Music Reviews

Artist: Origami Arktika (@)
Title: Absolut Gehör
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Silber Records (@)
At a slithering and supple momentum from the moment playback begins, the textured improvisations of 'Ro og hamle', the first piece on Absolut Gehör, are at once busy and gentle, attentive and restrained. "[Eight] men are playing," reveal the sleeve notes, "but softly". An analogy of rowing, a practice typically characterised by facing away from the journey forward, underpins the piece. The aim seems to have been to approximate a tentative, sightless navigation of the Northern seas so central to Norway's cultural history. The path is a meandering one with no clear trajectory, the interaction between the eight musicians adapting continuously, if gradually, and perhaps with an affected uncertainty. But every new step feels natural and harmonious, calling to mind the simultaneous sameness and ceaseless variation of the topical landscape. Ice, jagged shores and hills viewed from afar, fog and the awe-inspiring depths and temperaments of the sea.
When it comes to actual sonic associations, one very welcome image that endures throughout parts of the album is that of creaking, ancient wooden nautical machinery, such as oars. Gentle rattling of bells and a wide array of other items - including what sound like dinner plates - augment this setting, bridging percussive treble grain and set sound design. Very seldom is there a straightforward passage without soft rustles, clatters, scratches, things bowed and otherwise played.

Norwegian folklore and poetry - some of it very old, some as recent as the 1800s - underscores the entirety of this LP, by the beautifully named Origami Arktika (an offshoot of the networked collective Origami Republika, whose 'agents' now number more than three hundred). Absolut Gehör sees Origami Arktika articulating wistful, traditional songs within their own sprawling, improvised arrangements. 'Ro og hamle' is altogether original, but entirely consistent with its neighbours. The sound is articulated in a tenebrous, lo-fi mix of drums, droning guitar (e.g. 'Háttalykill'), bass, a considerable variety of instruments and a whole host of unknown activities and manipulations, all by and large tastefully applied. Over these warble the voice of the band's singer (though all personnel are listed in the sleeve notes, their roles remain unspecified), who demonstrates a studied skill in interpreting traditional balladry. He has a fine voice, dexterous and capable but also light; semi-spoken and unimposing.
Each song might rather unhelpfully be summarised as jazzy, improvised drone-folk, while the singer's style remains rigidly constant throughout. Yet no two numbers are really alike. 'Bryggja te jol' and 'Tora liti' make the most use of guitar - or at least guitar pedals - the former swelling into a formidable, droning climax and the latter revolving around a bristling set of metallic strums, with such a satisfying tone. Penultimate, eleven-minute 'Det syng for Storegut' is irresistible, with a funky brushed rhythm and locked bassline providing a more canonically modern context for the vocals. The brief, conclusive 'Skonde dig du jente - lurlokk' consists of almost-solo voice accompanied by discrete noises, which drop out with the vocal rests, framing the lines with a pondering silence.

The album's stark artwork comprises a series of contorted, deep red prints by Guttorm Nordoe. Described as "otherworldly" in the booklet, they definitely suggest elements of the fantastic, with inscrutable and misshapen unions of human- and beast-like characters. Yet these subjects also manage, probably intentionally, with their slight limbs and solid colouration, to evoke ancient cave paintings such as those found in Alta, Norway.

An intuitive and very impressive insight into what seems to be only a tiny fragment of the huge, varied and open Origami Republika collective. Certainly the most successful experimental folk album I've heard in a while.

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