Sin Fang Bous: Clangour

Clangour may not be perfect, but it positively brims with perfect, unabashedly psychedelic moments.

Sin Fang Bous


Label: Morr Music
UK Release Date: 2009-02-09
US Release Date: 2009-02-17

It's like I was meant to listen to Clangour blindly, freed from the constraints -- yes, that is what they are -- of expectation and preconception. Seabear, the Icelandic septet whose chief contributor, Sindri Már Sigfússon, recorded this album, remains largely unfamiliar to me (and, I suspect, most American audiences). The included press release hints at the album’s fearless pop explorations but reads like a review auto-translated from English to a foreign language and back again. (A particularly incoherent excerpt: “Whereas on the one hand face and body of his band Seabear gained their outlines more clearly, there remained a deliberately left open game with the sounds on the other hand.”)

The songs, that is to say, speak for themselves. For a moment on “Fafafa” -- arguably the record’s finest track -- the singer's stifled mumbles and grating electronic groans suddenly give way. Then, a gorgeous barrage of multi-layered vocals with a pop chord progression, brightly and confidently strum. Then, glimmering organ, piano, echoes of backing vocals and percussion get added. It all sounds so natural -- such a grand transition -- kind of emblematic of Sigfússon’s songwriting. Despite the cluttered layers of distance between song and production -- bloops and bleeps, buzzing lo-fi chaos, other elements of distance and distraction -- the melodies and harmonies seem always to shine through.

To hear Clangour is to immerse oneself in a rich collision of genres that all seem to build momentum within a psychedelic context. Folktronica is a pretty silly term -- I can barely utter it aloud with a straight face -- yet it defines much of the album. "Clangour and Flutes", a particular example, marches with its driving techno beat a surreal backdrop for the singer's hushed, Iron & Wine-style songcraft. The track's sonic landscape, however, is a dense grab-bag of Nigel Godrich trademarks: dreamlike piano arpeggios, rattling electronic percussion, even a jarring flute solo. Elsewhere the artist lets his electro-pop fancy run wild on "Catch the Light", a pulsing, mid-tempo number and "Advent In Ives Garden", a hyperactive workout with an intro like a '95 Zelda soundtrack. He tackles the folk side of the spectrum on "Poi Rot", with its acoustic pop and fey vocals hushed enough to pass for a Sufjan outtake.

More wonderful, however, are the flirtations with `60s psychedelia, and "Sunken Ship" is the mini-masterpiece. About two minutes in comes another utterly transformative moment, in which tinny drums and processed synthesizers dissolve into a blissful explosion of flutes, xylophone and guitar. The conclusion is a colorful dancehall piano solo, total Sgt. Peppers homage and perhaps the album's most organic and alive refrain. Like Dungen's music, it's unabashedly retro, yet never self-consciously so.

What's fantastic -- and what ultimately makes the record a triumph -- is how deftly Sigfússon treads the line between producer and songwriter; how fluidly the songs (generally quite accessible) and sounds (as otherworldly as anything this side of Merriweather Post Pavilion) mesh together. It's not perfect ("Melt Down The Knives" tries on a stripped-down garage rock grittiness that never quite fits; "We Belong" is one techno/folk-pop marriage too many, like "Clangour and Flutes" to blander effect), but it proves a dazzling tour-de-force in both stylistic and sonic terms. The result of this restless tinkering resembles more an endless stream of brilliant musical moments and ideas than a cohesive whole, but with an artist as inventive as Sigfússon behind the wheel, it's difficult to complain.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.