David Åhlén: Hidden Light

Anyone who's heard David Åhlén releases such as We Sprout in Thy Soil (Compunctio, 2009), Selah (Mishkan, 2013), and All the Way My Saviour Leads Me (Volkoren, 2014) will already know what awaits on Hidden Light: that inimitable, high-pitched voice sympathetically supported by acoustic instrumentation and singing hushed, hymnal songs (sample lyric from “In Peace”: “Lord almighty and merciful / Bless us and preserve us”). A Swedish television station has described Åhlén as “indie pop music's answer to Arvo Pärt,” and the characterization isn't far wrong.

But if certain things about Hidden Light are predictable (not in a bad way), there's one aspect about the recording that does surprise: the instrumental surround for the voice changes from one song to the next in unpredictable yet consistently satisfying ways. No song is more beautiful than the opening meditation “Morning Prayer,” four minutes of entrancement elevated by Åhlén's gently soaring falsetto accompanied by prepared piano and cello. And just as those instruments help distinguish “Morning Prayer,” an arrangement featuring muted trumpet, harmonium, and horns provides fabulous support to his fragile delivery on the title track. That muted trumpet reappears on “Forever,” with this time the purr of the vocal and horn augmented by Jonas Nilsson's double bass soloing.

Another surprise occurs during “Heal Me My Love” when the leader's gentle falsetto is offset by the lower-pitched singing of (if I'm not mistaken) Nicolai Dunger, a singer-songwriter from Piteå, Sweden; elsewhere on the vocal front, Swedish singer Sofia Jernberg adds soulful support to Åhlén during the haunting “Majesty.” Mention too must be made of the contributions by keyboard player Andreaz Hedén (who also wrote the delicate instrumental closer “Recapulatio”), cellist Svante Henryson, and horn player Jonas Nyström. The dramatic expansion all such guests bring to Åhlén's soundworld makes a huge difference in the impression left by the recording.

October 2016