[25 October 2010]
Under Byen is a Danish art rock band. At least, that’s what the press release tells you.
There’s some truth to it. They rose to a new level of art-drenched drama on 2006’s Samme Sof Som Stof, a gorgeous web of twinkling electronic tunes, lavishly adorned with strings and glockenspiels—sort of like Sigur Ros’ cuter fairy cousins. The sweetness scored some acclaim—after seeing them on tour, Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke called them the “best band in the world”.
Alt Er Tabt (All Is Lost) is the band’s fourth album, but the “art rock” hinted at in the press release could be more accurately labeled as tone architecture. After the departure of principal songwriter/keyboardist Thorbjørn Krogshede, the band decided to make a reactionary album, one that dialed back the grand, sweeping beauty of their previous work in favor of something more subtle… and sinister. The tunes on Alt Er Tabt are stark in the strongest sense, instruments recorded as primally as possible in an attempt to capture their true essence. When cellos saw, well, it literally sounds like a saw. The lyrics have a blank, unemotional quality, even for Danish speakers. If you speak English and have absolutely no clue what vocalist Henriette Sennenvaldt is cooing about, you’ll still be able to get the gist of it.
Hooks are virtually non-existent, so don’t bother waiting for them. If, after the harsh opening of “8”, you feel like throwing in the towel, you should probably go with your gut. If you’re looking for the same heart-pumping sugar rush you got from Samme Sof Som Stof, look elsewhere. There is a quality EP’s worth of material here, if you’re patient.
The title track uses little more than toms and a rusty bassline for most of its four minutes, building to a cathartic finale of strings. It’s scary good. “Unoder” works a similar kind of magic, its weaving piano and string lines finally coalescing around the three-minute mark with startling clarity.
Too much of Alt Er Tabt takes too long to get to the point. Too much simply sits there, limp and unmoving, all mood in search of magic. Allow it to absorb you completely, and you’ll find some, but hold on tight—it’s a bumpy ride.