Like a giant recycling project, Danish trio Efterklang have constructed their fourth album partially from samples and found sounds captured at Piramida, a ghost town in the Arctic Circle abandoned by the Russians in the last century.
As their brief accompanying Making Of video demonstrates, the ten day curation period allowed them to find organic textures via materials discarded from the house that Oleg built, with every inanimate noise seemingly full of spectral imprints and back stories.
The concept sounds fascinating, but the smart money it has to be said wasn’t on the end product sounding as assured and vital as this.
Opener ‘Hollow Mountain‘ has a weird duality, sounding both superstitiously pastoral and grounded in obdurate post rock aesthetics. Singer Casper Clausen seems content to let his contribution be an undertone, while the orchestral flourishes and choir all add to the idea that this is a song dying to break free, its grandeur yearning for all the pomp and ceremony of a Soviet May Day Rally.
Clearly, this isn’t a record about a discarded mine. Much of the time the predominant feeling is of insecurity – on the woozy ‘Sedna‘ Clausen warns an unnamed person to “Stop taking me over” – whilst during ‘Apples‘ he tell us to “Settle in into your fear”. It would be lazy here to draw comparisons to the creeping paranoia of ‘OK Computer‘, but the same conditional belief systems seem to run through ‘Piramida’, despite it having a considerably less bleak musical outlook.
What’s also thought provoking, aside from the admirable fact that Efterklang have made a cerebral record that’s as enjoyable as it is challenging, is that something which is created from bits of abandonment can sound so uplifting and dare we say it, spiritual.
On ‘The Living Layer‘ they explore cinematic, sunshine-all-day electronica that has the aural quality of snow melting, whilst ‘Black Summer‘ builds majestically across swelling brass, simple piano and floating gospel harmonies, ultimately revealing itself as the best song Elbow never recorded.
By this point it’s evident to even the deaf that ‘Piramida’ has skilfully left the event horizon of its high concept behind. The listener is left in a capsule in which big is also happy to be naïve, where it’s not always right, sometimes vulnerable and happier when they’re happier.
In this environment ‘Between The Walls‘ jittery 8-bit rhythms combine with an angelic falsetto, the juxtaposition delivering a revelatory modern soul classic in every sense. Things are also complicated; like ‘Apples’, the subject of closer ‘Monument‘ is being pushed to one side, but again it’s unclear whether this is a threat, a command or just platonic advice. Rippling away to almost nothingness, the song itself isn’t so much a climax as a simple letting go of the hand, the final moments of a brief summer before at ‘Piramida’ the tourists head back south again to their idea of civilisation.
It will, you assume, not have gone unnoticed by the Danes that the likes of Death Cab For Cutie have managed to keep telling their fractured stories whilst engaging large swathes of America. ‘Piramida’ is smart, but works hard at being Everyman.
What the oil drums, dentists chairs and locked doors of the old town think of it walks alone.