I am going to do something that I have never done before. I am going to start a review with the same words that I did in the previous review that I wrote (the Premiere of the Kungens Män album, ‘Chef‘. This is because they seem as apt here as they did yesterday when I wrote them and, anyway, at least one member of Kungens Män is also present here, so here goes…
I think that I’ve spent the sum total of two hours in Sweden, in transit at Stockholm airport; and yet I feel such an affinity with so much of Swedish music, or a section of it at least. This rapport, empathy… what ever you want to call it, is summed up for me with the Swedish Spotify list I did earlier this year, partially in response to the previous album by Kungens Män (released by Adansonia Records as here). I play this list more than anything else last year because the tracks on it have a depth to them… both in the way they are played and in the feelings that they reflect and express. There is nothing showy about any of this music, neither is it merely solid and boring… it is a playlist that is like staring out at water (a favourite thing of mine)… at times peaceful, at others tempestuous… but always thought provoking in an open yet introspective sort of way.
I guess I felt that I could not better that and, while this Sista Maj album is a very different prospect, there is somehow a proof of concept in terms of how I regard them. Here, though, I want to develop this idea of staring at the sea a little more because that, for me, was quite profound when I thought of it yesterday. I love staring at the sea far more than I do being on it, my legs contain no sea in them whatsoever… just as my bones are not musical. Yet I can listen to musicians play all day… and just as the noise of the sea is at it’s most beautiful as it hits the shore, then music is at its most profound as it hits my senses.
I have no idea whether this is making sense to others, but what I am trying to purvey is the idea that my lack of involvement in the process of making music gives me a sense of mystery and awe when I hear something that hits me in the right way and, to come back to the music of Swedish improvisational bands, this is another album from that country that seems to do just that.
‘Sista Maj’, according to the band, “is colloquial Swedish for ‘the last day of May’. Literally, it’s ‘final May’, which leaves the potential meaning that it may be the last May…ever”.
I really like this idea, and certainly in our seemingly fragile times it has a particular relevance. It plays into, I think, my thoughts around staring into the distance while the waves crash onto the shore… thinking into an abyss perhaps. The question, though, is whether this is reflected in the music.
Well I think that I have been led down this path because the tracks here seem to be to be considered and thoughtful… there is a certain depth to them that I really appreciate… they make me want to dive fully into them… I want to be immersed by them.
Starting from the top ‘How Thick Is Your Veil Today?’ is a long drawn out track with begins with some rudimentary folk patterns before drawing you out into a sort of kaleidoscope of space and Krautrock-tinged free-jazz. The key word here s ‘free’ because this sounds just so free, after the somewhat regulated holiday period I feel liberated by this music… it takes me away from the mundane and everyday… to zone out and delve. It’s hard to describe but as I listen to it now I get a huge sense of relief and escape… a chance to be alone with my thoughts and the music that catalyses them.
After that I welcome the fact that ‘Owls’ takes me off at a similar languid pace while also revelling in the hints of funky bass that for me is heralding something different here. Then there’s the violin which is providing such a contrast and it taking me to the edge of comprehension and back. This is such an amazing number for me because there is a real edge to it… a sharp serrated sonic edge that seems to cut away at you and hits you where it matters. After around twelve minutes it fades out and you are left with the feeling that you haven’t as much listened to something… you have experienced it.
‘Far From Nothing’ is absorbing in a different way. The slow, considered, beat coupled with some wonderful guitar and organ give me the feeling of floating above the shore, getting an altogether different view of the sea and shore… It is a track that grows in intensity as it progresses and yet despite how it makes me soar, also feels very grounding… maybe earthy is a better term.
After that comes the relatively short track ‘Yet More Veils’ which grabs me straight away with its intense jazz patterns and a guitar that seems to be mixed almost out of the room, at least on my system, giving it a strange disembodied feel. There is a great coherence to this track though, and I have the feeling that it is going to take many more listens before I’ve peeled back the layers as it careers towards its end.
‘Hi, Who Are You?’ starts much more slowly, and perhaps with a sense of trepidation. There feels a genuine sense of uncertainty here… how is this going to develop? I’ve certainly no idea as I sit here wondering where it will go. This starts to get resolved around four minutes in when the band pick up the pace and we are once again away into a flight of sonic wonder. In some ways it feels like space rock, at least in the way in which the sound is being constructed, but that would be slightly misleading because there are other elements at play here… again that mix of being grounded and drifting away… interesting, I’m yet to resolve that… maybe I don’t need to.
The set is brought to a close by ‘High Salvage’ which seems to me to have a slightly more industrial feel to it. I do not me musically industrial… more a sense of infrastructure on the horizon, and closer. I again imagine that I am walking along the beach, but now there are cranes and towers in sight… the worldview here feels more complex, less pure… until it fragments rather marvellously adding a hitherto undiscovered darker side which closes the album on a rather uneasy note, something that’s never a problem for me.
If you like having music on in the background don’t bother listening to this album, because it is one that has to be digested and absorbed. It is an album that seeps into your musical being and provides you with the building blocks on which to think and reflect. It is an album that encompasses different moods and emotions, but – like water flowing over rocks – will only leave its mark on you over time. Put it on, stare into the middle distance, and let it do its thing!
‘Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy’ is available now from Adansonia Records here, as follows:
– 230 x transparent yellow/black marbled vinyl, 180g, hand numbered
– 111 x transparent yellow/red/black marbled vinyl, 180g, hand numbered
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Spofity playlists here