Hilma Nikolaisen - Puzzler album review

Arresting solo effort from Scandi-psych alumnus

Hilma Nikolaisen Puzzler cover art

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Keen followers of Norwegian psych may already be familiar with Hilma Nikolaisen as bassist in Oslo’s Serena-Maneesh, led by her brother, Emil. This overdue solo debut finds her with a firm grasp of noise rock dynamics, as you might expect, but also allows her the opportunity to explore her own strain of lysergic dream pop.

Visually, Nikolaisen offers more than a passing resemblance to Nico, a feature that extends to her androgynous singing voice. Hermitage is perhaps the most potent example here, a surging piece of dense, very modern psychedelia that finds her intoning through a nest of buzzing guitars. There are more than a few occasions where she opts for the middle ground, as with On And On And On or Cloud Nine Rewind, which tends to diminish her faculties in favour of something more pop-friendly and altogether less interesting. She’s much better suited to the likes of Word or Swings And Roundabouts, songs that unfurl like freakazoid cousins of 80s XTC. A wealth of helpers are in attendance too, among them members of 120 Days and the Lionheart Brothers. That said, reflective closer Brighter Soon, largely free of instrumental clutter, suggests Nikolaisen may have a parallel career as a leftfield torch singer.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.