We’ve all done it: started projects, only to let them languish, run full bore into some new endeavor, then, a short time later, kicked it to the curb, or allowed a rich creative collaboration dissolve, a victim of personal differences or the stubborn momentum of daily life. Such was the story of the duo of Are Mokkelbost and Marius von der Fehr, collaborators whose debut album died on the vine when their friendship wilted more than 13 years ago. Juv is a Norwegian word meaning something akin to abyss, an appropriate moniker, given the fate that almost befell the pair’s music. These recordings, when made, were thought of as rough drafts and experiments, the dirty work that would set the stage for the fully-realized, extra-strength sounds that were yet to come. That next step never came to pass, of course, but this disc illustrates that it didn’t need to.
That this album has been released is a testament to the bond that two young men formed over a decade ago. Are Mokkelbost, still unsettled with the way his once unassailable bond with von der Fehr had been severed, and how it had derailed the music to which they’d been so dedicated, dug into his tapes one day, and was surprised with the quality of what he found. Mokkelbost began to cull the best moments from the collection, and reached out to von der Fehr for assistance, renewing their relationship over the recordings they’d made more than a decade earlier. The resulting album is impressive work, considering the pair were just 19 when the earliest of the material was set to tape. The boys that would become Juv (the name was only bestowed on the project during its recent re-emergence) traveled across Europe making field recordings, and collaborated almost constantly in a series of Oslo studio spaces. Their conviction made for some strict rules (no synthesizers or electronic augmentation) and a rapidly growing archive of music that they never thought to release; its creation was both the means and the end.
Far from an explosion of youthful exuberance, this disc is a somber document. Like some of Ad Reinhardt’s near-monochrome paintings fom the 1960s, the album explores a series of shades, its hues always hewing close to pure black. The album’s 13 tracks vary widely in terms of instrumentation and tonal character, but they’re all variations on the same dark, droning din. Manipulated instruments (most notably the electric guitar) were amalgamated with the field recordings, married via sampled loops and meticulously mixed. The distortion of the guitars and the sound of bowed strings and wires are easily identifiable, but the field recordings often betray little of the contexts of their creation. Mokkelbost was a childhood neighbor of the infamous Varg (then Kristian) Vikernes, and though neither member of Juv was a fan of Norway’s black metal scene when this music was created from 1996 to 1998, there are tonal similarities between the two. Without knowing better, one could almost imagine the searing tides and distant screams of “Undergang” or the heavy, the buzzing drone of “Revolusjoner” as intros or interludes on a black metal record. “Juv,” a self-titled song on a self-titled album, is a more peaceful flow of sounds that swim in and out of focus, individual fragments constantly adrift like detritus in a swollen river after a heavy rain.
“Sut” features a recording of Mokkelbost and von der Fehr screaming themselves hoarse in the Norwegian woods. Their muffled cries’ echo sounds tortured, animal in nature, though with the cadence of a tired baby’s bawl. It’d feel angst-y if it weren’t so chilling, and it’s the closest Juv get to displays of naked emotion. Mokkelbost speaks of the music’s inspiration in isolation, finding oneself, staking a claim in a world that shows itself, as one reaches the cusp of adulthood, to be less benevolent than a child might assume. This disc is the sound of two young men throwing themselves into music, making it their anchor and their lifeline as they navigate that transition. This is music that belies its age, and that of its creators. It’s likely all we’ll get from Juv, as von der Fehr is no longer actively making music, but even apart from its compelling back story, the album is an accomplished bit of music making, and we’re lucky to have the chance to hear it.