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Efterklang - Piramida

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Artist: Efterklang

Album: Piramida

Label: 4AD

Review date: Oct. 3, 2012

There are great musique concrète albums a plenty — too many to list, actually. And regardless, I don’t think that’s what these Danes were after. For every great record of musique concrète, there’s really no outstanding musique concrète song (save for maybe the Futurama theme). By my ears, though, I hear at least three here on Efterklang’s fourth LP. Of course, for any of these 10 tunes to tell at all, you have to know their backstory. Here’s the korte version.

Last August, Efterklang journeyed to Spitsbergen, an island midway between Norway and the North Pole. They were there to see Piramida, a mining settlement abandoned by the Russians some 13 years prior. More accurately, the band had come to “play” Piramida. “Over nine days,” spans 4AD’s brief, “Efterklang accumulated over a thousand field recordings from the many and varied environments they encountered.” Oil drums, scattered trash, lamp shades — a polar bear, even — they all got processed once the band got back to Berlin. (N.B. Efterklang had emigrated from Copenhagen earlier in 2011.) And similar to how Eno turned Bowie’s machinations into something tangible, it’s a Berliner studio that truly makes Piramida, well, concrete.

“I’m all for getting it right,” Casper Clausen coos on “Told To Be Fine,” the most gorgeous concrète song I’ve heard in a good, long while. The liners swear I’m hearing some “ornate glass lamp” fixed in post, but where ignorance is a blissfully untagged promo, it might as well be a six-octave-plus marimba. Yes, indeed, it sounds that grande. Mads Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg stay in Clausen’s hocket, and the collective result is genuinely more enjoyable than anything Matthew Herbert has recorded this decade. Likewise, Matmos would do well to match the haunting kinesis that is “The Ghost.” Warm, resonant brass from the very real Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra foregrounds a skittering chug-a-lug that, no matter what made it, is clearly made for dancing. “I never was a ghost,” Clausen claims in this refrain. Listening to his spooked rendition with The Wordless Music Orchestra at the Museum of Modern Art, I can’t be so sure, myself. Treble threatens on “Dreams Today,” where a 70-piece girls choir nearly swallows the arrangement whole. Luckily, the girls get hard-panned once Clausen’s own vox enter the mix. Again, it’s the in-studio smelting that turns these cuts golden.

Piramida, it seems then, was just a red herring. In fact, there’s nothing in these 10 tracks, be it concrete or oblique, to suggest the band ever left its rotten Danish state. (Sorry, other than one or two numbers off Magic Chairs, I haven’t cared for any previous Efterklang release.) And yet, I mean none of the above as a notch against Piramida, the album -- especially not “Told To Be Fine,” “The Ghost” or “Dreams Today.” Those are some beautiful, complex musique concrète songs, for sure. It’s just that given this band’s ability to completely transform any given sound source, their whole pilgrimage to Piramida — the place — sounds conceptually wasted. To wit, I can’t really pay them that utmost of concrète compliments: output trumps input, style over substance. In the end, however, my complaint might be a kind of compliment, itself. In short, Efterklang could’ve made this entire record, and certainly that trio of great musique concrète songs, in their bathroom. Easily. That they ventured elsewhere to do so persuaded me to re-listen to Piramida more than it probably deserves.

By Logan K. Young

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