Thursday, 13 September 2012

reviews: efterklang, kNIFE & fORK, the helio sequence

Efterklang - Piramida (****)

Efterklang’s intrepid ambition is perhaps their defining characteristic, as evidenced by fourth album Piramida’s titular birthplace: an abandoned mining facility in Svalbard. Decamping to the frozen archipelago for nine days, the Danish trio collected various field recordings, from which they built Piramida’s base – rusted iron struck like xylophone bars; birds and air taped and appropriated.

It’s a severe environment from which to draw inspiration – a rocky landscape containing more polar bears than people – and the result is a sombre and gelid piece at odds with the charm and warmth of past releases. But repeated close listens restart the record’s heart, as it shivers off detachment to reveal an exquisite elegance. Caspar Clausen’s vocals sit clearer in the mix than ever, deepened a tone and evocatively pensive, while tracks like Apples demonstrate a typically opulent breadth of instrumentation. Though possibly their least straightforwardly enjoyable album, Perimida is a distinct and expertly-accomplished advancement of the Efterklang sound.

Out 24th September

kNIFE & fORK – The Higher You Get the Rarer the Vegetation

kNIFE & fORK - The Higher You Get, The Rare the Vegetation (***)

From Magic Band member to stints backing the likes of PJ Harvey, Eric Drew Feldman’s CV exudes pedigree. For kNIFE & Fork – a collaboration with vocalist Laurie Hall that began with 2004’s Miserycord – Feldman steps out from esteemed shadows to prove himself as proficient at developing his own music as he is at servicing the songwriting of others.

Of the aforementioned acts, The Higher You Get… hews closer to Polly Jean’s gothic dramatics than Beefheart’s surrealism, despite its Dali-quoting title. This is partly due to Hall’s evocative vocals and lyrics, which run a gamut of registers, from haunting desperation on Tightrope to sleazy sexuality on grungy highlight Pocket Rocket. The album peaks with ten-minute opus The Revelator: an odyssey of desire and decay that carries an enriching cabaret tint without succumbing to the outer reaches of melodrama. Little else matches its considerable stature, but the album nonetheless brims with confidence and mystery.

Out now

The Helio Sequence - Negotiations (**)

Much of The Helio Sequence’s fifth album was reportedly born from improvisation, with many songs beginning life as one-minute sketches, and others formed entirely in a single take. In certain circumstances, improv can be a liberating working method – encouraging the kind of open-minded imagination that corporate-speak would have us all call ‘blue sky thinking.’ On Negotiations it appears to have had the opposite effect, causing the duo (singer/guitarist Brandon Summers and drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Weikel) to withdraw into conventionality, with largely tepid results.

Summers’ vocals are as irreproachable as ever, floating and soaring over reverb-heavy guitar lines, and it’s testament to the band’s proficiency that nothing stands out as particularly poor; the problem is that little stands out at all. But if this is the sound of a band creatively treading water, they make the pools in which they paddle sound pretty inviting, with glistening self-production making the most of their obvious talents.

Out Now


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