A modest pragmatist's view of wonderment.
A crowd of children chanted, a whirling guitar echo faded out, and after that the music stopped. "We're between songs," I thought. "It will start again in a moment." After all, Sifantin Och Mörkret hadn't even reached the half-hour mark yet. I waited, I listened. I walked across the room and turned the stereo up because I thought the new song must be too soft for me to hear. I tilted my head. I squinted with my ears. No, there was no music, the album had come to a halt at just under 25 minutes. That was the end of it. I double-checked the timer. It was true. There was nothing more on the disc. "What the hell, Hans?" I said. I waved my hands around, annoyed. "I was enjoying that," I said.
They don't tell you about it on the album cover, that's the surprise. If Häpna had shown us the length of each tune, or put "Time: 24 min 30 sec" at the bottom of the track listing, I wouldn't have been asking What The Hell. As it was, I was a lot less irritated then I would've been if I'd gone to a shop, paid the recommended retail price for Sifantin Och Mörkret, and not realised until I got it home that it was so short.
Aside from that I have no complaints. Appelqvist's latest release is a pleasure. It's not an album in the way that albums are popularly understood to be albums -- that is, it is not a collection of separate songs or discrete bits of music arranged in a pleasing sequence. Instead it's a single song trailed by a miscellany of miniature pieces that flow into one another: floating ideas, small sound-stories, whistles and crunches, fluting children, scraps of piano, crows, the squelched bark of a hunter's duck call, all of which come together in a rising, falling comet-tail of residue, ending in the sound of children and a guitar.
The lone song is called "Tänk Att Himlens Alla Stjärnor". You should be able to hear it in the video at the end of this review. If the video isn't working for you then try Appelqvist's myspace page, or click on the MP3 link. "Tänk Att …" is a combination of slow guitar, slow, almost murmuring singing, and sound effects that jump out of the background as if they want to bop you on the nose. It's cute. There's a little more singing later on in the disc but it doesn't last for long. Here, close to the beginning of a track called "Full the Moon", Appelqvist is accompanied by a harp and a steady crunching noise that might be the sound of someone walking through snow or dry autumn leaves. "Night so bright", he sings.
Night so bright
Night so light
I'll see you soon.
Full the moon.
The harp-player darkly plungs the strings. Moments later a woman starts gasping with fear. What has the full moon given rise to, rapists? There is a bestial snarl. Not rapists, then, but it might be werewolves.
The woman is replaced with a babbling child whose naturally high infant voice makes her sound female. These two women, adult and child, are helpless in different ways, the first because she is terrified, and, we are allowed to believe, pursued by a vicious animal that will hurt or kill her, the second because she is small and weak. Meanwhile Appelqvist, our representative male, is unperturbed. I don't think that he is doing this on purpose because there's nothing else on this album that seems even faintly misogynistic, unless the lyrics to "Tänk Att Himlens Alla Stjärnor" are viler than I imagine, but the fact that he's probably unconscious of the congruence doesn't cheer me up.
He likes found sounds, or sound effects that mimic them. The voices of children are a favourite (the babbling child that comes after "Full the Moon" is not the first on the album, or the first in his career -- listen to Att Möta Verkligheten for the very similar sound of children talking and tooting wooden recorders while Appelqvist accompanies them on a piano), followed by woodland noises: the hollow two-note call of a cuckoo at the forefront of a forest of birds, or the creak of a frog in a pond.
He moulds the found sounds together with music. Loveliest is a piano that tinkles like raindrops; more common is an unobtrusive strain of beat-driven electronica. The guitar turns up occasionally. Appelqvist has mastered a particular kind of sound-landscape, an intimate one that makes use of everyday noises (children, birds) while managing never to become ordinary. His is not the outer- or inner-space astral voyage of a soundscape prog band. It's a walk in the Swedish countryside, rich with unexpected insects and twists of bark, a modest pragmatist's view of wonderment.
Sifantin Och Mörkret contrasts with the work of other soundscape artists whose work is more aggressively idiosyncratic; Islaja, for example. Appelqvist's touch is light and he has a sense of humour. If you think of the album as a long EP then there's a lot to admire; if you try to think of it as an LP then whatever other pleasure you get out of the music might be overwhelmed by a single grumble: "But Hans, where's the rest of it?"