With any ability comes the urge to explore it. For Efterklang, this naturally meant being complex and virtuosic, culminating with the massive orchestrations on 2007’s impressive but overblown Parades. After gaining massive popularity in their home base of Denmark and touring the hell out of Parades with an extended lineup, they seem to have concluded that those explorations were complete and that it was time to see what other abilities they had. The trick for any established band in this situation is to continue playing to their strengths as musicians while fitting these strengths into new forms and shapes. On Magic Chairs, Efterklang manages to excise its most affected gestures, keep its penchant for wide-ranging adventurousness, and bring new found confidence to the more personal, micro-aspects of their sound. The result is a triumphant orchestral pop record which radiates with intelligence and touch.
Lead track “Modern Drift” makes it pretty obvious that this is a leaner iteration of Efterklang. The vocals here don’t play as another piece of counterpoint as they did in the past, but instead are one of the central organizing principles of each song. The choral swell is mostly gone as well, replaced with lead singer Casper Clausen’s firm but emotively-edged singing, reminiscent of Sting and Chris Martin, but way better than that combination looks on paper. His performance is tinged with both experience and vulnerability, and conjures a taking stock of life which feels like yearning in the midst of tired surrender, the great struggle between romantic and depressive attitudes. This stepping out is an unqualified success.
These songs are rhythmic to the core, popping along with slappy, shuffling drums that recall skittering IDM more than a marching band. There’s a generous amount of plinking piano and keyboards holding down the basic chord patterns, which leaves the rest of the many instruments in the Efterklang arsenal to do as they please. Horns, strings, and background vocals still play a major role alongside the bass and lead guitars, it’s just instead of being piled on top of each other they are arranged so that each part can be clearly heard and isolated by the ear. Overall the effect is more horizontal than over the top.
It seems the band realized that by arranging in this sort of linear, subtractive method they were left with more interesting possibilities than by simply building things higher and higher. And so the final product feels of a consistent sound even as the individual songs diverge wildly. In turn the band ventures into orchestral drum ‘n’ bass (“Alike”), klangy electro (“Raincoats”), Bjork-ish cartoon soundtracks (“Harmonics”), lazy funk (“I Was Playing Drums”), uplifting ballads (“The Soft Beating”), and goofy tropicalia (“Scandanavian Love”). This album sounds simple at first, but after it permeates your environment for a while, the details start popping out and provide an enthralling listen from second to second. It’s the sound of a band opening its heart and becoming a treasure.
So on Magic Chairs, Efterklang successfully pare off the excess while maintaining the essence, making the transformation from escalating maximalists to concise atomists. The small moments here shine brightly on their own, chaining together into moving miniatures which sacrifice none of the complexity of their earlier work while finding sweeping and magical movement in the charmingly modest and direct. This economy of purpose feels like a huge victory for a band which seemed headed toward ever greater degrees of accumulation. Here interaction trumps momentum, leaving Magic Chairs feeling like the most honest and intelligent music Efterklang could make, and resulting in a listen full of intimacy and personality.