Efterklang – Magic Chairs

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Rating: ★★★★½

Following on the recognition in part to a dedicated fan base, a live repertoire rapidly becoming known as one of the best acts to catch in the world, and a newly inked contract with 4AD, the Copenhagen-based quartet Efterklang are set to release their 3rd studio album, Magic Chairs. Trying to improve on Parades, one of the best albums of 2007 and last year’s vastly underrated live recording, Performing Parades is a difficult feat. Luckily for the listener, Efterklang are fully committed to the challenge.

In comparison, this release is by far their most extroverted album and with their imminent reprise at SXSW 2010, after a US tour with locals Balmorhea, these indomitable souls are positioned to make big waves. On this release, they adopted a unique approach to recording, displaying their acumen for performing. Ask anyone who has seen their show and they will tell you that their skill flourishes with their unrivaled live presence. These songs were born in a live venue and after the blemishes were removed and the arrangements completed, the setting was reproduced in the studio with the help of their touring members including siblings Peter and Heather Broderick. The tracks were then mastered with the help of famed British producer Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Interpol, and Grizzly Bear). The overall aesthetic is obviously something taken very seriously as Efterklang has enlisted Hvass & Hannibal to once again produce beautiful and provocative album artwork.  

With Magic Chairs, Efterklang has bridged the gap into a more accessible realm of pop music. The first single is the relentlessly catchy “Modern Drift” which opens with a simple piano pattern soon paired by Casper Clausen’s deep and vibrating vocals before building into a sound of trademark Efterklang as we know them.  This back to basics style is quite a leap from earlier releases, especially their 2004 debut Tripper. In doing so, they may have abandoned a few fans who have grown used to the more prominent electronic influences from Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen’s soaring (though unrecognizable) lyrics and Peter Broderick’s vast string arrangements.

Efterklang seek perhaps a more profitable labor and have mostly abandoned their immense, cinematic presence and incomprehensible lyrics for a more understandable, logical approach. Songs titles “Harmonics” and “Natural Tune” are obvious indications of this endeavor. However, what they have left behind has not completely vanished and with repeated listens, the layers remain; though more subtle and carefully placed. This attention to detail is most impressively heard in the one-two punch of “Raincoats” and “Harmonics”, which is by far one of the strongest moments on the album. Here they draw obvious influences from the Dirty Projectors by means of majestic harmonization, utilizing heavy percussive elements, and the addition of subtle Radiohead-esque arrangements.

The one weak moment in the album for me is the bubbly “Scandinavian Love”, which is undeniably the most poppy track on the album and although the rifts ate catchy, it feels like a rushed product. I will withhold-complete judgment until I hear it performed live.

Other highlights include “The Soft Beating” with soaring vocals and subtle electronic influences which calmly and delicately build into a strong finish where “it all comes down” and the dreamy, thought provoking “Mirror Mirror” which seems to feed my imagination seems like the only obvious bridge between their last release, Parades. The last track on the album, “Natural Tune” contains a beautiful and supple duet with simple piano and guitar interplayed. It’s a stunning finish to one of the best albums of the year thus far and I fully expect to find it on many best of lists.

After multiple listens it’s truly a difficult process to find fault besides those mentioned above. That says much about Efterklang’s work ethic and their endless steps towards pop perfection. I reserve a half star due to the fact that these songs were instinctive live songs and fittingly their place is in a live setting.  Luckily for them, I’ll be at SXSW seeking them out with my gold half-star in hand. 

Also the whole album is streaming right now over on Sound Venue.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/01-Modern-Drift.mp3]

Download: Efterklang – Modern Drift [MP3]

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