Magic Chairs
February 16, 2010

This is a very beautiful album. It’s complex and delicate, crystalline and powerful. Danish group Efterklang bring an orchestra, a choir, a piano, vocal duets and a brass section together and combine it with some indie-pop sensibilities to create Magic Chairs. It’s true that this album moves more towards contemporary indie-pop ‘mainstream’ ideas than previous Efterklang albums, but that’s not to say that this album is worse than the previous two.

Comparisons with Sigur Ros and Arcade Fire (in my opinion two very different sounds and probably should be separated by more than a little ‘and’) have followed Efterklang around for a while. There is certainly some similarity, but I think the project or direction of the band is something quite different.

The interesting thing about this album is that it took me quite a few listens to really start appreciating it – there are very few catchy hooks or riffs that stick in my head. I still can’t hum you the tune of any of the tracks – but that’s not saying that they’re not good tracks. They’re brilliant tracks, they just don’t let the melody carry the entire weight of the song.

These aren’t songs designed for radio or for humming in an elevator. These are songs that celebrate the interaction of voices and instruments, the timbre and the contrast of elements within arrangements… Efterklang could score a film beautifully. They could curate a festival. They have a great ear for beauty in music, and it is the little details of these songs that really get me – the moments where you feel like the way it is all falling together is just perfect.

This album may bear similarities to Sufjan Stevens’ chamber-pop, but where Sufjan uses the tenets of minimalism (in the technical, classical music sense) like repetition, layering, and melodic fragments, Efterklang’s songs meander into new territories and structures – they mutate, expand and you find yourself taken on an unpredictable journey with each one.

There is some lovely interplay of classical and rock elements. The stunning opening track, ‘Modern Drift’, takes a Philip Glass-like piano line and adds a Grizzly-Bear drum beat, and slowly builds up to a gorgeous climax, with a guitar and a brass section pulling at each of your little heartstrings.

‘Full Moon’ is also lovely, and perhaps the most radio-ready – it starts off with strings, piano and halted drums, and the melody and lyrics probably move to the front the most out of the whole album: “Can you hear them calling?/Can you hear them falling out?”, sings Casper Clausen again and again, soon supported by a choir. It’s short and less sprawling than the other tracks, but very complete and satisfying in that.

The second track, ‘Alike’, uses the combination of soft tones of the harmonium and flutes with a driving drum beat and sad minor chord progressions to journey to some other strange place, singing “And it made us feel alright” over and over again. It makes me feel alright, too. All of it.

There is something so dreamlike about the album: it’s like wandering through some dream where suddenly a figure from your past appears, and then you are on a mountain in the snow, and then you are flying past cliffs and clouds, and then you are in space, and then you are back at home with your cat, and when you wake up you’re not sure if it made any sense at all, you have trouble remembering all of it, but it was definitely very, very pretty.