[25 September 2005]
From its name to the title of its debut album, Shopping for Images, there’s much indefinite about Midaircondo. This trio of Swedish women works the spaces between acoustic and electric, audio and visual, foreground and background, and song and sound. One thing’s for sure, though—music this open-ended is rare and refreshing.
Supposedly formed during a knitting circle, this Gothenburg-based group sings, plays flute and saxophone, and adds minimal, glitchy atmospherics via laptops. Midaircondo leaves its acoustic elements relatively free of glitch, avoiding the uptight jaggedness so typical in laptop music. The result is warm and natural, but very 21st Century, as if Björk made Vespertine on Mille Plateaux with the Clogs as a backing band.
Shopping for Images may be clean and quiet, but its sonic palette is rich. “Eva Stern, Shake It” begins the album with hypnotic, percolating guitar over sustained flute and sax tones, with vocals repeatedly whispering the title. “Could You Please Stop” follows with glitchy crackles and beeps, but an unexpectedly groovy upright bassline enters, with mantra-like vocals again repeating the title. Did the titles come before the music? Sadly, the skimpy press accompanying the promo says nothing about the process behind the songs.
“Songs”, really—only “Perfect Spot”, with its syncopated beats and gorgeous, multi-tracked vocals, has a conventional chorus. The other pop moment is “Serenade”; it’s DJ Shadow minus the beats, with darkly majestic pianos and soulful vocals. For the most part, the vocals, while forming words and phrases, are just another instrument here. Instead of verses and choruses, sounds come and go to mark time within a song.
The album shines when it pushes background sound to the fore. “Coffeeshop”, with its whispered chatter and what sounds like a techno record in the background, could be the scene in Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”. “I’ll Be Waiting” sets Angelo Badalamenti-esque clean tones above a gravel-crunching-in-the-distance sound that conjures up grainy 8mm film, old newspaper, history. “Sorry” is particularly brilliant. By itself, it’s a slow torch song with Björk-esque vocals. But at 1:25, the hubbub of a restaurant fades in, complete with clinking utensils. For 25 seconds, the song becomes a live gig, the setting vanishing as suddenly as it appeared. Ten seconds later, a howling wind creeps in—has the song gone outside?
At times, the sonic variety can feel disjointed. Wind chimes, pianos, backwards sounds, and vaguely industrial atmospherics all crop up, often unexpectedly. But unpredictability is normal for film soundtracks, and this album is very much a soundtrack in search of a film. No doubt it makes more sense in the context of Midaircondo’s live shows. The group creates huge background projections that interact with its music, and live improvisation and matching outfits make the visuals as important as the sounds. But the album ably evokes images on its own; perhaps its title refers to this process of discovery on the part of the listener.