It's a mystery to me how Luxus-Arctica netlabel managed to take this photo of CTW's reception suite. The guards tell me that the CCTV footage went offline at a crucial moment. The only physical evidence of their break-in was the hundreds of dead starlings in the street below. Strange.
It won't have escaped your attention that computer wizardry is rampaging through electronica, IDM, minimal and hip-hop, where it's common for percussion one-shots and layered synths to be sampled and chopped to death, but I remain surprised by how relatively few artists delight in mangling acoustic instruments and "found" sounds. There's a delicious, malicious joy to be had in hearing a familiar and/or traditional sound getting kicked up the backside by music software.
I imagine that Erik Nilsson must wear a virtual pair of hobnailed boots as he stomps around Stockholm, because the eight marvellous tracks that constitute his restrained, gentle and ingenious Recollage are an acoustic mangler's delight; he makes the old-fashioned sound delightfully modern. Peruse the back cover of his album and you'll find the following:
Recollage is a development of simple musical elements and ideas towards greater complexity and richness of detail using real and sampled instruments, assorted acoustic sounds, and synthesizers & audio manipulation techniques.
Honestly, I don't know why I bother. How am I supposed to waffle on at (very great) length about records if the musicians have already written a cogent summary of said album and, what's more, in better English than yours truly can muster? What a cheek.
The opener, Into Motion, uses a sneaky compositional trick - one used to great effect by Trentemøller on Take Me Into Your Skin - whereby various elements are added one by one to create a wall of sound that, at the crescendo, drops away completely to be replaced by a quiet, fast-paced rhythm. The unexpected dynamics will tug at your ears. The track is an enticing blend of upbeat, sparkling guitar, somnolent piano/harpsichord and some ambient excursions. Its cheerful and gentle soundscape will perhaps remind readers of another Luxus-Arctica album, Global by The Lights Galaxia, reviewed here.
Timepiece features a grandfather clock's two-note chime up front and centre (and slightly too loud, methinks). I doubt whether the clockmaker would approve of how Mr Nilsson makes it repeat, stutter and pan all over the place, but I approve of the mangling, especially when it's accompanied by a gently picked acoustic guitar, a cut-and-paste harmonica and ambient crackles.
The first thirty seconds of Rumore del Roma explain why this album is such a treat for the ears: you'll hear a ghostly piano; the distant wailing of guitar feedback; a chopped and reversed bit of sound; cheerful guitar strumming; the dusty pops and grumbling of old vinyl; and the creaking of an unoiled door hinge that slurs and slows down into a snare drum roll that kicks off some semi-distorted, mandolin-backed trip-hop. There's also a violin stuffed in there somewhere, courtesy of Sofie Louzou. Phew. Then, after a couple of minutes of pleasurable head-nodding, most of the sounds fade away until only the ghostly, plaintive piano can be faintly heard on the right-hand side of the stereo field. A few bars later, it's joined by a toy-like xylophone, only this can be heard up close and on the left. It's the thoughtful treatment of such ostensibly simple elements that make the album a pleasure to hear. Try it yourself:
Erik Nilsson - Rumore del Roma
No, wait. You can't. Luxus-Arctica is like America's Liberty Bell: an inspiring symbol of independence that can't make a sound because it's cracked. L-A will give you the whole album free of charge but won't supply links to individual tracks. *bites knuckles, screams* Gentlemen, please rethink your policy.
Allow CTW to flex its mighty muscles. *thump* *yell* *bash* Got it. God, I'm good. Let's try again:
15 Minutes of Boredom might be retitled as 2 Minutes, 15 Seconds of Bewilderment. I can't explain how such diverse elements as movie dialogue, a repitched, reversed and disrespected guitar riff, heavy breathing, a high-passed filter sweep (and the occasional interjection of Fred Astaire's name) can in any shape or form constitute music; but they do. Hands up who would like to see Erik Nilsson's workflow. Yes, me too. Ableton or Logic or Cubase and an MPC, do you think? Knowing my luck, it's probably done with witchcraft, beer and Lego.
I rather like the compressed story that can be inferred from a song called Old Piano/Bad Back. What's even more likeable are the ticking clock intro, the fluttering flute, various ominous thumps and scrapes, a thoroughly unsettling vocalised noise and, best of all, the appearance of a slide guitar redolent of Ry Cooder's soundtrack to Paris, Texas. (A quick aside - we Creative Commons music fans, though fans of electronica, minimal, etc., are starved of guitar music. Please, riffers of the world, unite: you have nothing to lose but your mullets.) It's a slow, solemn, piece of ambient electronica until someone whispers "Let's go!" in your left ear, and the guitars get up off their porch seats to welcome the arrival of a kick drum. All of a sudden, the piece transmutes into neo-Hillbilly and threatens to get epic. Disappointingly, it goes back into its shell soon afterwards, but it's still a terrific track.
There's a similar flirtation with grandiosity in the title track, Recollage. It starts with manipulated kitchenware samples (I'm fond of how the sharpening of a knife doubles as a very lazy hi-hat), a fuzzy bass, inoffensive guitar doodlings, and a door opening and closing; it continues with a beautifully apt Moog-like synth, an upright piano and a not-so-happily-mixed snare drum; and it threatens to break out into a sweeping piece of Kate Bushness before fading to an ambient burble.
To my mind, the ghosts of Kate Bush (consider the gentle tempo, the mandolin and the sample of a cocking rifle in her Army Dreamers) and Pink Floyd flit in and out of some of these tracks. I get a Floydian tang from the mournful, descending guitar and bass lines to Tail Lights; as the tempo picks up and morphs into light rock, one half expects some Roger Waters kill-yourself-now-because-life-is-a-cosmic-joke lyrics and a searing guitar solo from Dave Gilmour. Instead, the track shies away from the bombastic and stays true to the album's intimate milieu with some subdued glitching.
Finally, imagine you're ten years old and have just got your hands on your first guitar. It's a clapped-out acoustic, half the strings are missing and those that remain are tired, saggy and barely in tune. Then imagine that you've just learned to play a riff that reminds you of Marc Bolan's T-Rex and, pleased with yourself, you play it repeatedly. Your pre-pubertal friends form a rhythm section by slapping cardboard boxes and bending rulers on table edges. Welcome to the first half of the pertinently-named Little Demon. Spent, you stop playing only to hear music floating across the road from that creepy house with the drawn curtains. It's barely audible but it's definitely someone playing a spooky motif on an ambient pad preset over and over again. Welcome to the coda of Little Demon.
Surprisingly, this album reminds me of, would you believe it, the ghost stories of M.R. James, which often tease their overly logical Edwardian protagonists by suggesting that there is something disturbing lurking over the brow of the next hill - if only they care to look. Thanks to his harnessing of modern techniques to long-familiar sounds, and the inclusion of the odd gasp, wheeze, scrape and scratch, Mr Nilsson's work shares the same ambivalent qualities. Indeed, I hope I'm not doing him a disservice by suggesting that parts of his album would do very well as soundtracks to James's tales.
If you fall in love with Recollage, please remember to send a "thank you" email/cash/eye of newt and toe of frog to the talented Erik Nilsson and the estimable, double-barrelled Luxus-Arctica netlabel.
Erik Nilsson - Recollage (link to zipped album - no single mp3s for some unfathomable reason)
Erik Nilsson [also known as Apan Music] (link to individual tracks via Soundcloud)