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120 Days

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About 120 Days

If a year is a long time in politics, five years in music can be a career. The fact that 120 Days have taken half a decade to deliver the follow up to their debut album might have counted against them, especially in a world where things have never seemed more ephemeral, even more so since they flippantly admit that they spent as much time "lucid dreaming and partying" as they did "recording and touring". But there's no point making a record when you're not ready, as any band forced to return to the studio prematurely will tell you. The old adage about having a lifetime to make your first record and only a few months to make the second is based upon truth, and 120 Days will testify to that, having entirely scrapped their original follow up. They had good reason: by the time they'd concluded the heavy touring that followed the late 2006 release of their self-titled debut, they were, quite simply, "sick of seeing each other's faces". Friends since they were teenagers - some of them since they used to kick a football around at the age of seven - in the Western Norwegian "nowhere town" of Kristiansund (not to be mistaken with the bigger Kristiansand), they were forced into even closer proximity when they moved to Oslo to kickstart their career and shared a Winnebago. To make matters worse, it was parked under an abandoned bridge in an area where all the city's junkies had begun to congregate after the police had chased them from the capital's main station. It's no wonder, then, given the intensity of the band's early years and the pressure they felt when they found success, that they deemed their first attempts to record a follow-up as failures. 

120 Days have been playing together since 2001, initially using the name The Beautiful People, and their debut took them around the world, from America, where they signed with Vice Records, to Japan, where they played to crowds of 17,000 who all knew singer Ådne's name (even if they pronounced it ‘Ooh, Da Nee'). It won them two Norwegian Grammys - they accepted these by playing a pre-recorded speech to the audience on a cassette player they held under the microphone - and was not only critically acclaimed but also commercially successful, especially in their homeland. But those subsequent five years have given them valuable, well-earned perspective, and their second attempt at a sophomore album proves that it's worth taking a little time out. 120 Days II is darker, dirtier, fiercer and sharper than a debut full of, as Pitchfork loftily put it, "towering edifices", one which the website also claimed possessed "the conviction that all this technology has the potential to amplify, not suppress, the transmission of human emotion, should humans be courageous enough to try". To put it rather more simply, this new one is even better than the first.

The roots of their new, advanced level of savagery are varied: time spent working with other artists, including Serena Maneesh, Bygdin and Masselys, have undoubtedly broadened their horizons, and their equally broadened tastes in music have no doubt done wonders for their writing. Alongside Kraftwerk, Joy Divison, Neu!, The Cure and Primal Scream - XTRMNTR-era, naturally - new influences have come into play: "the hard minimalist industrial sound of Detroit Techno, the transcendental drone jazz of (early) Alice Coltrane, and the over-the-top orchestral maximalism of Wagnerian opera," they claim rather magnificently. "When we recorded our debut, we were very much into minimalism, and a ‘changing chords is for pussies' dogma. In the first years after we released it, we went even further in that direction, so, in a way, you could say that the scrapped sessions were our minimalist peak, and after that we started playing around with song structure again. 120 Days 2.0 sometimes likes listening to the Carpenters. We would never admit that before!"

In truth, any evidence of The Carpenters' influence on 120 Days II is as hard to discern as were the traumas that lay behind the lives of that particular hit-making duo. But though the band are happy to admit that they're a bit older - "Some of us even managed to have kids!" - they're quick to add that, "we wouldn't use the word ‘mature'. We're mostly well behaved, but sometimes our Viking blood takes us on a rampage ride. The four of us sometimes seem to be a bad influence on each other." So if one assumes that this is as true inside the studio as it is outside, it's worth considering some of the scrapes they've got themselves into over recent years. These have included stealing a forklift truck at Japan's Summersonic Festival, where they attempted to pick up Avril Lavigne's car, something which may have ended in failure but still didn't prevent "two very drunk Norwegians with nothing but shoes, shorts, sunglasses and two beers each" reaching the nearby freeway. Singer Ådne was also nearly strangled in his dressing room by an irate American after he jokingly did the rounds kissing everyone backstage while wearing heavy makeup. "And that was in San Francisco!" they laugh. 

But, though this is a band that took their name from the Marquis De Sade's 120 Days Of Sodom, there's a serious side to the quartet too. Take Ådne, who's developed a hobby making conversation with religious fanatics. "When two Jehovah's Witnesses came knocking on his door," Kjetil confides, "he invited them in and talked until they left on their own initiative. They still come back. And every Friday, Ådne spends an hour or so reading and arguing with them. They're already halfway through the Old Testament. Ådne is still atheist, though. More than ever." 

They're just as thoughtful about the recording process as they are about the meaning of life. The dense textures of 120 Days II are ample proof of their careful approach, as are the complex, winding paths that each track takes and the fact that they're letting the machines do far more of the talking, the vocal lines now significantly less abundant. Listen to the manner in which they let the fuse burn before the ten minute ‘Dahle Disco' finally explodes, while ‘Sleepless Nights' is a disorientating sliced eyeball of organic, psychedelic, electronic shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine filtered through a love of Vangelis. Or there's the crunching, atonal arpeggios of ‘Lucid Dreams 3', which roll over a middle ground somewhere between Underworld's melodic narratives and the electro-industrial aggression of Skinny Puppy, maybe even Cabaret Voltaire. And there's ‘SF', evidence of their deep understanding of dynamics, and, judging from those woozy synths and the paranoia that rears its head at random moments throughout the track, possible proof that - following that strangling incident in the city after which the track is named - they may have experienced other ‘influences' than the ones they traditionally exert on each another. Finally it ends with ‘Osaka', a euphoric but filthy climax to a relentless journey, the perfect end, and yet also the perfect beginning - it will be the album's first single. Like the entire collection, it's far heavier on the synths than they used to be with their guitars. As they put it, "Right now, we don't know what's more rock'n'roll: rock or techno!" 

So, five years it may have taken to make, but they - or at least the years - weren't wasted in any way. "This time we did almost all the recording, engineering, thinking and fighting in our own studio," they point out. "It's great in the way that you're in complete control of the finished music, but it probably takes a little longer!" Fortunately, parts of the early rejected work in the end bore fruit. "Some of the musical ideas, melodies and beats survived," they elaborate. "The skeleton of ‘Osaka', the chord changes in ‘Sunkissed' and the synth hook in ‘Lucid Dreams' all had their birth in that first session. We took the best ideas with us, and scrapped the rest." 

As it happens, their process is naturally intuitive and open. "We never start out knowing exactly what the final mix is going to sound like," they explain. "Making music for us is an open-ended process of trial and error. It's like you start out in complete darkness, light a candle, and build from what you see. It's about creating from nothing, to try to make the music we want to hear. The only guideline is whether or not we like it. It's never, ‘Is this what people want?' For us, music is communication, and it doesn't help that someone has a pleasant voice if what they're saying is shit."

So here they are, at last: 120 Days, Norway's finest, back once again, wiser, leaner, a little older for sure, but definitely no less wild. The perfect combination, if you think about it, and that's definitely how they see it:

"It's been an adventure, but we're all glad we don't have to search for leftover syringe needles in the dark before going to bed anymore," they conclude, looking back one last time. "We wouldn't have existed without the craziness. It's a part of our history now. We're sure there'll be more, though..."