Review of Sart [12k1042]

Stylus (US)

On first listen, Sart is everything an American would expect from a Norwegian ambient duo: The compositions are spacious, guitars are transformed into alien frequencies, ghostly rhythms emerge out of thin air, and carefully placed found sounds offset the electronic instrumentation. All of these elements appease the traditional Western view of Nordic countries, evoking images of bleak and desolate hinterlands and the post-modern depressives who inhabit them. In other words, we have come to expect our high-minded Scandinavians to create art in the vein of Ingmar Bergman rather than ABBA. But even though Pjusk’s sound is miles removed from the joyous pop of that Swedish quartet, it shares a worldly sensibility that frees itself from Norway’s imposing geographical stereotypes and the expectations placed on its “serious” musicians.

The album begins with the click of a reel-to-reel tape recorder and the slow build of ambient textures, comprising the first and longest piece, “Tander.” The gurgling loops and hi-pitched squeals settle into a groove that quickly dissolves into an arrhythmic stream of sound. Over the course of seven-and-a-half minutes, Pjusk delicately morphs and manipulates tones and textures into a surprisingly lucid and coherent statement. “Tander” is the high point of Sart, and though many of the other tracks rival its quality, none are given as much breathing room to develop.

Throughout the record, Pjusk draws from a wide palate of genres with varying degrees of success. “Anelse” and “Myk” are wonderfully crafted compositions that owe a clear debt to more ambient-leaning krautrock bands like Harmonia and Tangerine Dream—in particular, the electric guitar recalls Harmonia’s (and Neu!’s) Michael Rother. Pjusk also introduces elements of dub and jazz into the sterile electronic landscapes. “Flyktig” builds upon a pulsating bass loop, providing an organic counterpoint to the detached micro-percussion, while the jabbing beats on “Stadig” add much needed stability to the droning crescendo of synthesizers. These surprising juxtapositions are what make Pjusk’s music exciting, but they come too rarely. Instead, the duo often falls back on a predictable sequence of inoffensive textures and tones.

“Rim” is a case in point. Its sappy acoustic guitar refrain devastates the austerity established in the earlier portions of the album—quickly dissolving the music’s narrative thread. Sequencing problems and abbreviated composition lengths also serve to disrupt the general cohesion of the record. Electronic music, and ambient albums in particular, are hypersensitive to pacing and song length. The continuity of Eno’s seminal Discreet Music is what made the composition such an overwhelming success compared to the more disjointed and tedious On Land. Pjusk could learn a thing or two from their forefather’s discography and flesh out their abbreviated ideas into cohesive blocks of sound.

Sart is an accomplished debut from a duo that is just beginning to realize their musical strengths and potential. Their oblique incorporation of disparate musical genres into an ambient framework is what allows them to transcend the traditional canon of Scandinavian soundscapes. With discipline, and fearless exploration of Sart’s scattered brilliance, Pjusk has the tools to create a truly innovative record that heretically challenges the established maxims of Nordic ambient music.

View Release