Danes Slaraffenland are not the kind of band that you can just dip into. As this, their third album since their 2002 inception attests, they create the kind of music that demands – and often rewards – concerted listening, as much as it defies easy categorisation or description.
Initially, this album comes across as something of an enigma. Tracks like Too Late To Think seem ephemeral, intangible, arriving and leaving without making much of an impression bar the odd sunshine rush of brass. The vocals vary in tone from the warmth of opener Long Gone to a more usual disconnected, curiously dispassionate note: Meet And Greet, Open Your Eyes; and the occasional exclamation, chant or near-shout, as on The Right Place and Hunting. There’s a bit of acapella thrown in at the end on Away, accompanied as the track opens simply by handclaps.
Lyrically no clear themes or even much of an authorial voice emerge. Vaguely portentous, impressionistic or mystifying statements emerge: “We will meet, we will greet, you will make me feel older”, “See the dawn, long gone”, “We will have to leave / But we won’t go home” or “This might not be the right time or place” being some of the more audible examples. All this conspires, then, to leave the listener a little at sea, lacking some of the more usual pegs on which to hang the music.
However, the more one listens to the album, playing and re-playing the tracks, groping for some kind of foothold on its seemingly impenetrable rockface, then the more it begins to beguile. Those warm brass sounds begin to shine through, notably on the amicable, ambulatory Long Gone; adding punctuation to lift Too Late To Think out of its erstwhile gloom; sounding lazy and meandering in Stars And Smiles and then mellow again on Open Your Eyes. Also beautifully deployed are the smoky, husky wind instruments that feature nicely in Stars And Smiles and Hunting in particular. Some lovely (and unexpected) bits of banjo pickin’ crop up on Stars And Smiles and Open Your Eyes.
The sense that this is a band beyond pigeonholing is reinforced by Hunting, one of the album’s best tracks. Its jazzy, where’s-it-going-to-next feeling is evoked with a knowingness, but also with a sense of skittery, exclamatory fun. Other enjoyable oddities include the unpredictable time signatures (Meet And Greet and on Hunting again, where the rhythm is almost “math rock”), the quirky and unexpected synth ending to Too Late To Think, the interesting way that uptight martial drumming is married to the drowsy woodwind on Stars And Smiles, and the curious mantra “We… have… lost… our… place” so enthusiastically chanted on The Right Place.
Only Long Gone, Postcard and Open Your Eyes have what might be described as a conventional melody structure. All this variety and uncertainty does become a little wearing in places, and the vocals in particular often fail to live up to the music that accompanies them. Meet And Greet and Too Late To Think are the worst offenders here; while the words – as on Hunting – often feel that they are simply being shoehorned in to fit around all of the song’s other elements. These deficiencies, though, feel like a price worth paying for the benefits that a closer acquaintance with this band will bring. Hard-earned benefits, certainly, but perhaps all the more enjoyable because of it, as the band’s unpredictability, sense of mischief yet also the accumulated sense of warmth become apparent.