By David Von Nordheim, A&E Editor for The Curent
There is something intensely arctic about Efterklang’s latest album, “Piramida.” Given that the Danish septet’s latest album was inspired by an expedition to the abandoned North Polar settlement of the same name, it is only natural that “Piramida” should be a cold and lonesome affair. Just as Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” and “Trans-Europe Express” provide a complimentary soundtrack to European mass-transit, “Piramida” is the ideal companion for trekking through tundra, perfectly capturing the mysterious, barren and beautiful landscapes from which it takes its inspiration.
The insularity of Efterklang’s latest effort is all the more striking when compared to their previous album, the grandiose “Magic Chairs.” That album, their most popular release at the time, brought Efterklang’s latent chamber pop ambitions to the fore, making for a sweeping, giddy and often self-indulgent listen that many disenfranchised fans interpreted as a plea for mainstream popularity. Their orchestra-driven post-rock was on the verge of becoming a Danish Coldplay, and though they would never achieve even a fraction of that group’s chart success, their motives became suspect.
With the baggage of “Magic Chairs” in mind, “Piramida” seems to be a direct retaliation to the accusations of pop-friendliness. Indeed, nothing here is particularly catchy in the conventional sense. Most of “Piramida” involves little more than keyboards and percussion, largely forsaking the swelling orchestral maneuvers of “Magic Chairs.” Several tracks, like the sparse “The Living Layer,” would be borderline ambient were it not for Casper Clausen’s vocals. Given the microcosmic intimacy of “Piramida,” it is difficult to believe that Efterklang is still a seven-man effort.
Efterklang’s previous albums, from the “Kid A” post-techno of “Tripper” through the chamber pop excesses of “Magic Chairs,” were all fairly by-the-numbers examples of their given genre. They were not particularly ambitious or experimental, but they were effective stopgaps for the latest Mum or Sigur Ros albums, two pioneering European post-rock groups which Efterklang is very clearly indebted to.
“Piramida,” however, is a little more difficult to catalogue. It is more post-pop than post-rock, far less grandiose than the often self-indulgent Sigur Ros and far less quirky than the often precocious Mum. For the first time in their career, Efterklang sounds as if they are trying to develop their own unique take on the genre, rather than simply replicate the sounds of their idols with diminishing returns.
This is not to say that “Piramida” is entirely unprecedented (Dan Snaith’s releases under the Caribou moniker come to mind), but rather than Efterklang is finally beginning to expand their sonic palette. On “Piramida,” less is truly more. From the ghostly “Hollow Mountain” to the frost-bitten ballad “Sedna,” the isolation of “Piramida” is evocative precisely because Efterklang focuses on the minute details rather than tripping over themselves to create a major artistic statement. It is a demure, mannered take on experimental rock, one that skirts the experimentation in favor of a deliciously cinematic ambiance.
It seems that Efterklang has come to the realization that their music can still be thought-provoking and ambitious without bringing a symphony in tow or wearing their influences on their sleeves. Of course, the fact that their sole U.S. tour date for 2012 will be with a 19-piece orchestra, with arrangements by members of Sigur Ros and Mum, may undermine the progress.