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LAUGHING STOCK

Neo-Prog • Norway


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Laughing Stock picture
Laughing Stock biography
The roots of Norwegian combo LAUGHING STOCK has got started when Jan Mikael SØRENSEN at the age of 12 met Håvard ENGE in 1978, both of whom were immersed in the rock scene like Tears for Fears, Talk Talk or XTC. In 1986 they started an amateur project under the moniker of Crazy Dogs or Cerumen with Håvard's brother KOLBJØRN, and in 1990 Håvard and Jan Mikael started their first 'professional' band named Again And Again, and recorded three tracks for launching a mini cassette album at a studio where Aha had just recorded their single Move To Memphis. In 1993 Håvard moved to Oslo to study music, and had managed another project Spacewagon in collaboration with Jan Mikael and Jan Mikael's friends Jan Erik Kirkevold NILSEN and Lars M. KRÆMER (ex-Curtwigs) from 1993 until 1996. After Spacewagon disbanded, each of them played in respective projects, and finally in 2016 Håvard, Jan Mikael, and Jan Erik have got crystallized as LAUGHING STOCK, and released their first album "The Island" in 2018 and the second "Sunrise" in 2019.

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LAUGHING STOCK discography


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LAUGHING STOCK top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.20 | 5 ratings
The Island
2018
3.17 | 5 ratings
Sunrise
2019
4.04 | 4 ratings
The Island
2020
3.89 | 9 ratings
Zero Acts 1&2
2021

LAUGHING STOCK Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

LAUGHING STOCK Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

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LAUGHING STOCK Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 1 ratings
Vultures, Bats and Reptiles
2020
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Rowe
2020
0.00 | 0 ratings
Waves (Live)
2020
0.00 | 0 ratings
Leave Me Alone
2021
0.00 | 0 ratings
My Love Part 2
2021

LAUGHING STOCK Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Zero Acts 1&2 by LAUGHING STOCK album cover Studio Album, 2021
3.89 | 9 ratings

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Zero Acts 1&2
Laughing Stock Neo-Prog

Review by nick_h_nz
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

4 stars [Originally published at The Progressive Aspect]

Zero, Acts I & II is either Laughing Stock's third or fourth album, depending on how you choose to count (as their previous album was a reimagining of their debut album). The trio of Jan Mikael Sørensen, Jan Erik Kirkevold Nilsen and Håvard Enge are back with another concept album - or, more precisely, two quarters of a new concept album. And it's a phenomenal beast. I have to admit it took a long time for me to come for grips with, in comparison to their previous albums, and a lot of this is down to how Laughing Stock have recreated musically the feelings of the protagonist, which means for much of the album (including all of the first Act) there is a sameness of sound, and the lack of relief is quite disconcerting at first. But over repeated listens, this is no longer so wearing, and I am in Zero's world. I even wonder if I shied away from the material initially because I had similar feelings of loneliness and alienation in my youth. Those feelings are palpable in the music, which doesn't even ease a listener in gently.

ACT I

Welcome begins the album in a most unwelcoming manner. Even when the crashing introductory notes give way to softer acoustic guitar, it is accompanied by a baby's cry, as we are informed of Zero's entry into the world. Melancholy and menace trade passages, and this shortest of introductory songs is a great indicator of the quality of this concept album. There are too many concept albums that are almost incomprehensible, and I've encountered more than a few entirely instrumental concept albums that tell the story better than those with lyrics. Of course, Laughing Stock are no strangers to concept albums, and these first two Acts of Zero are probably their best demonstration of their compositional skill yet.

The rhythm of When Darkness Comes is like a heartbeat that's audible at night when all else is silent, except for thoughts and anxieties that run rampant. There's a tangible sense of loneliness and alienation. Alone, and in the dark. Already, the baby and mother are alienated from each other. Towards the end, the song turns into a mournful march, melodramatic in the best manner of Queen and My Chemical Romance, but somehow more subtle and sombre. Nighttime follows in symphonic glory, with some beautiful harmonies. Zero is no longer a baby, but he still wonders where she is in the night. Suddenly the lush arrangements fall away, and we are left with some sparse Floydian soundscapes. Beautiful yet just a little disconcerting. If this is sleep, it's not an entirely restful one. And this is how Act I plays out - a depressing state of affairs, where even sleep brings no relief. The next day is only going to be more of the same.

I love the cello on Imaginary Friend, as Zero's loneliness (explored in music and lyrics previously) manifests itself in his imaginary friend. A friend to not only provide companionship, but distraction from his mother's dramas. It crescendos beautifully, and takes us into the most positive and upbeat song yet! Zero is going to School, clearly full of the hope and promise of making a real friend. Unfortunately, this soon dissipates, leaving Zero pleading, and the song trailing off into slower, sadder, and ultimately darker music, as Zero begins to feel that it must be something wrong with him. The sadness is conveyed by piano and strings in Child. This is a particularly beautiful song, and reminds me a lot of Bowie. Here ends Act I, and I've become accustomed to giving myself an intermission here. This is unusual for me, as I like to listen to albums in one go, regardless of their length, if possible. And yet, the way this album is constructed, it is almost necessary to take a break. Not a long one, mind you. Five or ten minutes tops. I can easily enough listen to the album in one go, and still find it enjoyable - but I really do find that this short break enhances both acts.

ACT II

And so Act II begins, with Leave Me Alone - the first single to be released ahead of the album, and I guess there's good reason for this. Laughing Stock often remind me of Pink Floyd, but this song is incredibly Floydian, which gives it a great "familiarity", and easy accessibility. I can't imagine a better track to release as a single. The vocals are quite reminiscent of Roger Waters at times, and there's some Great Gig vocalisations. But there's also some very heavy and edgy music - the most so far on the album. It's just a real gem of a song. It also introduces Samantha Preis to the Laughing Stock world as Zero's mother. Leave Me Alone is not quite a duet, though, as the dialogue between mother and son is stilted from Zero's alienation and depression.

The following My Love is split into two parts (the second of which was released as the second single leading up to the album's release). Given this is narrated by Zero there is a certain amount of ambiguity to the story of his love. Was she really a secret love, or just a crush he came close to stalking. The second part is sung by Helene Håberg Allum, and she removes the ambiguity, before Zero reprises his lament. Last Supper is the point where Zero makes his decision to leave his home, never to return. Having made this decision, the music becomes more confidant than at any point up until now. Strident, determined and resolute. Heck, it's jubilant, triumphant, and almost celebratory. It's hard not to be on Zero's side, even as the song dips back into fragility as it ends.

Zero is a more delicate number, but still determined. The knowledge of knowing he's disappearing, and of what he's leaving, but still feeling it is best for him and his family for him to go. And the taking of his identity as Zero. By not being anyone, he can be anyone. The final song is short, like the opening number, but completely different in sound and feeling. Even as tears fill Zero's eyes as he leaves, Curtain Falls is the most optimistic song on the album. Maybe only quietly so, but there, as tinged as it is with sadness, there is a real sense of hope. It leaves me longing to find out what happens in the next act, and sets up a perfect "cliffhanger". Bring on Acts III and IV!

CURTAIN FALLS...

 The Island by LAUGHING STOCK album cover Studio Album, 2020
4.04 | 4 ratings

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The Island
Laughing Stock Neo-Prog

Review by nick_h_nz
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

4 stars [Originally published at The Progressive Aspect]

Once upon a time, an English band then comprising three members made an album called Laughing Stock. I don't think it's a coincidence that a Norwegian three piece have named themselves Laughing Stock, as there is definitely some Talk Talk in their music. Indeed, there's a lot in their music. So much so, that it is very difficult to peg them into any one particular hole. The Island is their debut album, previously self-released in 2018, and now given a larger audience through a new release with Apollon Records. The Island is definitely deserving of this larger audience, too. Although it might seem that this is merely a re-release of the original, as far as I can ascertain, it is an entirely new recording, with several of the tracks reworked.

Comparing the track listing I received for review with the original release, the first thing I noticed was the artwork. I actually already liked the artwork, and the way the band made up the shape of an island. What I hadn't realised was that they have used the shape of the island in the original artwork ' very clever! Other than that, there appears to be a slight tweaking in the track order. One track from the original release has become a bonus track appended to the physical version of the re-release. A track not on the original becomes a second bonus track on the CD version of the album. Neither of these two bonus tracks, nor the longest track on the album, were sent to me for review. I'm not particularly perturbed about missing the bonus tracks, though, as they have obviously been decided not to be relevant enough to the concept to be required listening (although I am intrigued as to why one of the songs was included the first time the album was released).

I decided to listen to the album using first the original track order, and then the new. It's not often a concept album would, or even could, be re-ordered. But in this case, it makes a sort of sense, as the concept is that of living in a world in disarray, and the challenges experienced day-to-day as the world falls further and further off its hinges. And, the differences in track order are largely cosmetic, also. Whether it is The Party's Over or The Island which open the album, each provide a beautiful instrumental opening, with a dramatic change halfway through. In both instances of the album, this instrumental album is followed by That Face, which is a truly magnificent number. It's Pink Floyd meets Neil Young meets Black Sabbath. Like the band in general, the song refuses to stick to one style, and flits from light to heavy, and from structured and precise to loose and jamming.

The first major difference in track listing is where Descension is placed, as it's another shorter instrumental track (and a quite beautiful one, too). I have to say I prefer it's placement in the newer track listing, than the original. It effectively bookends That Face nicely, and doesn't let the pace slow as much as Canyon Crawlers did. On both versions, Descension leads very nicely into Vultures, Bats and Reptiles ' the longest track on the album, at around eleven minutes. I love the keening guitar that opens and howls over this track. After three minutes of this extended instrumental introduction, the instrumentation almost all falls away, and what was approaching metal is instead closer to folk. Three minutes later again, and we're back to heavier sounds. The band chop and change without ever sounding forced or abrupt. Indeed, they make such changes sound natural. The sound clips that play over the heavy backing are incredibly effective.

Vultures, I would presume to be the end of the first side of the album, with the second side of the album opening with either The Island, or The Party's Over, depending on which other had opened the first side. As aforementioned, both these tracks are very similar in style, even if they do differ in sound. Both provide perfect openings, and prove to be interchangeable, and equally effective whichever is used.

The first song of the second side of the original album is now one of the two bonus tracks on the physical release of the new album, and so I'm unable to say how it sounds. I do find Canyon Crawlers works far better here, though, than after That Face (as it appeared originally). It's a long and slow dirge in the vein of Neil Young, and it's quite gorgeous. Coming after the relative bombast of That Face originally, its beauty was somewhat overwhelmed. In its new position, it holds its own, and has a lot more impact. This is one time where the re-sequencing of tracks on the re-release of The Island is more than cosmetic. It makes a big difference, and Canyon Crawlers benefits hugely from it. I love the final minute or so, and despite the length of the song already, I'd have loved for that guitar solo to develop rather than fade away.

From here, disregarding bonus tracks, the order remains the same on both the original and the new versions of The Island. First up is the melancholic instrumental Fallen Star, which bookends Canyon Crawlers the way the two instrumentals bookend That Face on the first side. This sense of mirroring didn't exist on the original album release, and is really quite noticeable and effective on the new version. Perhaps the original version portrayed the disarray of modern life better, by not being so symmetrical, but this new sequencing is ultimately far more pleasurable to listen to. (My opinion, of course, and I have no doubt others might prefer the original track order.)

Who We Are is possibly my favourite track on the album, and I honestly can't put my finger on why this is. Other tracks are either more splendidly subtle or spectacular. Who We Are decidedly treads the middle ground. It is, however a track of two parts. The first four minutes remind me of Violent Attitude If Noticed, and the final two of Smashing Pumpkins. I'm sure neither were influences of Laughing Stock, so if they're reading this, they're probably querying my ears. Either way, I really like this song.

30 Years closes the album perfectly. For that reason alone, I'm glad I didn't have the bonus tracks to hear. There's something a little unsettling upon hearing an album finish, and then have another song follow. The final four minutes of 30 Years are some of the most enjoyable on the album. Absolutely sublime! This track is the only thing that prevents me from declaring Who We Are my favourite on the album. Between these two, the album closes out in style. Or, should that be styles. For Laughing Stock is comfortable whether playing pop, rock, folk or metal, or some hybrid of them all. Perhaps a pinch or two of psychedelic and jazz added to the mix for good measure. I couldn't even begin to guess all their influences, so varied is the palette they draw from, but I'd take a stab in the dark, and venture Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Tears for Fears, Talk Talk, XTC, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Camel, The Beatles and probably at least a couple of dozen others. If you like any, all, or even none of the aforementioned, give The Island a go. It may not be a new album, per se, but it's likely new to most, and it's well worth your time.

 Sunrise by LAUGHING STOCK album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.17 | 5 ratings

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Sunrise
Laughing Stock Neo-Prog

Review by Windhawk
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars Norwegian band LAUGHING STOCK consists of members that have worked with each other on and off in various constellations since the 1980's, but it wasn't until 2016 that the three members decided to join forces and make their very own band. They self-released their debut album "The Island" in 2018. Since then the band have hooked up with Norwegian label Apollon Records who released their second album "Sunrise" in the fall of 2019 on their Apollon Records Prog imprint.

While I'm unfamiliar with this band's first album, this second full length production of their is one that I suspect those who are fond of accessible, mainly gentle and melancholic progressive rock should find it intriguing to investigate. Fans of the most accessible parts of later day Pink Floyd strikes me as something of a core audience, but also those favoring the material of fellow Norwegian artist Bjorn Riis may well find "Sunrise" to be a production that merits a check at some point.

Thanks to dAmOxT7942 for the artist addition.

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