Few bands can make you instantly recall your favorite summer. Your first kiss. The first time you snuck out of the house.
In Bergen, Norway, Razika, comprised of four precocious 19-year-old girls, have discovered how to conjure these emotions, channeling a mix of innocence and rebellion, romance and heartbreak, and gift-giving and gun-slinging into their debut album Program 91 (Smalltown Supersound). The album is a glorious contradiction; an exhilarating mix of ska, Riot Grrl, 60s girl groups, post-punk and upbeat, C86 pop that would make Phil Spector, The Specials and The Raincoats proud.
Formed in 2005, Marie Amdam, Maria RĂĄkil, Marie Moe and Embla Karidotter Dahleng have been childhood friends since the age of 6, discovering their parentsâ€™ rock records before delving into punk as early teenagers. â€śWe loved Green Day, The Ramones and Sex Pistols; that phase when youâ€™re 14 and start discovering punk,â€ť said drummer Dahleng. â€śWhen we started, we were playing basically straight punk songs.â€ť Adds lead singer Amdam, â€śAs we got older, we started listening to a lot of reggae music and figuring out how to play it. We were growing and when you grow, the music also changes. Youâ€™re more open-minded.â€ť
The band consumed equal parts Jamaican music, sugary pop and underground Norwegian rock records â€“ the album title a nod to both the year of the membersâ€™ birth and 1980s Norwegian New Wave group Program 81 â€“ but thereâ€™s one band that unfairly invites most of the comparisons. â€śEveryone compares us to The Slits, but I think thatâ€™s mostly because weâ€™re both girl bands,â€ť says Dahleng. â€śTo be honest, we havenâ€™t really listened to them too much.â€ť
Influences aside, Program 91 finds the perfect middle ground between late-night, detached cool and youthful ebullience. â€śNytt Pa Nyttâ€ť (â€śNew on Newâ€ť) and â€śMiddelalderâ€ť (â€śMiddle Agesâ€ť) recall the B-movie, Spaghetti Western ska of The Specials and The English Beat, while â€śTaste My Dreamâ€ť and â€śAldriâ€ť (â€śNeverâ€ť) revel in ska-pop, despite a heartfelt longing in Amdamâ€™s vocals. Elsewhere, the appropriately titled â€śYouthâ€ť is a light, airy summertime track that would go well alongside your Peter, Bjorn and John albums.
Recorded over the course of a year on weekends â€“ hey, the group still had school after all â€“ the release of Program 91 was the first, but far from last, goal of the band when they formed six years ago. â€śIt was unbelievable,â€ť says Dahleng of the upcoming release. â€śWe didnâ€™t know whether to laugh or cry because we were so happy. Recording an album was our goal and dream since we started playing our first songs at age 14.â€ť
For Amdam, the groupâ€™s primary songwriter, writing in both Norwegian and English eventually became second nature. â€śIt came very natural to me,â€ť says the singer. â€śWhen you get an idea, you sit down and ideas start popping out of your brain and sometimes itâ€™s in one language and sometimes in the other. Itâ€™s all about the mood of the song.â€ť Adds Dahleng: â€śPeople started to notice us more because we werenâ€™t that normal girl band who only wrote English lyrics about love.â€ť
For now, the group, named after a code word used by the band to describe a cute guy, is gearing up to begin touring, hoping to make their way stateside later this year. â€śWeâ€™re used to playing places and then getting thrown out because we werenâ€™t old enough,â€ť says Dahleng. â€śBut we have our tricks to stay in the bar,â€ť she adds with a laugh.
On â€śWhy We Have to Wait,â€ť Razikaâ€™s cover of 1960s Norwegian pop group The Pussycats, Amdam sings, â€śWhy we have to wait so long/People say weâ€™re far too young.â€ť
Judging by the dexterity and maturity inherent on every song of Program 91, no falser words have ever been uttered.