Sunday, 8 September 2013

Music - Part 121 - Hjaltalin

Hjaltalin – Enter 4 (Hjaltalin)
9 September 2013

Sigur Ros have a lot to answer for.  If it wasn’t for their reputation I may never have listened to Retro Stefson whose eponymous album was a lovely slab of alternative pop.  I may also never have come across Enter 4 by Hjaltalin, and that would have been a huge shame given the sheer quality of the album.

There’s a story that precedes the band.   Between the release of critically acclaimed 2009 album ‘Terminal’ and the Autumn of 2012, the band laid low whilst frontman Högni Egilsson struggled with his worsening mental health.  The work-in-progress they had produced was left in a state of flux as he left the band and continued between hospitals and mental institutions.  He now insists that ‘Enter 4’ played a huge part in his recovery.

So what of the album? Essentially, the backbone is one of synth and percussion complimented by conventional orchestral instruments, it’s a fine fine collection of post-pop, ambience and general eeriness.  Vocals from both Egilsson and Sigríður Thorlacius are superb and in many ways, comparisons can be made with last year’s album by Archive, ‘With Us Until You’re Dead’.  Songs that are built on simple melodies but frequently escalate into neo-stadium anthems.

Opener, ‘Lucifer/He Felt Like A Woman’ has a deep bass beat, that though repetitive, is essential to the make-up of the song.  A hook that continues to buzz around until well after the song has finished, and, a great start to the album.

Hjaltalin have a quite remarkable ability to combine pop with deep experimentation, and, make it work.  Song arrangements can be complex but the melodies shine through like glimmers of sunlight through a dark forest.  ‘Forever Someone Else’ enters the realms of trip-hop with the sumptuous vocals of Thorlacius being a key factor, and, some quite enthralling orchestral arrangements.  ‘On The Peninsula’ is nothing short of beautiful.

‘Letter To […]’ seems to combine echoes of Soul II Soul with a darker, second half, which includes post-industrial beats and screeches.  The placid vocals being a well-placed contrast as the track fades out.  ‘We’ rises from quiet ballad, with more stunning vocals, to a gargantuan close of crashes, bangs and general wall of sound.

The story goes that album closer, ‘Ethereal’, was recorded in one take, on the spur of the moment after Egilsson had been out of his mind and unable to work with the rest of the band.  It’s pure genius and a quite incredible song.  It’s eerie and beautiful at the same time, and, when Egilsson performed it, it apparently brought the remaining band members to tears.  It’s a fitting and sobering end to a quite brilliant album.


Archive live review on hiapop Blog

Published on Louder Than War 10/09/13 - here

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