No one who regularly reads these reviews could be in any doubt that I think the output of Denmark’s El Paraiso records is nothing less than brilliant. I’ll admit straight away that not all of their releases are completely my thing, but what does come out is never less than interesting and worthy of my time; while the majority of their output are just different class. So it was somewhat to my surprise that I found out that I missed one of their releases last year, ‘Solo’ by Papir guitarist Nicklas Sørenson. I came across this album because El Paraiso kindly sent me details of ‘Solo 2’, and because I was so taken with that I though that I had to check out the first one.
What I heard knocked me out, and so I felt that I had to do a ‘joint review’ since they are both the sort of albums that you really want people to hear. Both albums were recorded in Jonas Munk’s studio and feature the Causa Sui musician, while the first album also sees other members of Papir contributing.
The first thing to say about these records is that you would not immediately guess that the central guitar parts were played by Sørensen, who is so full on in Papir. Here the music is – for the most part – slow, careful and considered. There is plenty of space between the instruments, is there is the feeling of bespoke craftsmanship at work.
‘Solo’ opens with with a relatively upbeat number ‘Solo 1’, the Papir rhythm-section allowing Sørensen’s guitar room to breathe before the whole band open out into a wonderful crescendo, the sort that just seems to get more marvellous every time you listen to it. This is a great way to start the album, a track that, frankly, makes you glad to be alive.
The seconds track, ‘Solo 2’ is a far more considered number with its crashing wave-like cymbals and relentless down beat drumming. Yet through this essentially melancholy backdrop shine both Sørensen’s guitar and Munk’s electronics like shafts of golden light… ‘Solo 3’ sees more apparent collaboration with Munk, whose work is all over this, reminding me of his ‘Pan’ album at times here. Here Sørensen’s work is more subtly, adding layers to Munk’s electronic in a way that is atmospheric and warming towards the end of the track.
‘Solo 4’ is, at the moment, my favourite track of the album. It starts very slowly and with a sort of languid feel to it and as it progresses gets more and more minimalistic with a single drone underneath a diminishing number of sounds until Sørensen’s sound comes in in a most beautiful way, taking the number off in a whole new direction. Here the guitar work is almost classical in tone, there’s certainly a seriousness here… but taken as a whole ‘Solo 4’ just takes my breath away.
After that ‘Solo 5’ has more of a jazz feel to it. The thing that strikes me first about the whole thing is how tight the band are here, providing a solid foundation on which Sørensen can soar with his guitar almost above the track before it begins to disintegrate into something even more interesting, not quite a cacophony, but certainly a fragmentation.
Last up is ‘Solo 6’, by some way the longest track on the album. Beginning with menace, you get an immediate sense of sinister creep. Yet out of this the track settles into a long zone-out that has me feeling quite mesmerised as it proceeds at almost glacial pace. However, almost imperceptibly at first, the tempo begins to pick up and you get the sense of an impending and brewing storm, as the percussion in particular begins to go ‘off piste’ in an interesting role reversal where the guitar is keeping the track together allowing the other musicians what seems like more of a free-reign. All the time though there is the relentless toll of a drum in start contrast with what is going on around it. It really is a track to get lost in and to, as part of an album to get lost in and to. I am very glad that I belatedly found it.
‘Solo 2’ begins in a similar way to its predecessor with an upbeat opener, ‘2.1’ that feels like an overture, and one seemingly designed to inject a certain uplifting positivity into your life. The melody is bordering on the anthemic as you find yourself being taken along with its lovely lilting sounds. This sort of clears the way for ‘2.2’ in which Sørensen adds layers of guitars with Munk providing subtle rhythms in accompaniment. There is a certain melancholia to this track, in common with much of the album, although this never topples over into anything particularly dark. Instead you are left with an overall feeling of quiet satisfaction tinged with regret, but more than that is the sound of two musicians on top form doing something of a labour of love.
This is further confirmed with ‘2.3’, which retains the same overall mood of its predecessor yet somehow also moves the album on, especially through the quieter (none of it is especially noisy) mid-section which is very meditative and chilled. You can feel yourself slowing down to the pace of the music and falling into a relaxing haze as the sonics cruise their way through you. This highlights the ability of both of Sørensen’s albums to really help change the mood and knock the edges off. Nowhere is this more the case than with 2.4, which is as spare and minimal as anything here. There’s lots of space around Munk’s electronics, probably the track on this album that is most like his own solo works. There’s a quiet confidence here that just takes you away from where you are physically and subtly convinces you of its soporific effectiveness… a beautiful moment.
‘2.5’ is a real slow burner for me. I’ve probably listened to it seven or eight times now and find that its really getting through to me now. It builds gradually, almost glacially, changes being hardly distinguishable from moment to moment. But change it does and it builds from something quite minimal to something, if not complex then, quite nuanced as additional layers are carefully applied. There is a beauteous cosmopolitanism to this track this too with, at times, an Indian feel in terms of sound, but also in how it is constructed like a raga.
This segues rather wonderfully into the final and longest track ‘2.6’. Again Sørensen’s guitar just has you melting as it nestles amidst an electronic drone, no doubt of Munk’s design. This gives me the feeling of searching through a forest of hanging vines, or some sort of organic undergrowth; the guitar being activated whenever you touch one. In this way there seems to be a certain magical sense to this track, maybe it’s mystery. Whatever the drone in the background gives it a veiled quality that one again provides me with a real feeling of being at ease with myself and my surrounding. In fact listening to this finally provides me with the key to why I like these albums so much. This is because there is a real warmth to them. They feel comfortable, although this should not be read as being in anyway bland or dull. These are albums that, for me, inspire positive though and give me a feeling of moving forward. They provide a wonderful contrast to the current cold that is outside my window like some sort of sonic fireplace… my ears being drawn to the movement of the music like my eyes would be to the mesmerising movement of the flames.
All in all these are two albums that complement each other, and in many ways share the same mapping in terms of the sorts of tracks you find on them. Unlike many albums by the same people though, I would happily put these on one after the other (I rarely play albums by the same artists consecutively) because they proffer the same overall mood while explore ideas that are different and interesting enough to keep me thinking throughout. They also feel so positive in outlook, something that is not the case with much that I listen to.
‘Solo 1’ os sold out with the label but there are copies available from some retailers.
‘Solo 2’ is available to pre-order now from El Paraiso records here.