4 out of 5
Label: VHF Records
Produced by: Jarle Steinhovden and Espen Jorgensen (live sound and tracking); Daniel O’Sullivan (wave editing and mixing)
A magical collection of sounds and songs that are both winding but themed; alien but organic; “automatically composed” but just that – composed.
En Form for Blå captures three sessions recorded in Oslo, by the Æthenor foursome of Daniel O’Sullivan, Kristoffer Rygg, Stephen O’Malley, and Steve Noble. While maintaining the undercurrent of doom and creepiness that can be heard on prior Æthenor recordings, as well as in some of the other name bands for which the participants are known, the Blå recordings use that menace more for background; for a launchpad into striking and weird and quite gorgeous washes of effects, very much grounded in recognizable instrumentation – guitars, drums – but then affected by unknown sound burbles and ambience, making for an otherworldly set of tracks. Openers Jocasta and One Number of Destiny in Ninety Nine get 12+ minute runtimes to set some standards, of sparse, wandering, jazz-touched improv that spikes into feedback and sudden aggression and then back again; beautiful and calm. The latter of the two tracks is more seamless in this approach, ebbing and flowing gracefully and mesmerizingly; the former builds and then breaks for its last few minutes, somewhat indicative of the only downside of the recording, in that its overall sequencing doesn’t necessarily seem ideal. Perhaps always a possibility with improvised works, but the D-side of the 2 LP set – the last two tracks – are very sedate and spread out, vaguely bringing in some of Jocasta’s musical themes, but otherwise much less “there” than the majority of the album. Taken on their own, these tracks are still absolutely worth it – fascinating sound explorations; minimal but restless. And the same is true of Jocasta’s concluding section. But pieced together as an album, these moments can lose momentum based on what they’re surrounded by. Once the pacing is expected, though, it’s less of an issue: beyond and between the above-mentioned tracks we get some shorter works that slice off the different elements we’ve heard into engrossing 4-6 minute sections, alive with all the juxtapositions I’d mentioned.
In a way, this kinda stuff can only be live – it is, truly living – but at the same time, its effectiveness at filling your speakers and the space of whatever room in which you’re listening, bespeaks of a recording that’s been enhanced and fleshed out as though in a studio. Either way, it’s an integral Æthenor experience.