As Carmen Villain, Oslo-based singer/songwriter Carmen Hillestad makes ethereal yet challenging music that has only grown more transporting and introspective with time. On her 2013 debut album Sleeper, she combined experimental rock, dream pop, and shadowy character sketches in shifting layers that were psychedelic in the truest sense of the term. Later, she went deeper into her music's transcendent qualities on the fragile electro-acoustic meditations of 2017's Infinite Avenue and the ambient interludes of 2019's Both Lines Will Be Blue. Born in the U.S. to Mexican and Norwegian parents, Hillestad is a former model (she appeared on the cover of Vogue, among other assignments) who penned songs inspired by the writing of Charles Bukowski and Mikhail Bulgakov and experimented with loops, vocals, and drum programming in secret. After deciding to share her music as Carmen Villain, she recorded her debut album at studios including Oslo's CSX Dungeon. During the sessions, she enlisted the help of Serena Maneesh's Emil Nikolaisen and Prins Thomas as co-producers, while she played guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, and drum machines. Arriving in March 2013 on Smalltown Supersound, Sleeper touched on influences ranging from Sun City Girls and Sonic Youth to Broadcast and This Heat. Villain returned with 2017's introspective Planetarium, an EP of songs blending field recordings with acoustic and electronic instruments that included remixes by Gigi Masin. That September, Villain released her second full-length, the hushed Infinite Avenue, which featured contributions from Jenny Hval, experimental house producer Matt Karmil, and Deathprod's Helge Sten. After working with U.K. producer Parris on a commissioned project for the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival, Villain collaborated with Thomas and Chilean-Norwegian flutist Johanna Scheie Orellana on her third album, Both Lines Will Be Blue. A collection of structured and improvised instrumentals that incorporated field recordings, zither, and electronics in its soothing ambience, the album arrived in July 2019. ~ Heather Phares
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