Bjørn Riis, Everything to Everyone, Karisma Records, April 8, 2022
Tracks: Run (5:56), Lay Me Down (11:40), The Siren (7:20), Every Second Every Hour (13:20), Descending (4:33), Everything to Everyone (7:28)
At the risk of throwing objectivity out the window, I’ll start this review by saying I absolutely love this album. I think it’s the best music I’ve heard in a long time. But it’s Bjørn Riis! By this time I expect no less than the best from him.
While I still haven’t quite gotten into Airbag, the band for which Riis is most well known, I love his solo albums. They’re all excellent, and they seem to get better with each record. His 2019 album, A Storm is Coming, was brilliant, and it made my year-end best-of list. I expect Everything to Everyone will be near or at the top of that list this year. To make a contemporary comparison, Riis’ style reminds me most of Steven Wilson, both his more progressive solo albums and his work with Porcupine Tree. Riis is on that same level, as well.
Rather fascinatingly, Riis says the influence for the concept behind this album came from Dante’s Inferno. He comments,
A bit pretentious perhaps, but I’ve always been fascinated by that very personal journey and the search for some kind of peace or redemption, while being both mentored and hurt along the way. Musically, I wanted to take the listener on that journey, experiencing both hope and anxiety.”
The lyrics are filled with emotion, reminding me at times of Mariusz Duda’s lyrics. Riis is clearly a very thoughtful man, and I’ve found his lyrics always resonate with me. There’s a lot of depth in them, which allows for reflection on repeated listens. The music is often melancholic, which I especially enjoy, and this is frequently reflected in the lyrics.
The opening instrumental track acts as an overture for the rest of the album. With a careful listen you’ll spot musical themes from this track throughout the album. Parts of “Run” are on the heavier side, which sets a nice stage for the record, which has both its heavier rock sides and its spacier contemplative moments. Both are equally alluring.
“Lay Me Down” may start off a bit slow, and admittedly it is a bit of a jarring transition from the heavy rock of the opening instrumental track. The song really catches its groove a minute 20 seconds in, though, when the drums kick in. A little later female vocals come in to back Riis’ soothing voice, and the result is very [don’t say Floyd, don’t say Floyd, don’t say Floyd] spacey. The song is almost 12 minutes long, so it ebbs and flows through various passages, some of which do indeed remind me of Pink Floyd. David Gilmour is obviously an influence on Riis’ guitar playing, and Riis lives up to his musical influences. The song also has its heavier parts, reflecting the opening track.
“The Siren” was one of the singles for the record, complete with its own video. It’s a haunting track on the relaxed side of Riis’ musical spectrum. The lyrics are from the perspective of someone sitting in the audience at a dance performance, where the dancer performs for both you individually and for everyone all at the same time. It’s an interesting dynamic, but the lyrics are also written in such a way that deeper meanings can be inferred. I’ve found mine own rather personal meanings in it, and as such the song has grown on me to the point where I find it very moving.
I’m not the biggest fan of the artificial vocal distortions on parts of “Every Second Every Hour,” mainly because I think Riis’ voice is great and shouldn’t be hidden, but it doesn’t take away from the song too much. Just a minor quibble. I have to keep my enthusiasm in check somehow. Overall this song is epically wonderful. It’s over 13 minutes long, and like the other similarly long song on the album, it ebbs and flows along the range of Riis’ styles. The acoustic guitar and piano passages with simple singing abound, but these also give way to soaring guitar solos and walls of drums. The synth soundscapes help create a wall of sound that isn’t particularly dense, but it lays a beautiful background to the song.
“Descending” is another instrumental track that has an interesting name because the music actually appears to ascend rather than descend. It starts out quiet and gradually gets louder and heavier as more elements are layered onto the song. If we go back to the inspiration from Dante’s Inferno, however, I think we get our answer to that question. In Inferno, Dante is given a tour of Hell by the poet Virgil. Hell is depicted as a ring of concentric circles, with each circle filled with increasingly brutal punishments for increasingly heinous sins. As such, the story gets more intense the further Dante and Virgil descend into Hell. When viewed in this light, “Descending” makes sense for this particular song on this particular album.
The title track is a quintessential Riis track, featuring the spacey electric guitar solos, walls of acoustic guitars, and emotion-filled vocals. There’s also more female backing vocals. The song gradually builds as it closes out, with a wall of sound created through guitars, drums, and piano. It’s very Porcupine Treeish in the best of ways. The lyrics talk about reaching out for help as we stumble through the dark parts of life.
Put simply, Bjørn Riis’ Everything to Everyone is a thing of beauty in very dark times. The album reflects the good and the bad we experience through our emotions, and it tells a beautiful story through music and words. Do yourself a favor and buy this record. Dwell with it. Let the music and lyrics wash over you. You won’t be disappointed.