When Saints Go Machine have a well-crafted vision, but you might never spot it. The Danish four-piece’s debut album, Konkylie, is not just finely-tuned electro-pop – it’s triple-filtered post-punk; super-refined dance; extra-distilled slow-burn electronica. (Yep, it’s pretty tight.) And yet it’s also one of the most self-assured, accessible records you’ll hear this year. In balancing such opposites, it is, simply, a work of unassuming brilliance.
It starts with the name. When Saints Go Machine isn’t just a half-baked pun – it’s a mission statement. A “let’s-make-a-record-that-sounds-like-the-angelic-host-firing-up-a-massive-divine-Korg” kind of mission statement – and overblown or not, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
In the mix is music with a definite precision – an exactness so pitch-perfect that it borders on mechanical. Rich layers, falsetto harmonies, and glossy production run throughout Konkylie, and every moment has been created with painstaking care – from the meticulous matching of synth and vocal samples on Parix, to the dense melding of afro-beat and electronica on Jets, every track has been lovingly assembled. This is, after all, a group that trawled Denmark’s tunnels and woodland for a place to record – just to get the vocals right for the title track. (Yep, they’re that intense.)
It’s no surprise, then, that Konkylie took the band two years to put together and that, 2010′s Fail Forever aside, this is their first proper release in almost a half-decade together. This gestation was no doubt prolonged by the competing influences of the band – vocalist Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild sings with a warm-blooded falsetto akin to Wild Beasts‘ Hayden Thorpe, but brings to the table a love of White Noise and The Slits, while the drums and keys are supplied by the duo behind techno outfit Kenton Slash Demon. Diverse. And yet, Konkylie somehow gives the sense this tricky blend was less a hindrance than a genre-crossing inspiration.
While the production is tightly bound, When Saints Go Machine are undeniably free-spirited. The sound is soulful, with a warmth, and a gentle, often ethereal, soft-focus that has nothing to do with cold precision. Opener Konkylie echoes with cathedral reverie – a thousand liturgies mirrored in both its pace and choral register – while Chestnut leans eerie, with a spectral synth and haunting, bass filled core; and Add Ends is just plain playful: its plucked strings becoming a theme, shimmering with a simple joy. This is music to lose yourself in – to enjoy, immersed, rather than to admire, stood back. And if you miss the intricacies of the construction as a result, so much the better.
Yet the greatest achievement on this album is neither its tight-knit craft or its soft centre – it’s the huge, and peerless, synth hooks that drive the best tracks. The fantastic Church and Law works a sludgey, club riff under a trilly falsetto before bursting into an excitable, three-way chorus (a scintillating mix that will worm into your head for days). Kelly fills a bouncy pop tune with a delicious and danceable synth nest, flecked with perfectly placed vocal fills and bursts of subtle house. In the detail and the depth of Konkylie, these moments of intense, club beats stand out gloriously – deliberate, no doubt, and impressive for it.
Konkylie is a vibrant, often intense, mix of house and pop, infused, wonderfully, with both a spiritual glow and a dark clubland soul. When Saints Go Machine knew exactly what they wanted to create and, slowly, methodically, wonderfully, they delivered.