The Hardingfele or Hardanger Fiddle is a traditional instrument of the violin family that hails from south western Norway. It has a much sharper timbre than its conventional cousin, and is usually tuned higher. It’s the dominant instrument on Brooklyn quartet QQQ’s album Unpacking the Trailer, with the accompanying viola, classical guitar and percussion all playing, well, second fiddle.
The album is undeniably eclectic. There’s a whole host of styles and influences on display. Unfortunately, it’s also extremely erratic, and runs to a patience-testing 65 minutes.
On the upside, there are fantastic tunes like the downbeat and refreshingly simple “Spring”, and the pleasingly baroque air “Ål or Nothing”. The solo fiddle piece “Orton’s Ode” is superb, and the closing “Ghostwalk” has a suitably nocturnal feel to it. Some of the more esoteric pieces have something about them, too. “Happy ’til You Hurt Yourself” is like a reel played in some alien time signature, but hangs together. The title track is a piece of avant-garde improv that at least makes some sense.
On the downside, there are some over-elaborate indulgences, and some really sloppily thought out pieces. Opener “Tøykey Jøykey” has all the teeth-clenching charm of a Bob Wills western swing track played by a primary school band. “Swimming Under the Moonlight” is a quasi-hillbilly ballad undermined by the relentless clatter of percussion that sounds like the kit falling down several flights of stairs. “Runaway Puppy” is supposed to be light-spirited, but is merely a cacophonous mess, and “(t)His Land” is just horrible pseudo-prog indulgence.
It is a weird mixture – part Hangedup, part A Hawk and a Hacksaw, part folk, part country, part free improv, part up-its-own-arse prog. It’s like the band are just trying far too hard. What’s most frustrating is that shorn of 25 minutes of the worst excess, there would be an absolute belter of a 40 minute album left standing.
1 Tøykey Jøykey 4:28
2 Spring 5:44
3 Swimming Under the Moonlight 7:42
4 Runaway Puppy 3:50
5 Sister Sparrow 4:51
6 (t)His Land 4:50
7 Beth’s Springar 3:56
8 Ål or Nothing 5:17
9 Happy ’til You Hurt Yourself 3:14
10 Orton’s Ode 3:04
11 Unpacking the Trailer 5:38
12 Rocolocosmokotoko 5:35
13 Ghostwalk 6:56