There can’t be many formations left for bands to try; the two drummers thing grew tired by the mid-’80s and, ever since, extra bassists, singers and percussionists have been thrown into the mix. It’s all been done, except for this Icelandic offering. “We couldn’t just go to the record store and ask for an organ quartet album. We had to invent the genre,” reckons ringleader Jóhann Jóhannsson.
The prolific musician, composer and producer is better known for his atmospheric soundtracks, but he’s temporarily turned his back on that to indulge in another passion. The geek is turned up to 11 on Pólyfónía, the third Apparat Organ Quartet album since they formed in 1999. The foursome collect old organs, synthesisers and “technology of a bygone era”, and bring them to life on their all too rare collaborations. And if that wasn’t enough, the album’s opening track is a homage to the godfather of the programmable computer, Charles Babbage.
High voltage, hyperactive Game Boy blips and soaring electronica rule on this instrumental opener. Fittingly, it sees them strip back to the origins of electro; they’re not trying to be clever or carving something new. Instead they’re happy just being really good at the basics and reminding the listener, right at the start of the record, of the roots of electro. Back in its infancy it was fresh and new and musicians were experimenting with unimaginable new sounds. This album is as joyful and brimming with optimism as anything recorded back then.
If that sounds a bit too close to cool, worry not. The next song, Cargo Frakt is, apparently, inspired by the band’s interest in modern freight. Luckily it sounds far more interesting than that. A thrashing, heavy drum intro gives way to distorted vocals and synths that Jean Michel Jarre wouldn’t blink at.
Their vocals are as distorting as the chaotic keys and synths; they’re all sung through a vocoder and in English, Icelandic, German or Japanese, seemingly at random. One of the English lyrics, Polynesia, is a Daft Punk-ish track that tells a tale far simpler than that of its namesake. Recalling events in lists of threes, from: “One we started a band, two we bought a green van, three we made thousands of pounds,” to how the music is going to sound: “One, the bass drum kicks in…” It’s a song made for open-road driving.
Pentatronik is an all together darker, more mischievous affair. Two organs battle it out, duelling away with the ever-present drum backing them up, almost egging them on. It gives way to a pscyhdellic rock sound that itself gives way to a Mötorhead blast of noise.
It’s business as usual with Macht Parat Den Apparat; a simple, blippy track with echoes of Air. Similarly Sirius Alfa has a dreamy, far-away feel that recalls David Holmes, but 123 Forever jumps a level. A camp horror theme wrapped in the melodrama of Muse, it’s got the driving bass drum that’s become Pendulum‘s trademark and, if you close your eyes, you can see Matt Bellamy catapulting around a stage to it.
After all that chaos, closing track Songur Geimunglingsins is a welcome slice of calm. A quiet, creeping wall of sound builds around a solitary tinkling key for six-and-a-half-minutes before a more characteristic 30 seconds of feedback and static signal the end.
They may rightfully claim to have invented the organ quartet, but Apparat Organ Quartet have somehow managed the impossible, and squeezed a dozen genres out of four organs and produced an album that’s not only interesting and listenable but really enjoyable, whether you’re a geek on their par or an electro novice.