Down, the third Calder album by Icelandic duo Ólafur Josephsson (aka Stafrænn Hákon) and Lárus Sigurðsson, came together in classic collaborative fashion: the two initiated the process in 2013 by recording harps created by instrument-maker Sigurðsson; he then passed on to Josephsson acoustic songs for sweetening with electric elements, and slowly the album began to take shape. As much of a collaborative venture as Calder is, Sigurðsson and Josephsson aren't averse to bringing others aboard, with in this case Fred Boulter (organ, piano), Clair Quille (strings), and soprano Laura Wolfgang helping to bring the eleven-song album to life.
Though the Calder members play a number of different instruments on the release, guitar is a central element, a detail that in itself isn't surprising given that Sigurðsson has issued guitar-based ambient material as a solo artist and Josephsson has produced ambient guitar music outside of Calder. What we get, then, on Down are melodic, electro-acoustic instrumentals heavy in piano, strings, harp, voice, and, obviously, guitar; the inclusion of harp not only helps give the recording distinguishing character, it also enhances its prettiness.
“The Hand of the Little Horn” is but one of many beguiling settings, in this case a somewhat post-rock-styled production that sees organ and piano blending with harp, electric guitar, and drums to transporting effect. Atmospheric in the extreme, “The Hand of the Little Horn,” “Hyena,” and “Children of Eye” even add a bit of a ‘50s vibe to the project in emphasizing the guitar's twanging side.
Emoting wordlessly, Wolfgang's lovely voice and Quille's rustic fiddle add much to the already sparkling dreamscape “Kunderbuffer,” but it's hardly the only time such entrancement occurs, as shown by the inclusion of reveries bucolic (“Stool”), plaintive (“Hyena”), and wistful (“You Should Dream”). When I think of Iceland, I think of a generally cold locale, but there's nothing chilly about Down. Its warmth and uplifting spirit make it a very inviting place to visit indeed.