Short Takes on 4 Albums

Valgeir Sigurðsson - Draumalandið

Composer, producer, and Bedroom Community label head Valgeir Sigurðsson’s second proper release is a soundtrack for Draumalandið, a documentary focusing on the problems that come with being a natural resource rich country – namely corporate industrialization and loss of local control – and the attendant environmental and civic mismanagement that such distanced and profit-minded leadership promises. Bedroom Community is also rich in natural resources, and Sigurðsson has called in the talents of composer Nico Muhly, neo-folk troubadour Sam Amidon, cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir, and sound architect Ben Frost. If you are normally turned off by soundtracks, this one might be the exception to the rule. This flows more like an artist album than a film accompaniment, including a variety of styles and changes of pace. While there is still some of the contrived drama in the more traditional score-like orchestral pieces, they’re offset by pastoral beauty (“I Offer Prosperity And Eternal Life”), lonesome piano melodies (“Economic Hitman”), feedback creep (“Cold Ground, Hot”), and intelligent use of texture (“Past Tundra”, “Beyond the Moss”). Starting with a vocal number and ending with harrowing bombast, this soundtrack covers a lot of ground with grace, and doesn’t act as if it’s subservient to the content and pacing of a separate narrative. If you’re a fan of Iceland’s current surplus of dramatic and earthy musicians, but are weary of soundtracks, that shouldn’t let you get in the way of hearing Draumalandið.

Valgeir Sigurðsson

Bedroom Community

Sylvain Chauveau - Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)

Just to get it out of the way, it needs to be said that Sylvain Chauveau’s voice, front and center on this album, is pretty much a twin of David Sylvan’s. I actually thought it was Sylvan, not Sylvain, since Sylvan has become known for his spare collaborations with fringe artists like Fennesz, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Derek Bailey. Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) is a challenging work, and a surprise to anyone who become accustomed to Chauveau’s post-classical and ambient electronic work. Working with voice, piano, and micro-sound interference, here you have to trust that he is deconstructing the idea of pop songs (if not taking apart actual pop songs), and reconstituting them as slowcore piano eulogies. The affect is quite stirring, and potentially devastating if listened to late at night in a morose mood. It seems Chauveau is reducing pop to a trilogy of words, melody, and rhythmic movement, respectively provided by voice, piano, and various microsound effects.  Chauveau wisely limits the whole album to just over a half an hour, and it works really well if you have the time and attention to give to it. As its title suggests, a multitasking album this is not.

Sylvain Chauveau

Type Records

Pausal - Lapses

Hampshire, U.K. duo Pausal’s debut full length album Lapses is comprised of processed recordings of guitars, pianos, violins, classical vinyl albums, and field recordings. Its gorgeousness hits you right away, almost sanctifying the air it passes through with its sighing pools of drone and heavenly swells. Think Stars of the Lid with less overt gestures and covering less ambivalent emotional territory. Over the course of the full-length, all 70 minutes of it, the serenity becomes monotonous as a handful of tracks run patience-testing lengths of 10 minutes with little movement or development. While indeed pleasant, it seems the smoothing approach of the sound processing starts to give the music too much of a continuous feel, like they’ve averaged out the interesting parts or planed a piece of wood down to an indistinguishable pile of shavings. Although Lapses is far from a failure, it lacks the focus that more judicious editing and textural variety bring to more successful ambient works.

Pausal

Barge Recordings

fns

FNS - FNS

Osloite Fredrik Ness Sevendal is the one man recording crew behind FNS, the newest release from the icy Norwegian-via-Berlin label Miasmah. Being a guitar-centered project, I was hoping the name FNS was in tribute to Fennesz, but alas, you can’t have everything you want. What FNS does deliver though is a warmer album of guitar parts layered in various states of abstraction. Lead track “Silence to Say Hello” sports some guitar noodling and modest xylophone over simple, almost folk chords fighting against a swelling oscillation. At first, the oscillation seems like conspicuously included artifice, but over the course of a few listens, the opposing thrusts make for an intriguing, if never resolved, juxtaposition which calls attention to your ability to attend. The remaining five tracks groan and drone on, never quite as successful as the first track, but never really losing the plot either. “Wooden Leg” even takes a stroll into the Renaissance Fair with more pronounced fretwork and less noise. Some of these excursions call to mind Roy Montgomery’s single-minded mood pieces, others seem to conjure the squalling symphonies of Flying Saucer Attack. If conflicted and noisy guitar melancholy is your thing, FNS might be right up your alley.

FNS

Miasmah Recordings