Some months ago I came across a memorable version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” by a multi-talented Dane, Mikkel Hess, who under the moniker Hess Is More – along with a variable line-up of bandmates – has been cutting a figure these past several years in his adopted city, New York, with several albums got out, a number of commissions for theatre and ballet coming in, and most recently a residency just completed at an important alternative gallery there. Intrigued or, to speak plainly, impressed both by the reversal in the arrangements of the usual sonic relationships, with the drums, reduced in volume, taking a place amongst the various other instruments (rather than obliterating them) including the quasi-instrument which is Hess’ occasional eerie whistling, and by the delicacy with which his vocals, often nearly whispered and nearly always characteristically mellifluous, dusted off the jagged lyrics, I resolved to devote an entire article to his other music in the near future.
The time has arrived, and from his Youtube channel I’ve compiled a playlist of some of the videos made to supplement his songs. In this case, they do not add much by way of elucidating his musical practice itself, but are, rather, small works in their own right, less works of art however than instances of wit: in them it’s above all his sense of humour which is illustrated – its tone, lightly bemused, diverges widely from the dour heaviness under which some of his country’s contemporary cinema is known to weigh down its audiences, and is actually comparable to the whimsicality that’s frequently exhibited in the fashion shows of the Danish designer Henrik Vibskov, with whom in fact Hess Is More has collaborated more than once.
All the same, though, the result is not likely to be loud laughter, but rather, wry smiles and perhaps a chuckle or two at the crossing of plays on words with humorous notes . . . This sense of humour is particularly fine in the two more recent songs, which were included two years ago on the album Creation Keeps the Devil Away?, an LP on which Hess was joined by several other quite capable musicians and vocalists (Bang Chau, Michael Hanf, Thor Madsen, Matt Parker, Nomi Ruiz, and Mary Joe Stilp); but there’s no lack of it in the earlier ones, either.
Yet on occasion, the deliberate use of ambiguity in the lyrics (which the arrangements then echo) comes into its own better in the absence of a visual treatment which substitutes a simple definite scenario in the place of the double entendres: this is especially the case in the earlier number “Yes Boss” (a collaboration with Chau), and for this reason I haven’t included that video in the playlist. Here instead is the audio track alone, uploaded by Hess on his Soundcloud page, which unsheathes its hooks much more when actual images have not been attached to it.
Also available on that page is a track included three years ago on an EP, an instrumental piece that with its sonic ironies is no less witty in its vocal-less way than are the songs in theirs, “Igor Goes to Hollywood.”