Review of Sval [12k1059]

The Silent Ballet (.COM)

Of all the Scandinavian countries, Sweden probably has the greatest musical hold over the world. Rock, instrumental, indie, electro, and pop are all heavily represented by the Swedes, and they leave their neighbors trailing in their wake. That’s not to say other Scandinavian countries don’t have their own musical influences to pass onto the world – Iceland (instrumental), Finland (metal), and Denmark (indie) all have recognized world wide artists, while Norway actually eclipses Sweden in the world of electronica: Todd Terje, Lindstrøm, Erlend Øye, Casiokids, Annie, Polar, Röyksopp, Prins Thomas, and Ralph Myerz are practically royalty in the genre and various sub genres they inhabit. It is within this context that the emergence of Pjusk must be considered, although, unlike its contemporaries, clubs in Bergen and Oslo will not be playing its music. Instead, Pjusk strikes a chord for the Norwegian ambient scene, a genre lacking representation despite Norway’s electronica prowess.

Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik began their musical partnership with 2007’s Sval, released on Taylor Duepree’s highly influential 12k imprint, which garnered a significant amount of critical acclaim for its heavily textured ambience. In light of this, the duo’s new album, Sval (also on 12k), bears a lot of anticipation, which it falls just short of meeting. As with all ambient/drone releases, it is necessary to judge Sval as one whole composition rather than a collection of disparate tracks – the flow, coherence, and overall feeling it transmits to the listener is more important than isolated moments. Pjusk achieves coherence throughout, and Sval feels complete, joined together as a whole piece rather than different segments. The sixty four-minute run time passes by almost unnoticed, which is quite a feat for an album of such length. However, part of the reason for this is that Sval often meanders along doing very little at all – this isn’t part of a subtle build up, but rather great swathes of nothingness, and we could just as easily turn down the music and listen to the hum of our computers. There’s a lack of emotive feeling throughout these pieces, leaving the listener unable to connect to the music, a vital factor in the success of Stars of the Lid, Hammock, Tim Hecker, et al. Fortunately, Sval also contains moments where emotive feeling is at the forefront, and it is here that the album begins to carve its own space.

Whether it is during the vocal harmonies of “Glimt,” the distorted climax of “Skodde,” the glitching piano in “Dis,” or the nostalgic Board of Canada synth lines of “Skygge,” Pjusk is adept at creating deep, rich, resonating textures. There’s a warmth that exudes throughout Sval, but one that is elegiac and glacial, echoing the landscape that inspires the duo. Sval is not just confined to ambience and drone, and in the movements where Pjusk expands its sound, from IDM, dub, and minimal, it highlights a production quality very few artists can match. Though inconsistent and at times forgettable, as a complete work Sval is an intriguing and engaging listen, often capable of transporting the listener to another world. For that alone, it is worth the perseverance.

-James Ould

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