While this album could have been recorded anywhere, its story makes it into more than it would be. Kinda.
A lot of people around the world love Efterklang. This Copenhagen-based band makes indie-styled music with lots of space, lots of beauty, and lots of sad resolve. They don't make party-rockin' baby-makin' jams; Efterklang has always more concerned with trying to turn little personal breakthroughs into huge anthemic sweeps. Not that they're a Danish version of Coldplay or anything -- but that's not exactly the worst analogy to make.
After losing drummer and trumpet player Thomas Husmer last year, the three remaining members decided to shake things up in a big way: They loaded up their instruments and ventured up to an abandoned mining town called Piramida. This town, located just shy of the Arctic Circle in Norway, is technically the property of Russia. But in 1998 the company that ran the town pulled out, and all the people left as well, except the handful that now lead tours...and escort itinerant Danish bands.
The Efterklangists wandered around Piramida for weeks, just searching for interesting ambient sounds and ideas. The songs here were recorded in huge storage tanks, in fields, in a bar made up of thousands of beer bottles, and in a room containing the coldest grand piano in the world.
This haunted, haunting landscape informs all the songs on Piramida -- sometimes literally. The tense Steve Reich shuffle of "The Ghost" unfolds slowly like melting ice, with new elements peeking through and then disappearing again. But when the track opens up, it retains a chilly mystery through layered horns and whispering voices competing with each other. "The Living Layer" must have been recorded in some immense man-made cavern, given the echoes that surround not only Casper Clausen's vocals but also all the synths that form the track's skeleton.
Not everything here gets its sonic power from the sampled sounds of Piramida. "Between the Walls" is a glitch-happy tune that incorporates soul horns and falsetto vocals, an intriguing mix that gets more intriguing because the track keeps falling apart until its final triumphant section. It could have taken shape anywhere, really -- but there is a desperation to Clausen's yelp of "Between the walls / I'm a werewolf" that transports us immediately to the abandoned industrial town. The spirit of Piramida pervades Piramida.
Which doesn't mean it's always a fun listen, because that's not what they're going for. Underneath all its fun echo tricks, "Sedna" sounds like a Bon Iver outtake, all emotional bleakness and insular falsetto. "Monument" has some very effective and lyrics and a beautiful structure, but it takes so long to develop its secondary theme that one is likely to get impatient. Efterklang, for all the band's experimental aplomb, is talking softly and saying nothing in too many tracks. (Big hint for the group: listen to a couple of The Soundtrack of Our Lives records and learn how to take an emotional chance or two.)
Overall, however, this is a great effort from a band that is still learning what it can do. "Apples" will pulse its way onto a lot of mixtapes this fall, and the wobbly "Told to Be Fine" has some real dance crunch to it. And you're not likely to hear anything more epic this year than the opener, "Holy Mountain", which could wrench tears from a turnip.
Clearly, Efterklang is a group we need to keep an ear out for. Let's hope their next stunt reaps even bigger rewards.