Musette: Datum
p*dis / Inpartmaint

Picture yourself on a walking tour of Paris and after three hours finding yourself trudging through Montmartre tired and hungry. Catching your breath on a park bench, you hear the sound of someone playing piano music that's prettier than anything you've heard in months, and closing your eyes you sense the music drift down from the open window of a nearby apartment—the pianist whistling along with his playing—to mix with the bucolic sounds of birds chirping and people talking. Sufficiently rested, you stay awhile longer, seduced by the melodic charms of the pianist, but ultimately move on, determined to complete your tour, only to find yourself humming the tunes that floated down to you hours earlier and that will continue to haunt you for days to come.

Such a scenario comes close to matching the experience one might have upon hearing Datum, the debut album by Musette aka Swedish artist Joel Danell that originally was released by Tona Serenad in early 2009 in Sweden and Japan and is now reissued by p*dis. That each of the album's fifteen pieces (one duplicated as a cassette version) is titled by date, indicative of Danell's tendency to treat his delicate musical vignettes like diary records, only makes the recording feel all the more personal (the compositions themselves, though recorded on cassette tapes on the dates indicated, were formally recorded in Blackeberg during January 2008). Sounds of the immediate environment are heard too, which also adds to the homemade character of recordings (bird sounds are plentiful, but a bicycle bell rings during “1 juni” and what sounds like cafe chatter inhabits the background of “15 oktober”). Though piano is a central instrument, it's not the only sound one hears. Danell's warbling whistle is often present, and so too are acoustic guitar, violin, dobro, and accordion. A typical arrangement will begin with piano alone, which Danell then fleshes out with additional instrumentation.

All such detail pales in significance next to the music itself, which is consistently lovely. Danell has an exceptional ear for melody, as the wistful themes running through these songs attest; pressed to name a kindred spirit, one likely would cite the French composer Yann Tiersen, who composed the Amélie score. Danell occasionally departs from the melancholic template with something like the high-spirited and breezy “18 juli,” which he animates with a jazzy swing, but more often than not the album is dominated by elegant balladry, of which there are countless examples. Put simply, Datum is an absolute joy from start to finish, and a collection to which one will be repeatedly drawn back.

April 2010