To the growing list of distinctive artists from Scandinavia, a region of seemingly boundless musical treasures these days, add Denmark’s Efterklang, a 10-piece ensemble that recently released one of the finest electronic albums of this—or any year. The literal meaning of “efterklang” is after noise, but the word can be more loosely translated as “remembrance”—an evocative term more fitting for the contemplative vibe and elegantly mournful vocals on Tripper, their debut album. Choral passages compete for the listener’s attention with hushed male-female harmonies, subtle brass, restrained orchestration and lush electronic sounds; the fact that they all blend together seamlessly is a testament to the group’s remarkably focused aesthetic. Responding by e-mail, Rasmus Stolberg, one of Efterklang’s founding members, considered the question of the group’s arrangements.
“I would say that the blend occurs as a natural result of our curiosity about new musical elements that we discover along the way,” said Stolberg. “We thought that it was important to use real strings and choirs instead of synths. Also, the musicians in this band are from very different musical backgrounds, so I guess this has an effect, as well. We experiment a lot in the studio. During the making of Tripper we decided out of curiosity to add a lot of elements that were unknown to us at the time. It was a combination of having fun and wanting to know what would happen if, for instance, we added the choir from Greenland. In that sense you could say the blend came naturally.”
Are songs written out by the band members in advance, or are they created in the studio?
“A tune usually starts out on the computer as a simple loop or a beat, sometimes as a more well-defined sketch. Usually it is one or two individuals who play around with the session in the beginning. Then later on, the rest of the band joins in the arrangement of the piece. The decision of when a song is finished is very difficult for us. We have no good answers to that, we just try to follow our intuition.”
Efterklang formed in 2001 when Stolberg joined Mads Brauer and Casper Clausen and, augmented by the accomplished piano playing of Rune Mølgaard Fonseca and Thomas Kirirath Husmer’s percussion, they released an EP, Springer, on their own label. Horn players have since been added, as well as members of Iceland’s Amina string quartet. The evolved sound layering on Tripper, which includes passages of classical minimalism, looped bleeps and drones, and an otherwordly ambience, calls to mind a range of artists from Philip Glass and Steve Reich on one hand, to Icelandic comrades Mum and Sigur Rós, who certainly walk the same stylistic terrain.
“A lot of artists influence us, and still do,” said Stolberg. “We’ve always tried to stick to our own way of doing things, but…we do listen to and discuss a lot of music, and this of course affects our work. Mum are from Iceland, and we have known their music for a long time; it’s great, especially the first two records. If the influences are obvious, there’s probably something about it. And indeed there are more influences than those mentioned. Among those are: Einstürzende Neubauten, Under Byen, Opiate, Autechre, A Silver Mount Zion, Mouse on Mars. Lots more.”
Although Efterklang fit comfortably in a discussion of modern electronica with classical leanings (which the U.S. group Rachels are also noted for), there’s a uniquely Scandinavian etherealness to their sound, exemplified by the intimate vocals and glacial ambience. One can’t help wondering if there’s a common thread to many of these bands, something to explain the yearning emotionality of the music, despite whatever modern recording tricks or instrumentation they use.
“I don’t really know,” said Stolberg. “It probably has something to do with the weather. All the Scandinavians have those long and dark winters in common, and this could explain the emotional thing you are talking about. But then again, Scandinavia also produced acts like Aqua, Abba, and Ace of Bace, so we really don’t know.”
Tripper is set to be a substantial success for Efterklang; the reviews have been uniformly positive. But Stolberg says the band are keeping very busy, doing anything but resting on their laurels.
“We will play concerts in the spring and summer in Europe. As it looks now, we are not going to the States, although that could be great fun. After the summer, we’ll start work on a new record, and that means that we will isolate ourselves in the studio for a while. Our biggest hope for the future is to make a great second record, for release in 2006.”
Kevin Renick is Editor-at-Large for PlaybackSTL.