Skeleton crew

Figurines give good Danish
By KURT B. REIGHLEY  |  June 7, 2006

The Figurines

Being big in Denmark isn't as monumental an achievement as it sounds; at 5.4 million, the nation's total population is smaller than Massachusetts'. An act can easily hit all the hot spots in the land of Hamlet and canned ham without exhausting their vacation time. "For a band like ours, a full Danish tour would include ten shows," observes Claus Salling Johansen, guitarist for fast-rising indie-rock exports Figurines.

That isn’t necessarily a good thing. "Denmark is such a small country that it is extremely hard to make a living off music there." No matter how catchy the wares, a larger audience is required to break even. Fortunately, Figurines have forged helpful alliances at home, via Music Export Denmark, which offers international tour support to Danish groups. And in the U.S., Seattle indie label the Control Group (Vendetta Red, Schoolyard Heroes) decided within seconds that it wanted to issue the band’s latest album, Skeleton.

TCG honcho Nabil Ayers discovered Figurines thanks to a colleague who bought a copy of Skeleton back from a European music convention. "The morning after he gave me the CD, I put it in my car stereo," recalls Ayers. The album opener, the sparse piano ballad "Race You," immediately seized his attention. "About 20 seconds into it, I freaked out. There's something about that first chord change that just grabbed me. It still does. Then ‘The Wonder’ came on." That jittery, throbbing second song confirmed his skyrocketing opinion of this new discovery. "It sounded like everything I love about indie rock – crazy hooks, super-tight band, killer vocals – without any laziness, arrogance, or irony."  

"I only made it half-way through 'The Wonder' because I had to hear what was next," Ayers continues. " 'All Night' reminded me of Trompe Le Monde, which is my favorite Pixies record." By the time he parked and dashed into his office, "it was a done deal." Ayers was determined that the Control Group would introduce Figurines to American music lovers.

Despite the vast expanse of land and water between Seattle and Scandinavia, Figurines' appeal to a diehard Pacific Northwest music vet makes sense: in the creaky timbre of singer/guitarist Christian Hjelm's voice you can hear a resemblance to Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock. Throughout the 14-song set you can hear echoes of Built To Spill, without the epic prog-rock running times. And it isn’t hard to imagine the folksy pop ditty “Silver Ponds” as Figurines’ answer to the Shins’ “New Slang”: it’s just one savvy ad exec away from becoming indie-rock’s next breakthough TV-commercial jingle.

Growing up in the ’90s, the future Figurines – who also include bassist Andreas Toft and drummer Kristian Volden – were drawn to the poppier end of the alterna-rock spectrum, not the hard sounds emanating from Seattle at the time. "We watched a lot of MTV, in particular 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation," remembers Johansen. "Bands like Teenage Fanclub, Pavement, and Lemonheads showed us an alternative to the grunge scene."

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