Efterklang, a quintet from Denmark, debuted with the EP
Springer (Rumraket, 2003 - Leaf, 2005), a collection of
madrigals for chamber ensemble and electronics.
The eight-minute Kloy Gyn is a tender lullaby that doesn't do much
more than build up slowly.
The seven-minute Antitech, sung in a dejected tone over romantic
piano notes and chaotic percussion, echoes film music from the Sixties.
Redrop is four minutes of pure psychedelic ecstasy.
The electronic effects also prevail in the six-minute Filmosonic XL,
that almost sounds like a sci-fi soundtrack.
Even when it stays closer to Earth, the music of Efterklang has an alien
element, mainly due to the lack of emotion in the playing and singing.
Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, Rasmus Stolberg, pianist Rune Molgaard Fonseca,
percussionist Thomas Kirirath Husmer create an ambience for their simple
songs that is similar to Rachel's chamber
post-rock music, but the Danish quintet differs in two key ways:
it adds the human voice to the instrumental base, and the instrumental base
is not convoluted at all (in fact, quite melodic and linear).
The sense of melancholy is even stronger on the album
Tripper (Leaf, 2004), recorded by a ten-piece line-up that also included
trumpet and strings.
The songs are multifaceted, apparently repetitive but actually continuously
The ensemble employs an arsenal of instruments and voices to craft
gentle, melodic, sophisticated, electroacoustic whispered lieder
(not the grand symphonies that one would expect);
like the fragile piano-based elegy of Swarming, pivoting on the counterpoint of drum-machine and strings, and mutating into a simple lullabye with minimalist repetition;
like the solemn fanfare of Collecting Shields, the offspring of rhythmic invention (skittering beats) and choral chanting (when the beats end);
like the languid slo-core litany that emerges from
Doppelganger after a sonata for feeble piano notes and sustained violin notes and a wistful choir's interlude.
Collecting Shields feels like surfing on a feather. As the repeated lines of a children's choir intersects with an equally mechanic men's choir, minimalist patterns pop up everywhere.
There are many places where the ensemble appropriates the minimalist technique
(Monopolist sounds like an excerpt from a Philip Glass opera) but
sometimes it is a way to disguise a lack of melodic inspiration.
This album set a new standard for integrating orchestral arrangements,
digital sound effects and melodic vocal harmonies.
The three-song One Sided LP (2006) went against the main current of
the album with
their more abstract and purely atmospheric composition yet, and
Tu Es Mon Image, an impressionistic painting of cascading plinking notes
that turns into twinkling oneiric voyage.
The five-song EP Under Giant Trees (2007) is a demonstration of how to
ruin splendid music with terrible endings.
Falling Horses feels so fragile and it exudes sense of emptiness, but then
it drowns in a crescendo of deafening pomp.
Himmelbjerget is an unlikely balance of graceful and cold (with a female choir that sounds from the Pacific islands) until it explodes in a ruinous fanfare.
Jojo is typical of how they build up a symphonic crescendo and then don't know what to do with it.
The consolation prize is the pastoral, elegiac instrumental Hands Playing Butterfly.
Parades (2007) delivered on the premises of those experiments by
secreting chamber pop for elaborate arrangements.
Polygyne displays the full arsenal of tricks:
minimalist repetition (by the percussion, by the horns, by the strings), and
the call and response between the
ecstatic male singing and the celestial female choir.
When the repetition is minimized, the songs have to stand on their own merit,
and only a few succeed. Mirador, for example, does not go anywhere:
just confused vocal harmonies and interlocking strings.
Horseback Tenors, on the contrary, goes somewhere, but the destination
is odd, to say the least: a medieval dance blown out of proportion with
heavy metal bombast although performed with the amateurish aplomb of a
marching band. The choir is positively moving towards the operatic dimension,
but the results are closer to background muzak than to classical music.
The truth is that the choir has become a liability; not only predictable but
also so incredibly limited.
The one piece that succeeds is Illuminant, a sort of abstract psychedelic
Performing Parades (2009) documents
a live performance of the entire Parades album
by the Danish National Chamber Orchestra.
The grandeur that was missing from previous albums, but clearly feasible for
this ensemble, rained heavily on Magic Chairs (2010).
The much streamlined sound aimed for mass consumption, but ditties like
I Was Playing Drums sound like
minor XTC vignette, or adult contemporary muzak
Meanwhile, Mirror Mirror spins out the 1000th, 1001st and 1002nd minimalist pattern (piano, strings, choir); not exactly breathtaking.
The upbeat and catchy (and vaguely Caribbean) Scandinavian Love is the
least tedious song.
The concept album Piramida (2012), that used
field recordings from a Russian ghost town of the Arctic,
was more abstract and less pop.
However, the results are still tediously trivial.
The Ghost recalls
David Sylvian's Japan of the 1980s.
Told To Be Fine is another step towards
the adult dancefloor for middle-aged people who grew up with
Dreams Today tries to disguise the fact that it is playing the
2000th minimalist pattern by employing a 70-piece female choir.
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