Obverse, Trentemøller’s first album since Fixion of 2016, began life as an instrumental work. Its author’s aim was to use his studio as the biggest instrument of all, to manipulate it on record in such a way that the music it made could not be recreated live. In this way he would make the polar opposite of his work so far – and sure enough, there are no accompanying live dates in the pipeline.
Creativity in music can be a funny thing, however. As composition and production developed, the obvious potential for the music to blossom from songs without words into wholly lyrical works was irresistible. You could call it Obverse, as Trentemøller defines it – “an alternative to what your perception is. The flip side of the coin”.
Four singers were therefore employed, their presence part of a compelling album divided equally between vocal and instrumental tracks. The five songs are highly expressive. Danish vocalist Lisbet Fritze, whose name may be new to many, makes two memorable contributions. Her glassy vocal for One Last Kiss To Remember simmers over a fractious breakbeat which repeatedly threatens to boil over. Blue September, a song of aching poignancy, is even better, capturing in musical form the turning of the year from summer to autumn, reflecting on how the ‘bright nights are ending’.
Rachel Goswell builds further on her pedigree both as a solo artist and a vocalist with Slowdive , Minor Victories, The Soft Cavalry and Mojave 3. Cold Comfort presents the first and purest voice we hear, once the atmospheric introduction has been refracted through clever studio placements. Warpaint’s Jennylee is on hand for the superb Try A Little, a powerful statement to a loved one of how “I’ve lost my mind enough times for you”. “Try a little, work a little, be a little bit more for me” is her instruction. Also making an understated impression is Lina Tullgren, the New Yorker enriching The Garden, a slow burner. Turning over with rich guitars, the song gains in stature with each listen.
The context in which the songs are placed is extremely effective, each followed by an instrumental of equal or arguably greater quality. The thrilling cross rhythms of Foggy Figures provide an imperious, moody sequel to The Garden, with expansive multi-tracked guitar lines adding substantial counterpoint. Trnt pulses and flickers, tensions high until they are released with a sudden, unsettling burst of distortion – as though Blue September has spilled over into stormy season. Giants, the final pairing with Jennylee’s Try A Little, finds attractive and more vulnerable timbres courtesy of a chamber pipe organ.
True to his word, Trentemøller uses the studio as an instrument, feeding his music through invisible pipes or suddenly throwing it out into the great wide open. He does so deftly and with great sensitivity, always in perspective to the instrumental and vocal colours. Goswell’s accompaniment on Cold Comfort is a case in point, the backdrop painting a huge vista, the burst of guitar so vivid you can almost feel the water spraying on your face.
Obverse is a very fine addition to the Trentemøller discography, to this mind at least painting hundreds of shades of blue as it layers on the textures. Despite its studio groundings, don’t be surprised if these pieces of work make it on to the live circuit eventually. They are far too good to be kept under wraps.