Stafrænn Hákon: Prammi
North Atlantic Drift: Monuments
North Atlantic Drift's Monuments makes a compelling case for Toronto, Ontario as a current hotbed for electronic music of multiple kinds rather than just dance music. The brainchild of Mike Abercrombie (formerly operating under the name Transits of Mercury) and Brad Deschamps (former member of now-defunct post-rock band Epigram), the group traffics in a kind of luscious ambient-soundscaping style that wouldn't sound out of place on labels such as Hibernate and Home Normal. After meeting in 2011, the two quickly began making music, resulting in the debut album Canvas, issued in March 2012, as well as a single-track ambient EP titled Scholars Of Time Travel.
Listening to the second North Atlantic Drift album (issued on Athens, Greece-based Sound In Silence in a limited-edition run of 200 handmade copies), the listener is hard pressed not to roll out the usual reference points, especially when a piece such as the title track possesses the church-like grandeur of a typical Stars of the Lid or Boards of Canada piece. Press text also likens North Atlantic Drift's music to Helios and Slow Dancing Society, and those references aren't far off the mark either. Think melodic electronic settings graced by chiming guitar and shimmering synth textures, and embellished by piano, glockenspiel, samples, field recordings, and processed percussion sounds and you're on your way to imagining what the forty-six-minute release sounds like.
Though Monuments exudes quality from start to finish, “Scholars of Time Travel (part 2)” stands out as a particularly impressive example of the duo's songcraft. The longest of the release's eight tracks (the elegiac closer “So Long As They Fear Us” is only available on the physical release), the piece receives a strong boost from a one-two combination of stately piano playing and uplifting guitar figures. At times, the music exudes a bit of a post-rock character, too, such as during “I Have Never Seen the Light” when a plodding drum beat gives the track a dramatic quality typical of the genre. Don't let the fact that North Atlantic Drift's music shares certain qualities with other bands turn you off, as Monuments holds up perfectly well, no matter how much it might invite comparison to an act like Helios.
Another recent Sound In Silence release sees Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Stafrænn Hákon (real name Olafur Josephsson) issuing his seventh full-length, Prammi, after a three-year break between albums (available in a second-run pressing of 200 after the first 300-copy edition sold out). Stafrænn Hákon music has appeared on multiple labels since 1999, among them Darla, Resonant, Nature Bliss, Happy Prince, and Josephsson's own Vogor Recordings, while Josephsson has collaborated over the years with artists such as Efterklang and Greg Haines.
“Saltvatn” is certainly a good way to start an album, especially when its high spirits are conveyed via sparkling instrumental means. At this initial stage, post-rock appears to be the general style, though the wistful second song, “Klump,” nudges the Stafrænn Hákon sound into melodic alt-pop territory when it combines feathery vocal with electric guitar fuzz. The album assumes the form of a travelogue of sorts, with its thirteen songs alternating between vocal pop settings, ambient meditations, and post-rock instrumentals during the fifty-seven-minute trip. The lines separating the styles typically blur, however, with the major difference often being nothing more than the presence or absence of vocals on a given track. Even when singing's present, such as in “The Son,” for example, the song builds in intensity in a manner emblematic of post-rock.
Prammi's sonic palette is rich, as Josephsson augments his foundation of electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and drums with synths, glockenspiel, cello, banjo, trombone, and other sounds. A country-folk vibe sometimes seeps into the material, too, in not unwelcome manner. It's especially evident in songs such as “Hoff” and “Rækjuháls” where the arrangements are at least partially acoustic and where banjo and mandolin appear amidst electric guitar jangle and soft, multi-layered vocals.
Josephsson intersperses pure ambient-drone soundscaping exercises (“A Personal Voyage to Meat Planet,” “Passage,” “Dufthani”) at generally strategic points on the disc—the exception being “Wait,” whose seven minutes of industrial-drone murmur ends the album on a bit of a down note. That caveat notwithstanding, Prammi registers as a largely satisfying and well-rounded collection that hits its mark most memorably during its vocal songs and to a slightly lesser degree its post-rock instrumentals; credible though they are, the pace-arresting ambient settings aren't the pieces one will remember most after the album's over.