Osso Bucco/Ljudbilden & Piloten: s/t

Essentially a split CD, this self-titled outing from Nosordo artists Osso Bucco (Gregg Kowalsky) and Ljudbilden & Piloten (Kristofer Ström) combines four tracks from Kowalsky with five by Ström. It makes for an interesting pairing as their styles are complementary yet contrasting too. Presently based in Barcelona, Kowalsky enriches his ambient constructions of processed guitar and piano sounds with field recordings, while Ström's more conventional approach focuses on bucolic song stylings.

As Osso Bucco inhabits similar sonic territory to Fennesz and to a lesser degree Oval, Kowalsky's music isn't unique but the quality of the material compensates for that lack. A case in point is “Smelling Limes In Winter” which begins with thrumming, dulcimer-like pluckings through which a central drone rises. In place of a clearly discernible melody, the piece evolves glacially with fuzzy smears, distorted shards, and industrial buzzing constellating around the drone. Kowalsky typically eschews dissonance and cacophony for a warmer, more peaceful effect. “Carrying Pebbles In Our Pockets” is dominated by soft crackles and muffled tones that gently surge like incoming waves; “Sucking Limes Summertime: An Epiphany” is similarly evocative as its static-laden emissions resemble a night-time pond of call-and-answer croaks, although they're gradually overwhelmed by a fuzzy layer of noise that swallows everything in its path.

Ström's Ljudbilden & Piloten tracks hew to a folktronic style reminiscent of Greg Davis and to a lesser degree Wechsel Garland. There's a minimal degree of electronic processing, if any at all, with the focus firmly upon traditional instruments. Like Kowalsky, Ström incorporates field recordings, most conspicuously on “Balcony For Beating Carpets” which evokes an image of musicians practicing in some rehearsal space with city noises (like a car horn) intruding from outside. Becalmed sounds of electric piano, bass, acoustic guitars, and soft trumpet tones appear at a tempo that's so relaxed it's almost asleep. With its bucolic theme and acoustic guitar picking, the Davis connection emerges most strongly on “Dictionary Of One-Letter Words” which could just as easily have appeared on Curling Pond Woods. The song is enhanced by the melodica accents plus wordless vocals by Julia Persson that generally merge into the background. Even stronger is the exotic “Domesticated Animals” whose melancholy acoustic guitar theme, especially when joined by trumpet and melodica, is irresistibly pretty. The song surprisingly segues into a sparse, moodier coda that spotlights dramatic muted trumpet playing.

Whoever decided to collect the artists' tracks onto a single release made a wise decision as the listener's overall impression is strengthened by their co-presence. Beyond that, however, while grouping the Osso Bucco tracks first and the Ljudbilden & Piloten second makes it easier to appreciate the music of one distinct from the other, a more unified and hence stronger album experience would have resulted had the artists' tracks alternated. That album sequencing is the singular significant weakness is a clear indication of the recording's overall quality.

September 2004