David Åhlén: We Sprout in Thy Soil

Imagine a slightly less operatic Antony crossed with Maximilian Hecker and you might end up with a vocalist who sounds rather like David Åhlén. His heavenly, high-pitched voice is front and center on his debut album, We Sprout in Thy Soil, and that's exactly where it should be. It's also elegantly supported by a small coterie of acoustic instruments (Stockholm Strings, acoustic guitar, double bass, grand piano, spinet, vibraphone) and elevated by some equally beautiful songwriting. The album's a mere twenty-seven minutes long, yet somehow doesn't feel incomplete as the ten songs of faith—“prayers” might be more like it (one song even titled “Altar”)—compensate for brevity with depth.

That Åhlén is the son of a Baptist pastor and was raised in the church comes as no surprise, given We Sprout in Thy Soil's hymnal style. What does surprise is that Åhlén spent several years singing in the band Namur and therefore did so surrounded by loud guitars, drums, and electronics, something that's hard to reconcile with the gentle purity of the new recording. Often his voice is accompanied by a minimal number of instruments, and sometimes no more than one. His agile voice navigates the dramatic melodic turns in “Fountain of Light” with only double bass as support, while in the plaintive devotional “Ocean,” he's augmented by Miriam Åhlén's singing and Christopher Burman's spinet playing, and in “Stir Our Hearts” by the pretty voices of the Uppsala Cathedral Boys Choir. Electronic backgrounds appear on “Arise” but they're largely subliminal, making the album as pure in its instrumental sound as it is vocally. Compunctio gives the release the deluxe treatment it deserves by including a full-colour booklet of photographs and lyrics in the distinctive case housing the CD. We Sprout in Thy Soil is a beautiful recording that hopefully will get the attention it deserves.

June 2009