Efterklang: Parades

[28 October 2007]

By Dan Raper

The Danish group Efterklang is not likely to grab a huge audience with their sophomore LP, Parades, though they perhaps should. Then again, the 10-person group’s expansive, orchestral compositions are hardly mainstream fare. Even when songs run under five minutes, repetitions of static dissonance are likely to intrude. The chorale vocals, though in English, are pushed so far back in the mix that it’s difficult to get any sense of what’s being sung. And yet the group has managed to craft, yet again, a set of pieces so beautiful and intricate that it’s difficult to envisage a more immediate, rewarding marriage of pop and neo-classicism.

Just a few months after the group’s mini-album Under Giant Trees charmed us with its shimmering beauty, the band returns with a full-length of wholly new material. Parades was recorded over 18 months in Copenhagen, with over 30 musicians including a string quartet, brass quintet and three choirs. The texture of the album—like the group’s other work—is certainly orchestral, and there’s often a notable absence of percussion. Instead, angular brass or oboe lines give the compositions direction, or tinkling electronic effects are woven into the fabric of the songs.

Parades is more accessible than the band’s earlier work—somewhat—if only due to the generally shortened song lengths. But there may also be proportionally more vocals, which cements the group’s pop leanings without necessarily bending in any way towards conventional song forms. For instance, the vocal line on “Mirador” is beautiful and hushed, whispered over a high, pattering electronic accompaniment: the song is complex and swirling and beautiful, and should be in a film—or a film should be made so they can play that song in the pivotal scene. You get this sense from Efterklang’s atmospheric pieces—without being overt about it, they create soundscapes that are programmatic and evocative.

However adventurous the group gets musically, they are able to keep the listener engaged through effective arrangements and introduction of musical ideas one at a time. On “Horseback Tenors”, things get to the point of massive, dense texture with horns, full choir, and a crazy violin countermelody; but to get there things are slowly built from an adagio melodic line and clashing time signatures in banjo/strings at the start.  That you can get lost in Efterklang’s songs will be taken, by some, with a measure of boredom: but there’s always some musical idea bubbling beneath the surface.

And that’s what makes this group’s work so continually appealing. Even on a song as simple as closer “Cutting Ice Into Snow”, the melodic loop changes subtly with each repetition, creating the sighing, desolate stillness indicated in the title. You get the sense that, if they wanted to, Efterklang could create an expansive rock album on par with the work of Arcade Fire. But they’re not interested in anything as patent as that; instead, let’s welcome this modest, complex work for its intricate charm and soft beauty. We’ll be listening for a while.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/efterklang-parades/