Posted on Jan 17th 2012 01:38 am
Rune Grammofon 2012
14 Tracks. 76mins30secs
Even put against the monumental variety of the Rune Grammofon catalogue, Norwegian duo Alog have always stood out from the crowd. Formed by Espen Sommer Eide and Dag-Are Haugan in the late nineties while they both lived in Tromsø, northern Norway, they have, over the course of four albums for Rune Grammofon plus a handful of limited releases elsewhere, carved a very particular niche for themselves. Combining acoustic and electric instrumentation, part of which is custom-built, with electronic processing, the pair continue to invent a totally unique and often fascinating sound world away from pretty much anything else.
In its full version, presented as a quadruple LP, of which only 300 copies have been pressed, Unemployed contains over two hours of new music, of which approximately half has been squeezed into the more widely available CD version. Recorded over the course of three years in many locations around the globe, this latest offering, the band’s first since their 2007 album Amateur, is much more of a collaborative effort than any of its predecessors. Acting as curators, Eide and Haugan invited musicians and friends along, from harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland or fiddle duo Sheriffs Of Nothingness to vocalists Jenny Hval and Jaap Blonk, to perform and contribute compositions to the project. Often sounding like a scrapbook overflowing with strands and concepts, some more developed than others, based on whatever was at their disposal at the time of recording, Unemployed is a vastly eclectic and vibrant collection which, while never following any particular thread for very long, is far from lacking direction.
At its most acoustic end, Unemployed is a bubbling patchwork of sounds and textures which extends from Sigbjørn Apeland’s haunting harmoniums on Orgosolo II or, later on, as he brings in Fender Rhodes, percussions and ukulele, on Last Days At The Assembly Line, Bømlo Brenn Om Natta or closing piece Apeland, to the angular caustic train-like saw and fiddle contribution from Sheriffs Of Nothingness’s Kari Rønnekleiv and Ole Henrik Moe on Last Days At The Assembly Line. Later on, their input is much more subtle and discreet on Spanish Record No. 9 as Alog toy with distorted electronics and old recordings. Orgosolo I, which opens, initially sounds entirely acoustic, but it soon becomes apparent that these components have been substantially manipulated.
Over the years, Alog have used the human voice to greatly expand their sonic palette, and they do so here again. While fragments of old recordings are scattered on various tracks, most prominently on Zebra or Baklandet, Dutch poet and sound artist Japp Blonk injects Bømlo Brenn Om Natta with somewhat unsettling guttural phrases as he moves from inquisitive to much more haunting and desperate tones, while Et Besøk resonates with Jenny Hval’s voice, processed into strips of various strengths and woven together to form a beautiful ethereal fabric.
Occasionally, Alog swaps acoustic grain for resolutely more electronics soundscapes. On the title track for instance, they deploy a bouncy beat upon which they progressively add more components, and while Sheriffs Of Nothingness bring in touches of musical saw, this remains partly hidden behind the duo’s pool of processed sounds. On The Mountaineer, the balance between acoustic and electronic is less clearly defined, but here, the pair create a peaceful atmospheric set up which is continuously skips and glitches. Januar later sees Eide and Haugan devise an elegant ambient techno framework which slowly builds up from a minimal electronic pattern into a dreamy masterpiece as they bring in distorted vocal textures during the second half of the piece.
If Alog have always favoured an exploratory approach for their records, they, until now, usually did so very meticulously from the comfort of their studio. Here, they open up greatly and, having established fruitful exchanges with their chosen contributors, they have assembled here their most fascinating and deeply joyful and invigorating record to date.
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