Squares On Both Sides: Indication
Own Records

Squares On Both Sides' Indication is a bundle of contradictions: the songs are instrumentally sparse yet nevertheless expansive; they're low-key but haunting; laid-back yet stately; and, at thirty-nine minutes, the album's modest, even slight, by conventional CD standards yet grows on you after repeated listens. Squares On Both Sides is the guise worn by twenty-six-year-old Daniel Buerkner, a neo-singer-songwriter based in Munich and Berlin who assembles his home-recorded tracks from acoustic and electric guitars, harmonium, piano, melodica, glockenspiel, music box, drum machine, and vocals, the latter so fragile they seem to whisper into your ear, as if designed to serenade you to sleep (the songs are also augmented by splashes of electronic colour and field recordings). Indication, the third Squares On Both Sides album, offers a calming mix of intimate folk-ballads (characterized in the liner notes as “composed, performed, and sewn” by Buerkner) and downtempo instrumentals.

“Pripyat,” its title a reference to the now-abandoned city that was home to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers, immediately establishes the haunting character of the album, with Buerkner's penchant for arresting couplets (e.g., “The fabrication of a certain smell / surrounds like a curtain or a shell”) here and elsewhere lending the songs a short story-like quality. In the album's most melodically rich pieces (“Author” the strongest, melodically speaking), particular phrases stay with you (“Pripyat, you keep calling out for me”). Instrumental touches contribute significantly to the music's impact, such as percussion that resembles a horse's hooves in “Kitsune” and the glockenspiel-piano duet that appears in “Author.” “The Lines We Seize” includes a lovely instrumental middle section whose combination of acoustic guitar, piano, melodica, and (what sounds like) banjo seems almost symphonic in this scaled-down context. The instrumental “Temples 1” augments field recording sounds from a Kyoto temple market with acoustic sounds, while “Temples 2” pairs glockenspiel tinkles and melodica wheeze with piano, acoustic guitar, and the rustic bow of a violin. Yasuhiko Fukuzono (aka aus) guests on the final piece (“Telegraphy”) but in truth there's no major break in style from the songs created by Buerkner alone, something that says more about the full sound he manages to create on his own than any lack on Fukuzono's part.

February 2009