David Åhlén: Selah

The inclusion of songs such as “New Jerusalem” and “Jesuselectricity” and the repeated references to Jesus and spirit confirm that David Åhlén's Selah (on his own Mishkan label) is as devotional in character as its predecessor, 2009's We Sprout in Thy Soil. But even the most fervent atheist would do well to set aside his/her convictions so as to allow the Stenkumla, Gotland-based composer's music—and his singing especially—to work its bewitching magic. Put simply, his fragile voice is ineffably beautiful, and though the album is a mere twenty-six minutes in length, they're some of the most soul-stirring twenty-six minutes you'll hear in this or any other year. A small number of guest musicians enhance the nine reverential meditations with sprinkles of grand piano, zither, vocals, and percussion, but the main attraction is, of course, the leader's unearthly falsetto.

The opener “Linger” is arguably the loveliest setting, though it's far from the only one. Still, hearing Åhlén's delicate, high-pitched singing joined by Timbre's harp strums and angelic background voice makes for a heavily match. Slightly darker in tone is “New Jerusalem,” where Åhlén's haunting delivery is augmented by his own acoustic guitar picking, Andreas Eklöf's zither, and Peter Stolpestad's chimes. With lyrics credited to King David, “Ps 27” needs little more than Åhlén's voice in order to captivate, even if its acoustic guitar strums and accompanying piano, zither, and tam-tam accents help the piece make the strong impression that it does. David is joined by Ester Åhlén on vocals for the hushed reverie “Be Still,” while “On the Verge” loses none of its haunting power when, in a rare moment, Åhlén sings in a lower register. Selah's songs are all in the two- to three-minute range but, needless to say, are mesmerizing despite their brevity.

November 2013