Tuvaband is the moniker of Norwegian singer-songwriter Tuva Hellum Marschhäuser. Her ambient sound combines insecure vocals with simple melodies, layering them together to create a trademark lo-fi sound. 2018 sees the release of her debut LP Soft Drop, following hot on the heels of 2017 EP Mess, which was recorded in collaboration with guitarist Simon Would. The structure of the solo nine-track album is well considered, with songs sometimes referring to each other in their titles and melodies – all driven by a consistent melancholic tone.
Released as the first single, “Horses” delivers a strong opening to the album. Opting for a stripped-back arrangement with little more than a simple guitar melody, Marschhäuser’s dreamy vocals drive the song. “Horses” is poignant and fulfilled with a quiet defiance – “We had our luck and there is nothing more to it,” and an ode to the art of letting go – “And one day we will fall off our horses.”
“He Was In His Bubble” seemingly draws inspiration from the trademark atmospheric sounds of James Blake. Through the layering of delicate vocals, the song achieves a disjointed and, at times, disorientating effect – like incoherent thoughts bouncing around in your head. A keyboard melody floats in the background. As the song progresses, the fragmented voices gain momentum and come together as one, ending in perfect harmony as the keys are drowned out by a pulsating droning noise. The standout aspect of “He Was In His Bubble” is its production value, given its songwriting offers little in the way of complexity.
There is a confessional sense of someone coming to terms with desire on “Wolfpack” – “Now I feel shameless, I feel the temptation”. There is a strong sense that this realisation was met with resistance, the repetition of the lyrics reading more like an internal dialogue rather than an assertive declaration, as the guitar softly pounds in the background like the persistent gallop of a horse.
“Puppetshow” begins with steady but playful up-down piano chords, like music fondly reminiscent of childhood. Despite this, there’s a deep sadness to this song, like something run-down or broken. Never soaring to any great heights, and with nothing that really commands attention or commendation, this is possibly one of the weaker songs on the album. Four tracks in by this point and with little sonic deviation from the straight and narrow downtempo path set out on at the start, “Puppetshow” will likely leave many listeners questioning whether the rest of the album is worth pursuing. “Interlude (But Everyone Else Is Doing It)” offers a knowing wink in its name, but does very little to captivate. At 2:45 minutes in length, the track combines ambience with Marschhäuser’s wailing vocals, all produced to create a sense of being lost and disorientated.
With a return to the playful piano of “Puppetshow”, “Mother” is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Driven by a gentle but assertive progression, the song explores the importance of questioning and reassurance in times of uncertainty – “Like a mother telling you, is this going too fast?”. There’s a lightness to the song’s production, with Marschhäuser’s soft vocals ooo-ing distantly in the background. “Mother” is certainly a testament to her ability to craft simple songs well.
An apparent reflection of the second track, “When You See Me In My Bubble” follows an interesting journey. Beginning with the distant sound of a crackling record, the lyrics follow suit with Marschhäuser’s simmering vocals repeating “don’t worry, I’m not saying this is hard,” like a broken record. As the song builds momentum, the tempo shifts and with it a sense of flow and assertiveness arises, culminating in a dreamy sequence. At its closing, the track slows and the allusion to a broken record recommences with the scratching becoming increasingly audible. Given the monotonous sonic consistency of this album, the broken record reference sadly strikes as an incredibly apt analogy.
The title track of the album, “Softdrop” takes the album to a darker place. The gloomy effect of this track is driven by a juxtaposition of sounds. The first half of the song is dominated with oppressively low piano notes, layered with higher notes fluttering across the top. The last minute of the track sees the tone completely change direction, with a light and delicate piano sequence taking “Softdrop” to its eventual fade out.
Surprisingly, the album ends with a reimagining of No Doubt’s 90s hit track “Just A Girl”. Ditching piano chords for soft electric guitar, its pop-inspired tempo comes as a great relief from the slow, unyielding internalism of the rest of the album. Comparatively this cover version is more slowed down and stripped back, turning what was a playful, high-school anthem about female empowerment into a ballad of vulnerability and anguish. Marschhäuser’s defeated voice cries out “I’ve had it up to here” as the track fades out.
There is little doubt that Marschhäuser is a master at crafting ambient, lo-fi soundscapes. However, at some points, the record begs for a point of difference – a change of tempo, a fresh melody or a new instrument to demand the listener’s attention. It is unfortunately the kind of album that can fade into the background, making one realise it’s finished seemingly before it’s started. Nonetheless, Soft Drop is well considered in its production and proves that Tuvaband holds promise.