Moddi's debut Floriography drew a lot of attention, and in his home nation of Norway, the hype machine went into overdrive, geeing up support for the folk singer-songwriter and earning him two Norwegian Grammy nominations – the record was a mighty success. He went on to turn down a lucrative sponsorship with government-controlled Big Oil and fell in with A-ha, who granted him a sort of scholarship to continue working on his chilling acoustic sonatas. But after the exposure and the pressure of fame, Moddi holed up in the forests of Telemark to work on the follow-up. Set The House On Fire is the result of his self-imposed exile; it's an LP of grazed emotions and instrumental experimentation, doused in guttural vocals, harsh noises and a bucolic loneliness. It's brimming with desolate, post-apocalyptic acoustic soundscapes and introspective musings. There's a primal surge throughout the music: this is a man coming to terms with himself and the world around him through the sonic arts.
Some of the brighter moments include lead single 'House On The Sea', where Moddi debates the meaning of home. It's deliciously lyrical and achingly familiar - this is the kind of inventive acoustic fretwork singer-songwriters should set their sights on. There are passages during 'Run To The Water', a duet with Kari Kamrud Jahnsen, that infer levels of positivity. Strings lull and encroach like burbling tides, at times they're gossamer delicate, at others they're booming washes of drama. The inclusion of female vocals provide a new dimension to the music, adding a timbre which invokes optimism for humanity, which is something pretty untapped on the record.
Opener 'Heim' and penultimate effort 'Heim Igjen' ('Home' and 'Home Again') are brittle shards of lo-fi folk. They bookend the majority of the album (excluding 'Northern Line'). At just over two minutes each, they're brief glimpses into the skeletal 'one-man-and-his-guitar' type of acoustics that Moddi rarely shows off. On the whole, the record is flush with sparkling layers, and rarely does a cut pass without revealing a fan of hidden surprises – be they flourishes of violin ('Let The Spider Run Alive') or children chortling amongst cavernous synths ('The Architect'). Perhaps the best example of texture is on 'For An Unborn'. It begins life an agonizing paean of trauma, accompanied by only sparse guitar strums, before morphing into something equally ruinous but grander in scope. Echoing keys skulk into focus, droning bass notes stretch beneath Moddi's voice, which is gradually ascending, growing more and more agitated before crackling with unkempt furore or languishing bitterness. It's only when you revisit the first few minutes of the saga (it's 12:28 long) that you grasp the textural journey you've partaken.
All but two of the efforts on Set The House On Fire exceed six minutes, with a couple hitting the twelve minute mark - this isn't an album that should be approached lightly. It will demand your full attention and batter you senseless with digressions of faith, existentialist ponderings and the terrors of modern urban banality. Basically, life sucks. This is best embodied in closer 'Northern Line' - a delicate hymn drowning in maudlin acoustic guitar and twinkling synths – which ends on the gloriously finite line: "I'm all yours, fast asleep on the Northern Line." Many tracks feel hopeless. Occasionally glimmers of light permeate the grinding darkness Moddi conjures, but largely this LP is a slap into reality; he could be filling his songs with fairy tale endings and perfect romance, but he'd rather paint a picture of truth than sugar-coated wishes. It's bleak, tender and destructive, but at least you're being told straight. It may be heart-wrenching and it may be devastation incarnate, but by god, it's beautiful.