For the Record: Efterklang – Magic Chairs

Scandinavia has long been associated with groundbreaking and influential acts, many of which have gone on to earn much critical and commercial acclaim. Something of an air of mystery surrounds these Nordic states; a haven of creativity nestled in a small-ish corner of the world. Look no further than ABBA, for example; by no means a manufactured act that set the mould for the pop groups of years to come – coming straight out of Stockholm to rule the charts for a decade, and leaving a resounding impression on the shape of popular music after their demise. Although they were perhaps the best known of the mass of talent that tothis day continues to emerge from Northern Europe, a great deal of experimental leaders in their various musical fields hail from these lands – take Shining, the trailblazing Norwegian jazz-by-way-of-metal collective or the countless metal hordes that have broken out of Finland. Some attention, however, should be given to Denmark.

Efterklang are one of the more interesting acts to have gained a foothold in today’s wide musical world. They do well to defy easy classification, and this remains one of the band’s strengths; genre-bending techniques and offbeat songwriting add to this ambiguity. Despite this, the most accurate possible label for their early work would be post-rock. Their debut album, Tripper, was bursting at the seams with stuttering electronic drum patterns, synth vibraphone and rich, dulcet string arrangements – all of this complemented by harmonious male/female vocals. It is an overpoweringly abounding sound that is almost too much. They drew back somewhat on their second effort, Parades, in which they retained some similar elements to their first. It is a wholly more rewarding and simple experience, though – playing with the idea of more acoustic arrangements. It is reminiscent of something you might hear as the soundtrack to a world of fairy-tales; innocent and pure, almost childlike.

Seemingly never comfortable in one sound, the band have changed tack again for their latest release, Magic Chairs.

They have left behind many of the hallmarks of their early work, and instead have developed a keen sense of negative space since their debut. Rather than an album packed full of textures, they never really give much away. Their new sound brings to mind what Califone might be if they were ever given a glossy, 4AD production and a more positive outlook. The lead track and first single, ‘Modern Drift’, is a cornucopia of soft, unbroken piano lines, clean guitars, strings and sparse, pounding drums – ‘I can keep my head inside/When the modern drift is all I have’, and the song could be considered as the group at the most pop-sounding they’ve ever been. However, although it is a lovely song, it doesn’t leave much of a mark. Ultimately, this is where the album itself falters. In its entirety, it is a very slow-moving, uni-textural work, and although some artists can pull this off very well, Efterklang are yet to reach that stage. There are moments when the album takes some interesting turns, however –  tracks such as ‘I Was Playing Drums’, where the overtly Califone-esque moments emerge, and ‘Raincoats’, which has something of a world music feel coursing through it: dry percussion, handclaps and African pipes. The quality of songwriting throughout is consistent, and there are no obviously weak moments to speak of, but when you’re expecting an album that should grip you from beginning to end, the experience is more like a soft hand on your shoulder, gentle and somewhat ineffectual.

Ultimately, Efterklang have matured their sound a great deal since their formative years, but although Magic Chairs is decent, it isn’t outstanding. But that, of course, is the nature of growth – given time, and the nurturing of their sound, they will be capable of great things.

My rating? 6 out of 10.

Magic Chairs is out now on 4AD Records.

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