SOUNDING IN PARTS like a great lost record from Island’s ‘Pink Label’ era of the late ’60s and early ’70s, the debut album by Complete Mountain Almanac comprises 12 songs documenting one individual’s month-by-month relationship with nature and climate change. It’s the work of Norwegian singer/composer Rebekka Karijord with lyricist Jessica Dessner and Dessner’s brothers Bryce and Aaron (of The National), and it shares some of the “climate grief” of The Weather Station’s 2021 album, Ignorance.
“Definitely,” nods Karijord, at home in her adopted hometown of Stockholm. “It’s something that I’ve been feeling increasingly since I had children. My inner fears, and my most profound feelings, are connected to something that’s so big, and it’s really hard to grasp that.”
Rebekka Karijord and Jessica Dessner first met in 2006 in Brooklyn: the former at the time involved in theatrical scores, the latter transitioning from a dancer to a poet. Dessner gave Karijord a volume of her verses (titled Wit’s End With Bric-A-Brac) and the seeds of their future creative partnership were sown. “It was on my bookshelf for some years,” says Karijord, “and every now and then I took it out.” In 2016, she e-mailed Dessner, “and we talked about doing something with her poems and my music.”
My inner fears are connected to something that’s so big.
Then, at the beginning of 2018, Cincinnatiborn Dessner, who speaks to MOJO from the kitchen of her current home in the Italian countryside outside Turin, was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. “It was such a fragile time for me,” she offers. “At some point, Rebekka sent a note to say that if I would like to use the project to deal with what I was going through, she was really open to that.”
From here, the universal theme added personal aspects, as encapsulated by one song, May, in the ruminative peace of the line, “Everything happening to me is of the earth”, or December’s standout couplet, “The body betrays itself/The body it heals itself”. “There was this complexity in Jessica’s writing that really hit me in the guts,” Karijord states.
Musically, Complete Mountain Almanac move through spectral folk and full-bodied orchestrations involving the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. The basic tracks meanwhile were recorded, mostly live, in an intensive fiveday session in a Paris studio, after Dessner had brought her brothers into the project. “Bryce and Aaron are like one person when they play,” says Karijord. “It’s really interesting to watch them work.” “They just entered the music so completely,” Dessner enthuses. “I was sitting the whole time just in awe.”
Future plans for CMA involve live performances of the album and a possible second record themed around the notion of lullabies for adults. For now, the quartet have succeeded in turning life-threatening illness and ecological anxieties into quietly graceful music that, for Jessica Dessner in particular, proved liberating. “This material that’s come out of this personal experience… I hope it has a larger scope,” she concludes. “It’s a huge relief to be able to give it away to something beyond myself.”
● For fans of: Sandy Denny, This Mortal Coil, The National.
● Alongside Justin Vernon and Jenny Lewis, Jessica Dessner was involved in the 2018 People Festival in the Funkhaus studio, Berlin. She describes her contribution as a “dance ritual devoted to St. Agatha who is the patron saint of breast cancer.”
● In 2020, Rebekka Karijord co-wrote the score to I Am Greta, a documentary about Greta Thunberg. She hasn’t, as yet, let Thunberg hear Complete Mountain Almanac. “But I hope she’s gonna like it,” she laughs. “She’s particular in her taste.”
Complete Mountain Almanac is released on January 27 by Bella Union.
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