Between the expansive ambient of labels like Type and Miasmah and the sinister, looping minimalism on which 12k cut its teeth lie Pjusk. The Norwegian duo of Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik knows from Plastikman and Sahko, but can’t quite commit to that sort of foreboding headspace. Instead, they give their techno ample breathing room, to the point where the recursive danger of the beat can get lost within pleasant, melodic textures.
Their closest analogue in my mind is Per Henrik Svalastog, who, as a member of Information and as a solo performer, improbably renders cold electronics and acoustic samples into palatable rhythmic patterns. In pushing beyond even Svalastog’s accessibility, Pjusk risk crafting albums that fall into a sort of bland, easy-listening experimentalism. Those who want placid and inviting could stick to Type, the rhythmic heads could dive into 12k’s early years, and everyone could go home happy. Fortunately, Pjusk’s compositions contain enough rigor to keep things interesting. At their best, their tracks sound like drowsy takes on Torsten Prufrock’s Various Artists project: the crystalline surfaces barely cover the caverns of echo.
With Sval, Pjusk delve deeper into the sedate than they did with their debut Sart, with somewhat mixed results. Together, the opening tracks “Valldal” and “Sus” are the best work the duo has done to date. The Badalamenti tones of “Valldal” slowly but insistently shift, yet never build into obvious crescendos. All of the energy is trapped, and the ostensible relief of “Sus” only further complicates. Instead of providing momentum or expanding the palette, its beat drop is a nasty, claustrophobic pulse, with dubbed melodies straight out of the experimental side of the mid-90s Djax catalog. The abstract, rhythmic, and melodic elements all feed off of each other, and it’s really stunning how Pjusk never come close to softening the edge.
As a statement of purpose, these two tracks are hard to top. The production is quality throughout the album, but save for some wonderfully processed vocal work on “Dis,” there aren’t many more surprises in store, and the dark tension of the opener doesn’t appear again until the penultimate track, “Skodde.” It’s the closest thing to dub techno here, but it’s shot through with extraordinary patience. Less restrained producers might allow the semi-jarring, high-pitched tones to really bring things home, but Pjusk simply embed them within the larger rhythmic mass.
Though Sval is a bit inconsistent, it’s worth noting that few producers are even attempting to do what Pjusk do. It’s an immensely tricky balancing act, and they frequently pull it off. They swing for the fences, and that in itself makes Sval worth listening to.
By Brad LaBonte