Efterklang’s phenomenal emergence onto the international scene in the last six months or so has caught their English label, Leaf, a little on the hop. Whatever the story behind this fortuitous signing of an unknown Danish group less than a year ago, the current chapter – and it has a long way to go yet – is about keeping up with the buzz on what has become currently the fastest and biggest-selling debut album in the ten-year-old Leaf catalogue.
Having lived and worked in Denmark myself, I feel qualified to explain (from a position of deep admiration and respect for Danish culture in general and everlasting love for several Danes in particular) that the notable paucity of Danish representation in the critical index (name three Danish groups other than Junior Senior. ok – two. one? nop – Abba was Swedish) is nothing to do with a lack of the usual requirements – creativity, talent, self-doubt, melancholy, and personal angst – which abound as much if not more in Copenhagen, Århus and Aalborg as they do in Bristol, Leeds and Montreal – but with a set of ten Mosaic-style social laws laid down by the Norwegian/Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930’s (would I make this up?) for application in the fictional semi-Utopian town of Jante. The first of Janteloven – Jante’s Laws – that says that no Dane shall set himself above any other Dane – is still learnt by Danish children at their kindergarden teacher’s feet, and is something that is so pervasive in Danish society that many Danish artists find it impossible to negotiate anything more than a local audience for their work. The cultural and social pressure to not stand out from the crowd is, as you might imagine, something of a handicap if you want to be a rock artist, or any other kind of artist, sportsperson, supermodel, or games show contestant. But there it is. The Carlsberg ads decoded in a paragraph. (Sorry, Bjarne, sorry, Majbrit – this job’s more about infotainment than credible analysis.)
The Efterklang ensemble is a five-man band augmented, in the production of the nine-track Tripper, by no less than thirty-four named collaborators. (The Greenlandic choir is fast becoming the essential musical accessory of the twenty-oughts. I’m rather looking forward, myself, to the first time a Greenlandic group [name three. two? one?] uses a choir of Eritrean nose-flautists who then become the must-have of the indie scene for a six-month or two. But I digress.)
There’s a distinctively Nordic aesthetic that’s evolved in fairly recent musical history on the back of a few familiar names (let’s say they mostly come from Iceland and leave it at that) that’s rapidly coalescing into a genre of its own. Its signature sounds consist of ultra-restrained laptop glitches and field-recorded samples mixed into a delicate aurora of surprises that range from toy and hand-made instruments to classically-trained instrumentalists and voices. Working in and around this aesthetic, Efterklang have succeeded – and here’s the wonder – not only in consolidating it in a completely refreshing and original way, but in enlarging it, so that not only does the listening recall all that’s best that’s come out of the frozen North recently, but of much else besides that provides further synthesis where none was expected: Cyan and Ben, Berg Sans Nipple, Fourtet, A Silver Mt Zion, Fennesz, Max Richter, Lullatone, The Album Leaf -I can’t tell you – it’s as if these crafty young Hamlets had managed to sift my dreams for the best bits and weave them into a personalised security blanket, casually throwing it around my shoulders before I woke up and then disappearing back into the mists of Elsinore to get on with their modest melancholic anonymity. And here was I thinking nobody cared …
There’s no denying that this is music that invokes the world of wall-to-wall pine flooring and very efficient central heating – a world practically devoid of dissonance, manifest in a wholesome sweetness and purity of tone that ought to be disgustingly cloying but somehow isn’t. It bespeaks a kind of Steiner innocence, and I think that’s a very important part of its current success.
Innocence suggests childishness, but there’s a grownup negative correspondence that consists of ignorance, inexperience, fear, stupidity, and exploitability. There’s a lot of it about. What Efterklang have discovered, I think, is a widespread appetite to reconnect with the positive aspects of innocence (honesty, generosity, openness, sincerity, inquisitiveness, trust) that can co-exist beneath the necessary sceptical shells of maturity.
For all that, Tripper is an amazingly mature debut album, awash with rhapsodic harmonies, as hummable as heaven, and glittering with show-off beats that are scattered like bewitching fairy-dust with a skittish self-confidence. There’ll be few more enjoyable treats this side of Christmas.