Norwegian guitarist, singer and songwriter (and visual artist) Jens Carelius has turned a legendary figure in his ancestry into a unique album. Opsi is a song cycle based on the diaries of Carelius’s great-great-grandfather Fritz Doerries (known to his family as Opsi), a German naturalist who spent much of his young life collecting butterflies and other animal specimens in the sub-arctic lands of eastern Siberia.
An entomologist by trade, Opsi documented over 50,000 specimens of butterflies – many of them never before studied. His findings are in museums all over the world and he even has a species of pygmy woodpecker named after him, as it was first discovered in Siberia. He died at 101 years old, leaving a diary chronicling hazardous ocean voyages, crossing Japan on foot, surviving ice-cold winters and enjoying long beautiful summers.
Carelius on intricately played acoustic guitars and Lars Horntveth on synthesizers and other instruments turn in eight tracks of atmospheric alternative folk inspired by Opsi’s life and diaries. The absolute highlight is the opening track “Lay Me Down” about longing for a missing loved one. It was inspired by Carelius’s reading of those diaries:
“During Opsi’s 22 years in Siberia, he had several visits to Germany, and the diary reveals details of a hidden love story that I’ve chosen to explore in this song,” he says. “When you really miss someone, you forget about any trouble, pride, and drama that being with them stirs up. You just want that person and that love to be there, even though you know the ordeal it could bring.”
Other highlights include the closer “Wildfire” with rapid-fire drumbeats behind languid vocals about the hot flame of young love; the epic prog-rock-style hero’s tale “Hunting Butterflies”; and the gently driving “Even Beauty Grows Old” with Spanish guitar flourishes and softly repeated lyrics about the relentless passing of time: “Feels like / we’re losing time / you know / we only get one ride / Let’s shake off the old / and be on our way.” And “All I Know,” a synth-driven song that starts with the sound of a ticking clock, about making the most of your one shot at life.
Lyrics and much more at Carelius’s website.
(Jansen Records, 2019)