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The Disciplines: Norway Rocks! (By Way Of Seattle)

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If you're a typical American, your knowledge of Norwegian pop music begins and ends with "Take On Me," the 1985 smash hit by Oslo's own a-ha. Well, it's time to add another band to the playlist. The Disciplines have been taking Europe by storm for the last year or so, graduating from club gigs to festival slots faster than you can say "Kongeriget Norge." Their debut album, Smoking Kills, rocks harder than permafrost and has enough hooks to snare a herring.

Who knew that Norwegians could rock out like this? In the interest of full disclosure, they've got a ringer -- Seattle's own (well, Bellingham, WA's own, if you want to split hairs) Ken Stringfellow, who made his name in the '90s with power-pop legends The Posies and has since worked with everyone from Burt Bacharach to Big Star to R.E.M., in addition to making some excellent solo records.

Stringfellow first met Norwegian popsters Briskeby in 2002, and a few years later guested on their single "Joe Dallesandro," which became a Top Five hit in Norway. When they toured together in 2006, Ken got the band to back him up on a couple of songs, and it went so well they decided to try writing together. One of their first demos, "The Best Mistake," got leaked to Norwegian radio and immediately went into heavy rotation. Soon a side project became a full-fledged band.

With two hit singles and an album shooting up the Norwegian charts, and a European release not far behind, the question remains -- why should anyone here in the States care?

The answer is simple: Ken Stringfellow is one of the finest songwriters and performers around, and in the Disciplines he's found a band that pushes him in new directions. For 20 years, Stringfellow has dazzled with his high harmony vocals and his gorgeous pop songs. On Smoking Kills, he shifts gears, kicking out the jams with tough, cock-rockin' tunes about gurlz, luv, and the like. The drums pound, the vocals growl, and the guitars rip out tough, meaty riffs that are equal parts glam and grunge.

In other words, Smoking Kills is a better way for your ears to spend 31 minutes than just about any homegrown album that's come down the pike this summer. And it's sure to sound great the rest of the year, too.