This Tina Refsnes article was written by Michael Liggins, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster
The Norwegian capital of Oslo is a compact city positioned at the head of the Oslo Fjord, surrounded by rolling green woodlands, snow-capped mountains and lakes. It is here, after studying and playing live in Liverpool for four years that singer-songwriter Tina Refsnes found the right expression for her music. Inspired after hearing an album recorded by Robbie Lackritz (Feist, Rilo Kiley), she took her songs to Toronto, Canada to seek out the producer. Lackritz teamed her and long-time collaborator Eirik Stordrange with Toronto musicians Don Kerr and Mike O’Brien. For three weeks they worked and recorded together in a single room. The resulting album ‘No One Knows That You’re Lost’ is an intimate record with finely tuned songs and a focused production.
Growing up in the small seaside town of Florø has clearly had an impact on Tina Refsnes’ writing. Listening to this album it’s also apparent that Americana and contemporary folk are just as influential to her sound as the openness of the Scandinavian countryside in which she was raised. ‘Leave This Heart’ deals with the traditional country music theme of heartbreak, with lulling piano melodies and a delicately harmonious chorus. “So darling leave this heart, baby we’re miles apart. Can’t you see there is nothing left to hold on to?” The lyrics reflecting on sadness and loss are brutally honest in their finality.
Lead single ‘Upside Down Cloud’ begins with acoustic guitars reminiscent of the folk style of Meg Baird, before strong piano chords lift the song to a chorus in which Tina Refsnes yearns for familiarity, “It feels as though the shore that I know is no longer there.” With its fluid structure and impeccable arrangement, it is nothing short of a masterfully written song.
The introduction of ‘The Heart Wants It’s Way’ evokes the psych-folk of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Today’ in its reserved and graceful ambience. Contrastingly, shades of Joni Mitchell can be heard in the vocal and guitar phrasing on the chorus. The narrative is unable to fully develop however, as the words end somewhat prematurely, the song playing out with muted guitar notes and a bright lead guitar part. It is a minor point for an otherwise sophisticated song.
The use of space in these songs is as integral as the music itself. Between the layered guitars on ‘Put It Away’ in particular, the listener can sense the physical space between the performers and the walls of the room in which the song was recorded. It’s an effect that lends the music a unique ambience, something that Tina Refsnes purposefully wanted to achieve for this album.
‘Alaska’ is a mesmerising song, both glacial and warm sounding. The vocal and falsetto harmonies are complemented by a melancholic piano and elegant strings. Conjuring images of oceans and mountains, Tina Refsnes again longs for the tranquil beauty of nature. “I’ve heard it’s so quiet there, not even the wind will talk to you.” The theme of longing for place reoccurs in the lyrics for ‘City City’. “I can’t wait to get off to see the lights in the city” an ode to the urban possibilities of a sprawling metropolis.
The memorable hooks featured on this initial run of songs give way to more contemplative but equally developed songs on the second half of the record. The production is consistent with little variation in the arrangement other than a subtlety distorted guitar and sharper percussion which breaks through on ‘Spoilt Rotten Blues’. This is a standout track that expresses optimism in lyrics such as “You shouldn’t have to give up on your dreams” which is something Tina Refsnes clearly has no intention of doing.
Although several songs could have benefited from further development in terms of structure, Tina Refsnes displays patience in both her compositions and work ethic. ‘No One Knows That You’re Lost’ is a collection of carefully refined songs, written over an extensive period of time, honed to near perfection and captured on an exceptional debut album.
‘No One Knows That You’re Lost’ is out now via Vestkyst Records.