The Difficult Middle Episode
The second part of any proposed trilogy is a bit of a tough nut to crack. If you look at a film like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, it’s hard to really get a handle on it critically as it is the middle chapter—something without a bonafide start or an ending. Middle parts have a tough time standing on their own as an entity in and of themselves for that very reason. Which brings us to The Archer Trilogy Pt. 2 from Swedish pop duo the Deer Tracks, which is not only a follow-up to the first instalment – released in March 2011 – it’s an actual full-length record, which is a bit odd considering that the first part was an EP in length. (Pt. 3 is slated to follow as yet another EP, probably relegating it to epilogue status). There’s a really cynical part of me that’s starting to wonder about this approach: why not release the whole kit ‘n caboodle as a double LP? You know, a unified artistic statement that you can sit and digest in one (long) sitting?
Well, as I go back and revisit the first EP issued in the series by the Deer Tracks, which is comprised of musicians David Lehnberg and Elin Lindfors, there seems to be a bit of sense in the decision that’s been made. The Archer Trilogy Pt. 1 was aptly suited to being released right at the tail end of winter: it was tiny, fragile and ornate, the kind of thing that played well with a chill in the air and white frosting on the ground. Pt. 2, on the other hand, is similarly suited to summer in some ways. The DNA or blueprint of the Deer Tracks’ sound hasn’t really been modified in the largest respect, but the album has a bouncy, and yet slightly darker (but only just), feel to it, the sort of thing that you can take outside on a summer’s evening and toss a beach ball around to.
This is not withstanding small piano ballads like “1000 Vända Kinder”, which comes smack-dab in the middle of the grassy-strewn landscape of a record, and the noise collage of the final track “U-Turn”, which features a bevy of discordant keyboard sounds that provide an almost medicinal feeling to the song: something that you might put on to clear your sinuses. Aside from the slight change in direction, though, it’s hard to consider The Archer Trilogy as a whole because the lyrics are often hushed and hidden deep in the mix in a stream of vapor trails—are the pair singing “I am the weak one” or “I am the wigwam” on “Fra Ro Raa / Ro Ra Fraa”?—and that’s not when Lindfors (who is the primary vocalist, aside from the odd line or harmony tossed off by her partner Lehnberg) is singing in Swedish. What’s more, Pt. 2 doesn’t really pick up sonically from the end of Pt. 1. What The Archer Trilogy is feeling like is a collection of songs arranged into slightly divergent suites.
Unlike Pt. 1’s “Ram Ram”, there isn’t a song that really sticks out as an obvious single, making Pt. 2 seem a little more cohesive in establishing a mood. Alas, the songs here tend to wash over you as a result, and that’s not to speak of the fact that “1000 Vända Kinder” slams the momentum into a brick wall halfway through the album. That said, there are a few affecting moments that are scattered around the disc. A particular strong-point is the opening cut, “Meant to Be”, a tune that starts off with a faded-in held warm keyboard chord before Lindfors’ childlike vocals kick in, not to speak of a stuttering electric guitar line that is added for pure texture and ambience. It feels like the sort of fractured pop that Broken Social Scene has perfected, and if you close your eyes, you can imagine Amy Milan or Feist having their way with the track.
The follow-up cut, “Fra Ro Raa / Ro Ra Fraa”, has a glitchy piano-box vibe to it and begins very quiet and lush before a rousing chorus kicks in with soaring strings and a clap-along drum track: it’s as though Björk’s sensibilities have been filtered through the Europop of M83. “Fa-Fire” is another particularly noteworthy high, as it is a genuinely anthemic song with the album’s standout lyric, if only because it’s its most baffling: “I cannot help but sometimes I wanna break your neck/Just to give you a reality check”. And “Tiger” is a bouncy confection of cotton candy sweetness that will likely have you bobbing your head along to it.
Overall, Pt. 2 is ethereal and as fluffy as a white cloud traveling slowly across a blue sky, and is enjoyable strictly on that level. However, you can’t help but be a little cautious as to the approach the band has employed in creating a trilogy around a series of songs that seems to be thematically linked by only the slightest thread. As an album-length statement, there are shades of filler that are employed here (see “U-Turn”) and the songs tend to not fit very well together as jigsaw puzzle pieces. Still, Pt. 2 is a soaring album at times, particularly on “The Archer”—which shows a fascination with trance and techno music—and it is easy to be carried away by it. It’s a laid-back album full of various styles of electronica, and while it does slightly overstay its welcome unlike the concision practiced on the earlier EP, it is a fairly worthy counterpart. You have to admit that Pt. 2 brings some curiosity to the table: despite being the middle chapter of one cohesive epic, it does make you wonder a niggling question. Namely, how is this whole thing going to end?
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