You ever try to picture the changing weather with some kind of sound? You know how bands like Wilco just sound that much better during the fall sort of thing. The coldness of winter can also bring upon trademark sounds and who knows, maybe it’s the cover image or even just the chillingly dark introduction but Stafraenn Hakon’s sixth album, Sanitas brings upon images of white mountains and snow-covered pine trees. And even when it comes in the form of a free-forming song that deploys riff after riff of squelching pumps or through a layered slow-burner, there is plenty to dig into here.
As the mastermind behind Hakon, Ólafur Josephsson, takes over with a voice that is both easily discernible and very much personal. There isn’t much on the album requiring a challenging voice but whatever the case may be, his voice is always surrounded by supportive music that always compliments and never over powers. Even as the light begins to melt away some snow, the album’s identity is definitely one of overcoming and progress. The music is an easy get-away and from the instant you put it on, you’ll want to nestle away with it, all the way until the very end.
And although this would be something labeled as some kind of post-rock, or as they like to call it, power-ambient, there isn’t anything raucously upfront about Sanitas. Instead, there is a calming strength in both the music’s expression and delivery. Never bolstering itself too much, it’s pushed to the front by gifted compositions and music that swells with skillful progressions. Even when everything is being pushed to the sides of the windows and ready to crack through the glass, there is a firm control and it’s always at a steady rate. It ends up being one of the album’s glowing highlights because it allows the entryway into smooth, densely layered but tranquil music with such fluidity. Josephsson’s voice alone is enough to soothe you but joined at hip with music as peacefully buoyant as this makes for an understated but excellent, combination.
“Bright” is a shining ray of hope in an otherwise, bleak and desolate album. And still, although the title shouts for a chance to break away, the music is tapered with a melodic piano line that is carried on top of swirling strings. It’s all done by way of a very much capered and flourishing, substantially clear amount of drive. Sanitas flows like some kind of frozen river that changes with the weather – breaking through in the spring, tightly closed during the winter and so on – it’s a back and forth ride that is actually, very well done. Such instances of rolling rock come towards the end with “Temporality” and “Provisional Meat,” where each song features angular guitar riffs and pounding drums; in other words, a sharp contrast from the earlier sounds but still, very much aligned.
But like those two erstwhile songs, the album’s overall sound comes shining through on the album’s last two songs. Where one is shoegaze influenced (“You Have to Let Me Borrow This!”) and the other is a gentle, somber goodbye (“The Jerker,”) they each go hand-in-hand as if it is all one sweeping seamless transition. And so it is, like the weather that continually moves, Sanitas is a majestic piece of music that will surely tide you over for the winter, whenever you need it and if called upon, will be there for many other moments of winning joy.