Tobias Lilja: Delirium Portraits

It's been four years since Tobias Lilja's second album Time is on My Side appeared, so no one should be too surprised to hear that Delirium Portraits brings with it some changes. Most obviously, the new material finds Lilja adding a pronounced beat dimension to his song forms and vocal melodies, resulting in an idiosyncratic techno-pop hybrid. That combination becomes even more unusual when one factors in the gothic and macabre tone of his songwriting (in another's hands, the mood of “Birthday Cake” would be celebratory; in Lilja's, it's nightmarish).

It all adds up to a striking hour-long collection, where intricate set-pieces such as “North” (which Lilja animates with tight house rhythms) and “Love Song” (a dark torch song introduced by dramatic piano chords) seem to straddle both realms in equal manner. Without any compromise to its song-like structure, “Spineless” nevertheless includes mechano rhythms that gradually morph into a driving techno pulse, while “Birthday Cake” likewise works its initiating lope into a hard-edged slam. “No Death Star,” on the other hand, includes beat elements that hit so hard, the song could conceivably find its way into a raucous club mix—not the first context that comes to mind when the name Tobias Lilja is mentioned. The plodding closer “Morocco,” on the other hand, downplays beats and concentrates instead—during the closing moments especially—on Lilja's more symphonic side.

His distinctive vocalizing is present, as is his penchant for arrangements densely built up with pianos, synthesizers, and electronics, though now beat patterns form part of the mix. One of the album's most memorable pieces is also, at ten minutes, its longest: “These Bells,” a viral shoegaze-house number that unspools at a skin-crawling pace in its opening half and then jumps to attention when acidy beats kick in during the wobbly, rave-tinged second. There's an intensity about the hour-long album's sound that makes the presence of a brief piano-based instrumental, “Ellen's Theme,” all the more welcome, even if it too is rather foreboding in tone. Presumably the album title is meant to refer to its songs, but, being such a delirious self-portrait, it could just as aptly be used to apply to Lilja himself.

October 2011