[9 November 2009]
On September 26, 2008, the Danish band Efterklang performed the entirety of their 2007 album Parades at the DR Koncerthuset in Copenhagen with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. The Leaf Label now presents us the recording of that concert, together with a DVD of the performance, a documentary, and a number of music videos from the release. The music videos are mesmerising, pairing Efterklang’s serene and beautiful orchestral post-rock with animations, children playing Cowboy, and absurdity. The documentary’s interesting, too, in a musicians-putting-on-a-production kind of way. But the real payoff’s the concert. Both in its visual documentation and as a standalone soundtrack, Performing Parades breathes new life into an album that deserves the extra attention.
The recreation of the album took some work. Not only were Efterklang’s songs meticulously scored for 50-piece orchestra by Karsten Fundal (a job that took upwards of 10 months), but the ensemble was done up in the band’s whimsical costume: cardboard dunce hats and clown facepaint, in front of a backdrop of cut-out mountains and continuously shifting lighting. The performance has the quality of a festival celebration. But there’s little that’s messy about Performing Parades—the concert is exquisitely rehearsed and impeccably performed. The music is, as promised, a straight rendition of the group’s last album. And surprisingly, it doesn’t sound much different from the album. This is conceptual art music—chanted, abstract vocal lines without clear melody; vibraphone-buoyed atmospherics; compositions that refuse to settle into recognisable forms, chasing disparate ideas off only into the band’s imagination. Slightly warmer, sure, due to that 50-piece orchestra there, but just as tightly linked by electronic machinery.
In the transition to live performance, Efterklang’s compositions come to seem somehow more skeletal. The angular melodic lines are picked out in woodwind or brass and echoed in octaves in the chorus, without ever harnessing the full range of orchestral timbre. If you’re familiar with Parades, the best moments of the set will hit you in the same way here, again. Again, here’s “Caravan”, buoyed up by snare drums and the band’s joyous shout. Again, here’s the solemn and programmatic trek-through-Arctic-wilderness of “Blowing Lungs Like Bubbles”, and the martial fanfare of “Mirador”.
Elsewhere, things are more staid and a little more difficult to approach. The music becomes slightly oppressive. In “Maison de Reflexion”, they’re saying something about William Tell; the piece is a solemn proclamation, but it won’t capture everyone. (They don’t, for instance, have the celebratory fanfare of Sufjan Stevens’ orchestral material.) And as the concert goes along, you can tell that the audience is less enthusiastic than at the beginning.
Yet somehow Efterklang’s glacial compositions have come to seem smaller, starker. The recording is great, the sound brilliant and crisp, and the combination of organic instruments with the technical electronics hum and the simple, stark voices are solemn and evocative. But something contains this—it’s chamber indie-pop and chamber music, no grand statement. Nevertheless, Performing Parades is a worthy document, not only for the audio CD but for the handsomely produced concert film and the documentary, as well.