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 Råkil, Marie Moe and Embla Karidotter Dahleng have been childhood friends since the age of 6, discovering their parents’ rock records before delving into punk as early teenagers. “We loved Green Day, The Ramones and Sex Pistols; that phase when you’re 14 and start discovering punk,” said drummer Dahleng. “When we started, we were playing basically straight punk songs.” Adds lead singer Amdam, “As 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. You’re more open-minded.”
The band consumed equal parts Jamaican music, sugary pop and underground Norwegian rock records – the album title a nod to both the year of the members’ birth and 1980s Norwegian New Wave group Program 81 – but there’s one band that unfairly invites most of the comparisons. “Everyone compares us to The Slits, but I think that’s mostly because we’re both girl bands,” says Dahleng. “To be honest, we haven’t really listened to them too much.”
Influences aside, Program 91 finds the perfect middle ground between late-night, detached cool and youthful ebullience. “Nytt Pa Nytt” (“New on New”) and “Middelalder” (“Middle Ages”) recall the B-movie, Spaghetti Western ska of The Specials and The English Beat, while “Taste My Dream” and “Aldri” (“Never”) revel in ska-pop, despite a heartfelt longing in Amdam’s vocals. Elsewhere, the appropriately titled “Youth” 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 – hey, the group still had school after all – the release of Program 91 was the first, but far from last, goal of the band when they formed six years ago. “It was unbelievable,” says Dahleng of the upcoming release. “We didn’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.”
For Amdam, the group’s primary songwriter, writing in both Norwegian and English eventually became second nature. “It came very natural to me,” says the singer. “When you get an idea, you sit down and ideas start popping out of your brain and sometimes it’s in one language and sometimes in the other. It’s all about the mood of the song.” Adds Dahleng: “People started to notice us more because we weren’t that normal girl band who only wrote English lyrics about love.”
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. “We’re used to playing places and then getting thrown out because we weren’t old enough,” says Dahleng. “But we have our tricks to stay in the bar,” she adds with a laugh.
On “Why We Have to Wait,” Razika’s cover of 1960s Norwegian pop group The Pussycats, Amdam sings, “Why we have to wait so long/People say we’re far too young.”
Judging by the dexterity and maturity inherent on every song of Program 91, no falser words have ever been uttered.