BlackBook Premiere: Datarock’s Frederick Saroea’s Chamber Performance of ‘Heaven Knows Those Songs Weren’t Heaven Sent’

With film and television productions halted, and art galleries essentially shut down, music artists took a particularly exigent position at the forefront of our cultural survival in the early months of the coronavirus crisis. Frederick Saroea, frontman of Norwegian indie stalwarts Datarock, in particular wrote and recorded the album Rona Diaries, which came out in May of 2021, just as the first vaccination programs brought an initial wave of hope – which would later be daunted by surges of the deadly Delta and Omicron variants.

Remarkably, the Bergen International Festival carried on in that same month, as live music was first attempting to make a comeback. Saroea, certainly no stranger to grand gestures, teamed up for a performance there with fellow countrymen/women the BIT20 Ensemble, a contemporary chamber concern founded in 1989 which has commissioned more than a hundred original works since its inception. The result is the strikingly truly exquisite LP Rona Diaries: The Chamber Versions Live at Grieg Hall, Bergen, which will be released via YAP Records on June 10 – nearly three months after Norway lifted the last of its COVID related travel restrictions.

In the lead up, BlackBook premieres here the live video for the winkingly cleverly titled ‘Heaven Knows Those Songs Weren’t Heaven Sent.’ It perfectly captures the deep sense of melancholy and longing that characterized the rare album that will have the distinction in history of being entirely the product of a global and extremely fatal pandemic.

“This is the last song on the Rona Diaries album,” explains Saroea, “and I guess it’s basically me pardoning the fact that I let myself write, record and release such a sad and depressing collection of lockdown songs that the listener just endured to the…bitter end, so to speak.”

Quite the contrary, though, as opposed to needing to be endured, the chamber music version of the track comes off sonically and emotionally like a hauntingly beautiful requiem for all those who were taken from us by the virus, and also a musical memento for all of us who survived it. One imagines that when enough time has passed to collect the “coronavirus songbook” – all those compositions whose existence will be ultimately credited to what will have been the greatest health crisis of a generation (or two or three) – this poignantly affective live recording of ‘Heaven Knows Those Songs Weren’t Heaven Sent’ will have a particular pride of place amongst them.

“It took a very different direction,” Saroea recalls of the performance, “‘heaven sent’ by orchestrator Bjørn Morten Christophersen and the amazing quartet from the BIT20 Ensemble. Now the song is so much more than an excuse, and you can almost hear that I don’t mean it anymore when I sing that last sentence (“Heaven knows those songs weren’t heaven sent”) – so I guess the ‘cathartic masochism’ wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.”

And so let the record show that of all the things that the pandemic inspired artistically, the coining of “cathartic masochism” as a songwriting methodology will quite likely be the best of them all.

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