It makes some kind of perfect sense that Joe Dürbeck would title his fourth Hidden Shoal Jumpel album Bloc4, given the architectural association it invokes and the careful construction of a typical Jumpel track. Specifically, we're informed that the fifty-one-minute album centers on the “elevated yet lonely world of a tower block, each track poetically investigating its multi-faceted elements and spaces.”
A typical Jumpel instrumental is less characterized by narrative progression of the kind where a gradual exposition culminates in a grandiose climax; instead, it's more akin to a near-frozen landscape setting whose fascinating details come into clearer focus the longer the camera monitors the scene—things initially unnoticed gradually turn into focal points as perception shifts from one part of the image to another and as the camera slowly pans from side to side. That's especially the case during ambient-styled settings such as “Gaze at the Sky,” “Pool,” and “Corruption Corner” that seem tailor-made for self-reflection.
On this album, Jumpel's secret weapon is—aside from his own artful scene painting—vocalist Chloë March (with whom Dürbeck collaborated on “Edinburgh” from the Europa single), whose humanizing presence elevates every song on which she appears. Her sensual vocalizing acts as a dramatic counterpoint to Dürbeck's instrumental designs, which by comparison epitomize cool control. She wasn't simply brought in at the eleventh hour to add vocals to the tracks either; after presenting her with the album concept, Dürbeck invited her to select certain tracks and develop vocal ideas for them. Her soft, smoky delivery leaves a haunting impression when it first appears in “Appartment” and in the later “Flight,” a rare rhythm-heavy piece, and the hypnotic “Rook.” One of Bloc4's loveliest pieces is “Blue Ceiling,” which pairs a slow backing packed with percussion and warbly synthesizers (reminiscent of Eno's Music for Films or Another Green World) with an alluringly hushed vocal by March.
As memorable as the vocal pieces are, there are enticing instrumental moments, too. The flute-like melody wafting delicately through the quietly breezy “Monica's Room” exudes a mellotron quality that introduces an early prog dimension, while elegant piano playing acts as a stark contrast to alien ambient noises during “Floor 4.” Certain track titles suggest a strong programmatic dimension: filled as it is with tiny electronic noises, “Greenhouse” conjures the image of a humid, enclosed space filled with plant life, insects, and birds.Sans vocals, Jumpel's music plays like some distinctive merger of ambient, post-rock, and krautrock, with piano, guitar, bass, percussion, and electronics woven with great care and circumspection into polished miniatures. Melody abounds but it's deployed subtly and acts more as part of the overall fabric than as a focal point. Stated more generally, Dürbeck emphasizes intimacy and understatement in the album's fifteen meticulous constructions. On a commercial level, such an approach likely lessens his chances of making a huge splash, but artistically it pays off handsomely.