Release Date: Sep 25, 2012
Record label: 4AD
In beginning to look at Efterklang’s fourth full-length record, it would certainly be amiss not to mention the story of its genesis, which begins some 18 months ago. It is something which renders the album more than just the music. Upon completion of the Danes' previous record, 2010’s Magic Chairs, they began to discuss their next project. Somewhat by chance, a Swedish director e-mailed the band asking if they were interested in filming a music video on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago; more specifically in the Russian-owned former mining town of Pyramiden, which was hastily abandoned in 1998 and has since remained a ghost town, a shell of its former self, gradually decaying as the years roll on.
Most records these days come with a steroid-bolstered PR narrative in tow, but the backstory to Efterklang's fourth studio effort, Piramida, has more traction than those of its peers. Before even setting foot in the studio, the Danish three-piece decamped to abandoned Russian settlement Piramida on Spitsbergen for just over a week, collecting over 1000 sounds from around the ghost town. Everything, from the ritualistic knocking of old industrial equipment to the brushing of ivories on the world's northernmost grand piano, became the basis of the sound-world from which Piramida later bloomed.
No one could ever accuse Efterklang of lacking ambition. Since forming in Copenhagen in 2004, they've released three studio albums, one live album and a film shot by French director Vincent Moon on a Danish island. Before signing to 4AD, they started their own label, Rumraket, through which they continue to release music. They've also been known to occasionally perform with an orchestra, a logistical feat lesser bands wouldn't dare take on.
In August of 2011, members of Danish indie electro band Efterklang traveled to the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, an abandoned Russian settlement near the North Pole. In Spitsbergen they spent time in the abandoned mining town of Piramida recording sounds in and around the decaying remnants of the leftover industrial remnants, including huge silos acting as reverb tanks and the world's northernmost piano. This audio expedition yielded more than 1,000 sound samples that the band would build this record (also named Piramida after the village) around, but moreover, the trip to the cold and isolated ghost town far from any semblance of civilization seems to have informed the icy feel of this gorgeously crafted album.
Magic Chairs, by way of pop-centric melodies and escapist lyrics, brought out a radical change for Efterklang in 2010. And those qualities have been remembered and improved in the Copenhagen post-rock outfit’s fourth, Piramida. The essential qualities of an album by Efterklang are all here: elongated melodies; sparsely beaten drums; sometimes-hectic, sometimes-soaring strings; and unforced, pleasantly uncomplicated instrumentation.
A lot of people around the world love Efterklang. This Copenhagen-based band makes indie-styled music with lots of space, lots of beauty, and lots of sad resolve. They don’t make party-rockin’ baby-makin’ jams; Efterklang has always more concerned with trying to turn little personal breakthroughs into huge anthemic sweeps. Not that they’re a Danish version of Coldplay or anything—but that’s not exactly the worst analogy to make.
When Efterklang traveled abroad to record their fourth full-length release, their situation sounded more like the plot of a horror film than a typical recording session. The band went to an abandoned Russian settlement on Spitsenbergen, a tiny island near the North Pole, and recorded over 1,000 sounds around the area, culling the best ones and incorporating them into the tracks on Piramida. Those sounds aren’t apparent on the first listen.
The boundary-blurring Danes' fourth album filters the graceful, accessible pop of 2010's Magic Chairs through a dark veil of mechanised melancholia. "Help, I'm falling," sings Casper Clausen in opener Hollow Mountain, his tumbling timbre capturing the emptiness of the abandoned Russian settlement where the album was made and from which it takes its title. In Sedna, Clausen's dexterous vocals capture a world-weariness reminiscent of Smog's Bill Callahan, while Between the Walls has the dappled keys and falsetto highs of 1970s soul.
In 2004, when Efterklang released their splendid debut full-length, Tripper, the Danish group appeared to have a tantalizing array of possible routes before them. Combining string instruments with well-manicured electronics, their music drew easy comparison to the wide-scale vistas of Sigur Rós or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and their work with such collaborators as the Amina string quartet and even the Danish National Chamber Orchestra pegged them as front-runners in the European wing of the burgeoning indie Classical movement. So it is hard not to be a little dismayed to see that Efterklang have settled for what is likely the least daring-- if perhaps not the least lucrative-- path going forward.
Behold the ambitiously complex adult-pop of Denmark’s Efterklang – if it were any more tasteful it’d be an olive-green polo neck. Though it’s never cool to mock such impressive musicianship, the classically based ‘Piramida’ is a fusty old thing, even if between its elegantly interlocking brass and woodwind parts are sexier ingredients from synthpop and indie-funk. The main problem lies in the dearth of choruses and verses.
Danish outfit Efterklang have undergone a few lineup changes in over ten years as a band, and with that time and shift naturally comes alterations in genre. Where they once dazzled with glitchy, post-rock flamboyance, 2010’s Magic Chairs attempted to wrangle their naturally expansive sounds into indie pop boxes. The trio’s fourth album, Piramida, continues that trend, showing moments of their grandiose power in between ineffectual, mellow pop icicles.
Efterklang moved quickly to remove themselves as targets for the sort of soporific catch-all descriptions being thrown at any act to come out of the Nordic countries in the first half of the last decade. The Danes might well have hailed hundreds of miles across the Norwegian sea from them, but Sigur Ros' emergence at the turn of the millennium quickly led to a critical net being thrown over any north European act who displayed spatial awareness, a focus on dynamic relationships, or who believed that instrumental interplay expressed as much as the uttered word in their music. Even as critics attempted to pull them into line from the beginning, though, Efterklang's music quickly moved into a different orbit.
Yearning for greener pastures, well, maybe more white-ish gray pastures, Danish trio, Efterklang confronts their own limitations on their newest record, Piramida. They confronted their limitations by enlisting the skillful qualities that artists and human beings have of reaching deeply into themselves and acquiring unique ideas and adventurous motives to trigger their honest, yet curious emotions. Efterklang conjured up this kind of magic while gathering influences for their new record.
There’s a strangely spectral grace and elegance to Efterklang’s ‘Piramida’ which befits an album largely recorded in the abandoned coal mining town of Pyramiden, an archipelago by the North Pole. The use of hundreds of found sounds on the island form the backbone of the Danish trio’s fourth album; accordingly, empty oil drums, fuel tanks, glass bottles, lampshades, polar bears and the world’s most northernmost grand piano all appear on the album, often contorted out of shape into unrecognisable sonic structures. However, the album isn’t some imposing industrial workout worthy of DAF or Nurse With Wound; the lush, inviting production, Casper Clausen’s empathetic vocals and the echoes of the stirring orchestrations which accompanied early live performances of the album create a majestic journey through sophisticated pop.
Danish trio bravely, and masterfully, embraces darker themes and moods for album four. Stevie Chick 2012 For their fourth album, Efterklang travelled to Piramida, a former Russian mining colony turned ghost town near the North Pole, to record sounds and ambience. And while those particular sounds might not be immediately traceable among the elements arranged herein, the desolate, isolated nature of the abandoned settlement pervades the album that it inspired.