An unfailing source of amusement for Danes is to tease kids and tourists with the promise of a day out to climb the highest mountain in Denmark. “It’s so high it’s called Sky Mountain (Himmelbjerget)”, they’ll say, with a funny look in their eye. Then, after the short drive from Århus or Odense or wherever, they’ll pull up into a car park somewhere in the countryside and say, “How about an ice-cream before we climb the mountain?” and you’ll follow them up a little gravelled sloping path with rather unnecessary handrails and a few steps until, after fifteen minutes or so, you arrive at the top of a wooded hill with a brick tower and a little cafe and an ice-cream parlour and a nice panoramic view of the lakes and the surrounding – very flat – countryside, and you stand there enjoying your ice-cream and having a look around, and finally you fall for it – “So wheres the mountain?” you say, “I can’t see it”. Cue conspiratorial looks of it-works-every-time satisfaction, before the happy retort, “You’re standing on it!”
Himmelbjerget, at 147 metres, is ten metres lower than Glastonbury Tor.
It must give you a particular lifelong take on your national heritage to have to absorb the nuance – the disappointment, the self-deprecation, the bathos, the silliness, the secrecy, the careless flatlanderness – of such a moment in terms of your sense of yourself as a Dane, as opposed to, say, a Swiss, or a Nepalese, who have no equivalent Alp or Himalaya jokes, as far as I know.
In part-compensation for taking the fall so well, this cosy little ritual might then be rounded off with a visit to the Silkeborg Museum, at the other end of the pretty string of lakes you could see from your dizzying vantage point, where, nestling in endless air-conditioned silence, is the perfectly preserved body of Tollund Man. TM was discovered in 1950 by a pair of brothers out digging peat for fuel on their farm. They assumed he’d been fairly recently killed and chucked in the bog, so they called the police. The murder enquiry was quickly called off, however, when it was established that his killers were undetainable, the bog having so effectively pickled his corpse that the team of pathologists assigned to his case were even able to establish what his last meal had been (vegetable soup and bread) before he had been hanged – two thousand years earlier.
So the curious visitor is able to gaze, with greater or lesser frisson, on the disturbingly peaceful face of this person who looks like whatsit’s Uncle Erik sleeping off a hangover in a hedge after the last Roskilde – he’s even wearing a funny leather hat and a thick braided leather necklace – oh, except that the necklace has been pulled rather tight. And in that experience, or in the combination of those two experiences – so many questions, so few satisfactory answers – is somehow encapsulated that intangible something that largely defines our humanity, and that it is one of the functions of art to articulate. Probably.
And that is exactly what Himmelbjerget, the second track of this mini-album, does – with a beguiling effortlessness that leaves one feeling not a little slack-jawed and gormless. It’s all there – the bathos, the slow time, the far views, the noose, the maelstrom of unfathomable contingencies, the sense of childlike wonder and fun, and that slight tingle of fear.
And so it is on each of the five tracks on this fine little album – typically beginning with a close-mic’d whispery-conspiratorial man/woman duet that blossoms into a set of oddly expressionistic, resoundingly visionary orchestral structures that seem to nod both at the exotic and the folkloric – a tricky crossover that they nevertheless accomplish with impressive panache. The full-throated unison male chorale on Towards the Bare Hill, for example, belted out to a virtuoso furniture-tapping and minimal electronic backing, manages to evoke both sea-shanty and rowdy wake – an impressive feat, and an extraordinarily affecting sound.
It’s all too easy, after spending too much time drifting around in the Sargasso Sounds of da moosik industri, to forget what ‘hype’ actually means, and to forget that she who lives by it will eventually, inevitably, die by it, self-strangulated on the ever-tightening knots of non-credence that accumulate around the necks of they who squander their repertoire of superlatives on worthless causes.
So we’ll reserve the hyperbole for the autumn, when Efterklang are due finally to release their second full-length, and when, as sure as death and taxes, that rattling barrel of hype clichés that accompany my own sorry voyages of musical discovery will find itself being scraped right through to the last crumbling rusting hoops. And we’ll just say that, if Tripper (Leaf – 2004) dinged your bell (and, really, whose didn’t it?) so will this, in spades, in bucketsful, in excelsis deo, or in whatever measure of plethora concurs with your own personal arbiters of full-on bell-dingingness.