Saturday, June 6, 2020
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Astvaldur: At Least

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Artist: Astvaldur
Title: At Least
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Oqko (@)
At Least is a seven-track, 26-minute instrumental mini-album that has feet in two camps. On the one hand (or foot if you want a persistent analogy), this is smart electronica, with complex trap rhythms and crisp percussive loops, but on the other hand/foot/whatever it’s also an experimental piece, featuring esoteric samples, cut-up orchestral noises, off-kilter bleeps and whirrs and some rich ambiences.

Astvaldur sounds (and is) Icelandic, and there are tonal qualities stereotypical of that country here- it’s expansive, it’s sounds cold, a lot of it is quite empty and it’s as crisp as snow.

“Hark” is a slightly odd intro piece, being neither just an intro nor a fully-fledged first track and hinting at a sound much more grime-like than the rest of the release. The next two tracks set the predominant format- a fairly frenetic but soft kick drum as the biscuity base, with a slightly plinky synth arpeggio bouncing above, and with the other sounds and soft synthetic textures more lazily ambling over the top.

“Flesh” is a highlight and a more tense affair, the glacial ambience replaced by slowly building tension, a very filmic concoction worthy of a cat-and-mouse chase in a spy thriller, with tinnitus-esque super-high notes for extra disquiet.

“Punture” [sic] is more stripped back, depending largely on looped bleeps that are akin to a music box panicking, while “Locked On” is a tension bed, ominous and technical. The brief “Mother” ends things in a playful way, with synths playing bright melodies with a sound like blown raspberries, though somehow it sounds more like an intro than a finale.

There is a breadth of different moods constructed from the same building blocks here, a strong musicality and the confidence to use emptiness as a key feature. While nothing about this release will blow you away, it’s a rich collection of ideas in a relatively small package.

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