David Åhlén: New Jerusalem

David Åhlén clearly isn't the most prolific composer working today: not only is his latest EP, New Jerusalem, the first release since the sublime We Sprout in Thy Soil appeared in mid-2009, its four songs add up to a mere dozen minutes of music. But, oh my, those twelve minutes are beautiful indeed. The Stockholm-based composer illuminates his material once again with his angelic voice, and it would be hard to imagine any listener exposed to the EP not immediately hungry for more of the same.

In terms of lyrical subject matter, the songs are devotional in nature (passages such as “There's a wind blowing / It's a new day / I see glory coming / New Jerusalem” bring the religious character into sharp relief) but anyone not of a religious persuasion shouldn't let that deter him/her from listening, as such material transcends personal affiliation. The title track's focus ison his haunting and tremulous voice, with the primary accompaniment acoustic guitar and, eventually, a subtly integrated bell chime. A gorgeous song of devotion and supplication, the lilting “He Gives” is elevated by backing Åhlén's singing with a pizzicatti pattern and a stirring string drone that sparkles ever more glowingly as the uplifting song nears its end. In contrast to the opening songs, “Vesper” exudes a darker character as Åhlén conveys the song's desperate tone in a lower pitch (“Everything's still / No voice is heard / I cling to you”). “Light Up My World,” by comparison, expresses calm and resolution, the singer assured of his creator's presence and finding comfort in his unwavering support (“Let me die in your arms / Take my hand and lead me there / to the other side”). Recorded in Örebro, Sweden, the songs' arrangements are uncluttered, with Åhlén's vocals and guitar playing augmented by Christoffer Wadensten's guitar and a string quartet (violinists Silvia Östersjö and Anna Braw, violist Niklas Karlsson, and cellist Alexander Lundberg), which in turn makes them all the more showcases for Åhlén's voice. It would be hard to imagine twelve minutes better spent.

June 2011