Efterklang – Magic Chairs

Efterklang_Magic_Chairs_emailRating: ★★★★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]

New Music From Efterklang

efterklangWe were introduced to the greatness known as Efterklang during SXSW last year, and we’ve been following the band ever since.  Previously only available in video form as of a few days ago, this new song “Modern Drift” now has an MP3 available for downloading.  The track will appear on the band’s upcoming album Magic Chairs due out Feb. 22nd on 4AD.  I’m honestly enjoying this track probably more than anything else that has come out so far this year.  Let’s hope the rest of the album delivers as well.

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

Download: Efterklang – Modern Drift [MP3]

Mew – No More Stories are Told…

mewRating: ★★★½☆

Mew will officially receive the award for the most long-winded title of 2009 later this year (so long I refuse to include it here), but the album deserves more attention for the musical ground it walks rather than the ridiculousness of the title alone.

While they might be labeled as off a prog sort of grouping, let’s focus more on the fact that they tend to present themselves more as a deconstructionist band.  “New Terrain,” the album’s opening track, has various segments recorded backwards, which lends itself to the mounting tension in the song.  You can feel the song pushing forward as the album pushes ahead. Following this up is the disjointed guitar work of “Introducing Palace Players,” which uses a semi-staccato guitar line with odd musical accompaniment to construct the entire song.

The unique voice of singer Bjerre is something that recalls that far-off echo meets harmony voice, sort of like Ben Gibbard. While early on in the album, the vocals don’t necessarily mix perfectly with the musical approach of the group, you find that listening carefully will bring the world of the instrumentals and the vocals together. By the time that you reach the mellow songs such as “Silas the Magic Car” or “Cartoons and Macreme Wounds” you can see that everything has eventually become glued together.

While the lyrics seem to paint a bleak story, based on the title of the album alone, the music doesn’t necessarily comply with the overall emotional aesthetic No More Stories are Told… would leave one to believe. “Hawaii” is an energetic number that recalls a multitude of bands that have hit the scene lately such as Efterklang. Steady percussion and serpentine guitar collide with gang vocals before Bjerre comes in alone.  It’s a perfect Hawaiin themed song, aside from the abstract approach to songwriting that the band exudes. Wait for it to blast off near the end of the song, and you’ll completely understand the sentiment behind these words.

Still, you can’t ignore the lyrics throughout the record, painting a solemn outlook on the world as a whole.  “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” comes off as a joyous number, but as Bjerre sings “feels like someone put a hex on you” he seems to be agreeing that everyone eventually comes up against forces that work against us.  It’s not as if it will all end here though, as his agreement that life is not easy is just an affirmation that despite hardships, there is light on the other side.  Such goes the story of the record, as every dark moment meets a brighter future.  Although the album suggest otherwise, a great story is being told throughout, and everyone will find the musical accompaniment equally as gratifying on the latest Mew effort.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/01-New-Terrain.mp3]

Download: Mew – New Terrain [MP3]

SXSW Top 10 Live Acts

sxsw_liveacts_coverIs anyone else just a little bit sad today as we wrap up another amazing SXSW Festival in Austin? I know we here at ATH are as depressed as anyone to head back into the real world today. Gone are the carefree days of roaming around downtown in search of the best music and the best parties with free red bull and vodka. While still nursing our hangovers and mending our bruises, we would like to share with you the best live acts that we caught this past week. You may have heard of most of these bands or they may be completely new to you, but regardless, these bands brought the noise at SXSW. We tried to be fair and pick the acts that either lived up to a certain hype or just rocked our faces to the floor.  Follow the jump for our top 10 live acts of SXSW.

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