Alcoholic Faith Mission
The title track of Danish collective Alcoholic Faith Mission’s album Orbitor is one of the most dizzyingly infectious synthpop gems in years. Reimagining the questing spirit of the genre’s original ‘80s pioneers, combined with tribal drums plus singers Thorben Seiero Jensen and Kristine Permild’s gigantic chant of “Hey! Am I good enough for you?”, in four minutes Orbitor variously recalls Tears For Fears, MGMT, Tangerine Dream and Adam Ant.
Like so much of its parent album, Orbitor feels like a communal festival anthem waiting to happen, which is fitting for a song written about human interaction in the social media age. Charismatic vocalist Jensen is only too aware of its allure.
“We orbit our own lives, both in social media and the real world,” he explains. “We have a fake life on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that we use as a greeting card to the whole world, then there’s our duller ordinary life.
Most of us are slaves to getting Likes and being noticed. There’s a desperation to it. Sure, one of the album’s themes is the hypocrisy of how we present ourselves on social media – but I’m a slave to Facebook like anyone else and I check it first thing in the morning before getting out of bed.”
The album is a socially political call to arms, but its message is wrapped in the most instantly appealing sugar-rush pop. Its immediacy is largely down to Jensen and the five-piece’s co-writer, bassist Sune Solund, creating the songs in just two weeks.
Orbitor was produced by Solund with Brian Batz, mainman of fellow Danish dreamers Sleep Party People. Both acts are part of Denmark’s rising pop collective Copenhagen Collaboration. The songs were written in an intense hive of activity in New York, where Jensen and Solund have travelled to write since naming their band Alcoholic Faith Mission after seeing a sign in Williamsburg for the Apostolic Faith Mission religious retreat while discussing alcoholism.
“Everybody wants to be part of a pool of ingenuity in New York,” says Jensen. “There’s an air in the streets that anything is possible. But Williamsburg is too hip for us now. We keep moving further north in New York to write as the hipsters come after us! We wrote Orbitor in Greenpoint, which feels the place to be now: not too touristy, and not somewhere nothing is going on.”
Already a major cult back in Denmark, Orbitor is Britain’s first taste of Alcoholic Faith Mission. It’s the ideal starting point, as it marks the first time the band have experimented with synths, having previously been a folkier concern. “We always had industrial beats from our drums,” explains Jensen. “Going for that style completely has been a delight. There’s a lot of nostalgia in these songs, and to us it recalls the ’80s pop greats like Cyndi Lauper or Madonna. We used the same gear that was around back then, like the classic Roland Juno keyboard.”
Whether on the churning, Cure feel of Come Here Wash In Over Me (inspired by Truman Capote’s true-life thriller In Cold Blood) or the haunting Everyone’s Got Dynamite, there’s a dreamy unreality to much of the album.
“It explores the alternate reality of dreams,” nods Jensen. “Not just dreams when you’re asleep, but our daydreams of a better life. But I don’t know what all the lyrics mean myself. Let In All The Ghosts is very dreamy and I think it’s about trying to hold on to what is real, but even I couldn’t say exactly what the words mean yet. I think it’s very beautiful, though!”
Although Jensen and Solund are the songwriters, the band’s other members are hardly mere adjuncts. Jensen and joint singer Permild – who studies digital design and works at Danish TV station TV 2 News – both sang the whole album before deciding who should lead which song, with the lyrics tailored accordingly afterwards.
“Kristine isn’t trained, but she’s an amazing performer,” Jensen enthuses. “She’s the band’s comedian, and more than capable of fending for herself.”
Drummer Magnus Hylander Friis re-tooled much of the beats from the original demos, while classically-trained keyboardist Anders Hjort is a core component of establishing Orbitor in concert. “Anders is a freak,” smiles Jensen. “He’s the best musician in the band and he can play everything. We could pretty much put Anders on stage on his own to perform the music while the rest of us hit the bar.”
That won’t happen, as Alcoholic Faith Mission can’t wait to bring their full-on, spectacular live show over from Denmark. Jensen and Solund (“My brother from another mother,” as Jensen dubs him) have played together since secondary school. “We’ve always been in bands where you give all that you have on stage,” says Jensen.
“The five of us have fun letting go for an hour, so that when we get off stage we’re shaking all over as we have nothing left to give.”
Solund and Jensen met at school, initially in rival bands where “we each thought the other was a dickhead” before Jensen’s band needed a last-minute bassist for a national talent contest. “Sune was a funk bassist, and I thought anyone who didn’t play grunge was an idiot,” the singer laughs. “My musical world was very narrow, but once we got talking I learned to appreciate the skills of other musicians while Sune learned about grunge and songs about heartache from me. We can have screaming fits at each other and Sune is great dealing with my diva-ness! I mainly do lyrics, he’s got a keen ear for producing and tweaking songs. We complement each other very well.”
Their songwriting has evolved from early Dogme-style experiments that saw their album 421 Wythe Avenue recorded with various strictures such as only recording by candlelight and then only using the instruments in the room, leading to two dictionaries bashed together acting as a bass drum sound. “We made those rules because we had no idea what the fuck we were doing,” Jensen says now. “It was just something fun to do, because we were kids messing around, but those restrictions helped us become better in the studio.”
Nowadays, the band’s only dogma is that “the best idea goes on”, so that anything Permild, Friis or Hjort add replaces whatever the songwriters conjured up if it works. “Once we hit on the idea of really going for electronica, Orbitor progressed so quickly,” says Jensen. “All the songs were created very fast. It felt as if a dam had burst.”
Even Jensen’s extraordinary falsetto on Cut Me Up’s icy cool was a breeze. “I have a wide range and the vocals flowed easily too,” he shrugs. “OK, Cut Me Up is very high so that might be a challenge to do live. I’m not a trained singer, so I might need the vocals high in the monitor for that one, but I’ll enjoy that challenge.”
Another challenge for Jensen has been re-assessing his attitude to social media. “I’m trying to become part of the ‘go naked on social media’ movement,” he smiles. “When my girlfriend and I are out, we try to go naked and leave our phones at home.”
The mission for Alcoholic Faith Mission is simple. “We’ve created something unique and we want to spread the word,” says Jensen. Dive into Orbitor and it’ll certainly distract you away from checking your Twitter account.
Alcoholic Faith Mission have made an album whose superficial singalong simplicity masks songs of belonging and rich ambition. Raise a toast to its creators.
Alcoholic Faith Mission: Thorben Seiero Jensen (vocals/guitar), Sune Solund (bass), Kristine Permild (vocals/keyboards), Anders Hjort (keyboards), Magnus Hylander Friis (drums).