Some albums document a particular phase in the life of their creators. In Efterklang’s case, the phase is their visit to the Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic, where they spent three weeks in the now abandoned mining town of Pyramiden. While there they filmed and collected field recordings, the results of which are liberally sprinkled like powdery snow through the album.
This is a record best heard on headphones, for then its scope is fully revealed, and the field recordings tie in with the trio’s exquisite orchestration. Casper Clausen’s vocals are more assured this time, too, even though the subject matter is not quite so defined. “It’s impossible, when the night inverts us, and I wonder, I wonder, wonder what I am?” he queries on the opening Hollow Mountain, which immediately gives an impression of the cold wasteland in front of us, before the track pans out to a glacial choir and the murmuring of the backing vocals.
There is a tremendous sense of space here, but also the awe that accompanies that awareness. When the vocals are softly sung it is as if Clausen has just ventured outside for the first time, gazing on the scenery and unable to fully comprehend what he is seeing. This might explain the reverence of Sedna, which is much more economical, its instruments cold to the touch, as Clausen, icy keyboards and a solitary drum express themselves. There is desolation here, but a remote beauty too, as if Apollo-era Brian Eno has been in to the studio to scatter some fairy dust.
The only potential problem with this album, which previous work Magic Chairs experienced to a greater extent, is that on an emotional level it spends a lot of its time building towards a release of tension that never fully arrives, before we pan ultimately back to introspection. On that level the music of Efterklang can be frustrating, though with Clausen’s vocals connecting more directly this time, there is greater emotion at first hand.
The orchestration, too, continues to dazzle, and there is a lovely wash of sound towards the end of The Living Layer, like being led out to sea. The band’s use of brass is solemn and profound, while the drum track is subtle but surprisingly complicated, generating movement in unexpected places.
Overall, this is the album where Efterklang reconcile their imaginative orchestration with a noticeable step up in lyrical meaning and thought. The result is an record of rare beauty, like catching a glimpse of an uncommonly beautiful sunset or a finely crafted ice sculpture. A moment to be savoured, in other words.