Recording information: Capitol Studios, Los Angeles (07/2013); Chale Abbey Studios, Isle Of Wight (07/2013).
Photographer: Fred Jonny.
With his third studio album, Islander, Bernhoft offers more of his slick '80s-style R&B tossed with '70s soul, lots of funky bass, and a feel-good song selection. A household name and chart-topper in his native Norway, U.S. appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Conan, and NPR's Weekend Edition after the release of 2011's Solidarity Breaks helped grow his American fan base and prompted a move to New York City, though the album was recorded in Los Angeles and Isle of Wight. Armed with a voice that doesn't have a weak range, Bernhoft can glide between rich baritone and lucid falsetto with the ease of a well-oiled rollercoaster, and does here, in doses. Speaking of effortless singers, the record features a duet, "No Us, No Them," with Jill Scott. It's an album highlight in its simplicity, the playfulness in the rhythm of the melody, and the perhaps mild surprise that their voices work together so nicely. The first single, "Come Around," is another strong vocal track loaded with layers of rhythm, singalong backup vocals, and a clap-along, slide-along groove. Islander could benefit from Bernhoft letting his voice do even more of the talking; some tracks that focus on stylized, throwback guitar and keyboard timbres, accented bass, and more-processed vocals -- notably the beatboxing track "Wind You Up" and "One Way Track," in which he's usually buried in overdubbing -- are fun enough but obscure those pipes, which ultimately feels like a deprivation. In contrast, his vocals are allowed to really dig in and show coloration on the more stripped-down, pleading, retro ballad "Don't Let Me Go." In the big picture, Islander has the variety and texture to make for an engaging listen, though what it really aims to do is distract and lift spirits. ~ Marcy Donelson