Tobias Lilja: Medicine Sings Triptych
More Radiohead than Richie Hawtin, Tobias Lilja's Medicine Sings Triptych combines three 2015-issued EPs into a seventy-minute long-player. Issued on his own Medicine Songs imprint, it's the fourth formal full-length release from the Malmö, Sweden resident and arrives after two albums on the Oakland-based imprint n5MD, 2007's Time Is On My Side and 2011's Delirium Portraits. Medicine Sings Triptych finds Lilja's atmospheric music assuming an often brooding and dark form, and in a few tracks an industrial-gothic quality arises.
One of the things that separates Lilja from others operating in the electronic music field is his prominent use of vocals. His singing first appeared on Time Is On My Side and has developed since then into an ever-more prominent part of his music. If the new material sounds fuller and richer, it may have something to do with the fact all of it was recorded at a soundproof studio space he acquired after taking a job in 2011 as an audio designer for the video game studio Tarsier Studios (his studio had previously been set up in his apartment). The album's expansive soundworld also can be attributed to an enhanced setup that has enabled Lilja to work new hardware synthesizers, vintage reverb technologies, and acoustic percussion elements into the album's production.
The opening “Medicine Sings” at first hints that it will be a throbbing techno number, but the inclusion of Lilja's vocalizing, initially wordless, gives it first a shamanistic quality (something eventually bolstered by his recommendation that we should “let the drum talk [and] leave it all to medicine”) and then, once the vocals proper come in, a rather macabre gothic-industrial-electronic vibe. As also occurs in the material that follows, Lilja straddles two worlds in the piece, on the one hand vocal-based songwriting and on the other dark club music. In the greater majority of cases, the former gains the upper hand, though there a few cuts tailor-made for the underground dance locale. The doom-laden vocal setting “How to Attract Snowflakes” harks back to the era of ‘80s synthpop balladry, but not everything is so song-oriented, as the creepy instrumental soundscape “In the Dead Zone” clearly demonstrates. To these ears, the strongest track is “There is No Other,” a bruising club-driven cut that powers strong vocal hooks with an industrial, dub-inflected howl. It's perhaps the track that most convincingly blends Lilja's vocal melody and dance music sides into a singular, seamless statement.
Lilja shows a meticulous attention to detail in these ten productions (the closing track is a remix of “Frozen Lake” by Hecq), and one gets the impression that he invested great care in crafting each one into its own self-contained entity. The slow-building “Frozen Lake,” for instance, ultimately stands out less for its entrancing vocal lines than the synthesizer swarms that repeatedly ricochet across the track's gleaming surfaces and trance-tribal groove. In addition, the wheeze of Anna Moberg's harmonium adds to the hypnotic allure of “Sun-Eater,” even if the instrument's sound is eventually overwhelmed by the song's prog-like dramatics, while a harmonica, of all things, blows across the wailing tundra of “Flaming Mouth.”