Review of Sval [12k1059]

Textura (CA)

It’s fitting that the first sounds one hears on Sval is water dribbling and cold winds blowing, given how much Norwegian weather and landscape infuse the music Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik have produced under the Pjusk name since the project began in 2005; in fact, while both hail from small villages along the west coast of Norway, they create their Pjusk music in a cabin high up in the snow-covered mountains. Listeners familiar with Biosphere’s releases and the Glacial Movements catalogue might be inclined to draw parallels between their works and Pjusk’s, and doing so wouldn’t be unreasonable.

Sval, Pjusk’s follow-up to its debut album Sart, offers a sixty-five-minute excursion into textural ambient soundscaping. After “Valldal” establishes the recording’s mood with ice-cold tones and shivering exhalations, a subtle hint of IDM-related beatsmithing lends understated propulsion to “Sus.” But Sval is light years removed from being a ‘dance’ album (even if Dahl Gjelsvik has roots in the early-‘90s techno scene). Pjusk’s focus is on using deep atmosphere and micro-textures to conjure mental images first of all, with beat patterns present as an integral but hardly dominant part of the overall design. “Demring” oozes a wooziness characteristic of someone hallucinating deliriously after prolonged exposure to the frozen outdoors, and an occasional natural sound pierces the arctic stillness, as when the bright whistle of a flute appears amidst the brooding crackle and thrum of “Skygge,” when soft vocal interjections and splashes of piano surface during “Dis,” and when the unexpected groan of an acoustic bass punctuates the thick ambiance of “Skumring.”

“Glimt” might be the best example of Pjusk’s particular art on Sval, seeing as how it so deftly merges subtle traces of acoustic sounds with electronic elements. The gauzy whisper of an alto saxophone seems to appear every few moments, just loudly enough to penetrate the hazy blur of whistling washes and near-subliminal beat throb. Theirs is clearly a subtle artistry, the kind easy to underappreciate for being so relatively reserved when so much other music, ambient or otherwise, is overstated by comparison. Describing it as a near-perfect exemplar of soundtrack music could be construed as a criticism, but it’s not. Pjusk’s music blends all of its constitutive elements so carefully into a balanced whole that no one element stands out to too great a degree, and consequently the material assumes its force through the vivid scene-paintings it produces in the listener’s mind.

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