Christian Albrechsten: I Wish All My Songs Were About the Sea

I Wish All My Songs Were About the Sea shows twenty-five-year-old Christian Albrechtsen to not only be a preternaturally gifted composer with a unique voice but also a one-man Hilliard Ensemble. Albrechtsen is responsible for all of the sounds on the album's ten songs—accordion, melodica, guitar, drums, and programming plus gasometer (whatever that is) and kitchen gear—but its major drawing card is clearly his vocalizing. He layers his voice into intricate arrangements of counterpoint and polyphony in such a way that the instrument sounds often become supporting players to vocal arrangements Albrechsten delivers with an exuberance and passionate intensity that verges on ecstatic. Though no information is provided about his background, it certainly sounds as if Albrechsten, who grew up in the port city of Copenhagen, must have brought some formal education in compositional form to the project. Whether that's the case or not, the album clearly shows that he's a remarkably gifted individual of multiple talents.

The album is rooted in a concept of sorts that has the ocean functioning as a locus of vast power, as a lover, and even as a womb, and the songs' lyrics convey that clearly. But the listener can just as easily focus exclusively on the pure sonic dimension of the material and let the songs wash over him/her with no significant lessening of appreciation for Albrechsten's abilities. With his voice pitched in a high upper register, “Cripple” can't help but call to mind Sigur Rós's Jónsi Birgisson, even if there's little stylistically between Albrechsten and the group to indicate a whole lot else that's alike between them. He's clearly no shrinking violet, as a declamatory song such as “Set Foot in the Corridors” makes clear, but one thing Albrechsten might have done differently is to have included a song or two of less intensity to counterbalance the album's generally feverish tone. Much of it is pitched at the level of maximum intensity and that can grow exhausting, even shrill (e.g., “Get On Board”) over the course of the album, and the falsetto-gospel-soul style of the album closer “I Could Be Alive” also doesn't appeal as much as the other more formal pieces. The best songs are those that dial down the intensity and deemphasize the music's electronic dimension for something simpler and sonically more natural. Caveats aside, the album is still, in many respects, quite an achievement.

January 2011