific in their own right, it's the joinup with the vocally laden chorus and Ketil Einarsen's flutes that clearly set this song apart from others on the album. Arrangements build throughout the song and reach a wonderful climax. A final instrumental break featuring Ketil's flute work winds things down as the song reaches its conclusion.

Perhaps the most White Willow tracks on the album are the artsy "Honeybee" and the progressive rocker "Beach House." "Honeybee" has a driving, percussive and with layers of vocal contributions, a complex arrangement. In "Beach House," numerous tempo shifts and extended guitar parts are underscored by vintage drums and percussion and are supported by a range of psychodelically swirling keys.

Warm strings accompany the singers in "By This River." Led by Tim Bowness, Rachel Haden provides a tender backing harmonies to the softly delivered ballad. The album's last track, "The Last Rose Of Summer," is introduced with layers of Ketil Einarsen's flute work before being joined by acoustic guitar and Rachel Hayden's lovely multi-layers vocal part. Strings and standup bass join percussion in the gentle ballad that brings this tremendous album to its conclusion.

The album was mastered by Jens Petter Nilsen of Xploding Plastix, and the package is rounded off with illustrations by Japanese illustrator Mako and design by Trine+Kim. Apart from The Opium Cartel and White Willow, Jacob Holm-Lupo plays guitar in experimental black metal grou In Lingua Mortua along with Lars Fredrik Frøislie and Jorgen Munkedby, and works as a producer. He produced Wobbler's debut album and is currently working on Rachel Haden's first solo album. We can't wait to hear it.

On March 24, 2010, to celebrate the tragic anniversary of the sleeping lizard that was trodden to death by a drunk hippie on the island of Ibiza on this very day in the year 1970, The Opium Cartel released the Lizard Sleeps EP download. The EP features an alternate, epic-sounding mix of the song "Beach House," mixed by Mike Senior of Nigel Kennedy, Wet Wet Wet and The Charlatans fame. Additionally it features the two tracks "Lumberjack's Lullaby" and "July 1983," tracks that had been only available on the limited edition vinyl edition of Night Blooms. "Lumberjack's Lullaby" features the amazing lead guitar of US fusion guitar god Scott McGill. The Opium Cartel also recorded a cover of Yes' "Clear Days" that can be heard at YouTube and is included in the 2012 various artists compilation of Yes covers, Tales From Edge.

While the album's tracks include vocal parts by men and woman, the female led songs are intoxicatingly delicious in every respect. This is not to say that the other songs are not great, in fact the entire album is tremendous and was one of three albums that our staff listened to extensively while on extended holiday this past April in the Virgin Islands. It is hard now to imagine how this holiday would have been without The Opium Cartel's Night Blooms.

 
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