Jumpel: Europa
Hidden Shoal

If Europa isn't quite a whirlwind tour around the world in eighty days, it's at the very least a journey through Europe in forty-five minutes—and very much a scenic one at that. It's the third Jumpel collection from Jo Dürbeck, arriving as it does after his 2007 debut album Samuel Jason Lies On The Beach and 2009 follow-up Deuxième Bureau. An attempt to distill personal memories of eleven European locations into an ambient electronica suite, the concept driving the new release is an inspired one that affords a marvelous opportunity for dramatic sound exploration. Each piece is like a mini-portrait that more evokes the locale indirectly than tries to literally represent it, and the project as a whole imprints itself surreptitiously on the listener's mind.

Unlike many a journey that begins in a state of anxiety and haste, “Arles” eases the listener into the recording on a becalmed note, with string figures and echoing dabs of vibes intoning against a soft rhythmic pitter-patter. An arresting weave of unusual samples—scurrying and scraping noises among them—adds an ear-catching dimension to the slow and steady unfurl of “Venedig,” and the album begins to live up to its thematic promise when “Rom” appears, armed as it is with a dreamily cinematic aura that places the wide-eyed visitor at the center of a majestic locale. A spoken voiceover and ride cymbals infuse“Madrid” with dramatic portent, and the piece grows in intensity when the collective sounds swell to a near-shoegaze pitch for a few moments. An Eastern Eurpoean feel seeps into “Mailand” due to the clarinet motif and strings that insistently ebb and flow, and the travelogue dimension of the recording is rendered explicit when “Koeln” ends the album with traces of intercom announcements, traffic noise, and rain drizzle woven in amongst the song's musical elements.

At times, Jumpel's characteristic restraint—so generally laudable a trait in an era of overkill—can be his undoing, something that makes what could be a potentially evocative track (e.g., “Bern”) quickly fade from memory when its four minutes are up. Immediately thereafter, a subtly funky spirit infuses “Stockholm” with some much needed energy, though even here a more aggressive handling of the song would make it have a more lasting impression. As pretty as it is, the becalmed “Lissabon” likewise suggests a traveler lulled to sleep by a train's movements. The album's most memorable track is “Edinburgh,” on account of a simple yet memorable set of piano chords and especially a luminous vocal performance by Chloë March. The song stands out so much, in fact, it suggests Dürbeck would be wise to consider featuring a greater number of vocal performances on future Jumpel recordings. Broached as a whole, Europa plays less like the experience of a first-time sightseer excited by the prospect of seeing the usual tourist sights and more like a long-time visitor who regards the journey as a time for reflection and melancholic rumination.

April 2011