The opener to Piramida (4AD) starts with the sound of icy water drops hitting the back wall of the world’s most lonesome cave. At least, that’s what it seems like Efterklang was going for. The sound is more likely just the result of Mads Brauer smacking a marimba in a heated recording studio in Denmark, but the image still fits.
Piramida was born out of the band visiting an abandoned mining island out in the Svalbard archipelago. After capturing several field recordings there while staring at blankets of ash, this experience dotted by silent periods of frowning, they returned to the studio and pumped out what I am assuming is an attempt at a lush downer masterpiece.
Now I have to be honest: I have no idea if they frowned on the island. I also don’t know if they stared at blankets of ash. But I do know this: when you announce that your record was inspired by your visits to a Russian ghost town, and you throw field recordings of that visit into the whole of the record, you’re giving me room to imagine the island. You’re giving me carte blanche to walk a mile in your soot-addled shoes.
Let’s play a game.
In “Hollow Mountain” the band gets trapped inside of a dilapidated coal mine while searching for the purest sound. Water drips, and the band rhythmically pounds against the walls hoping to grab anyone’s attention. A ghost shrieks like an unnecessary string section, surprising no one. Vocalist Casper Clausen tries to shout in fear, but due to a fleck of coal lodged in his throat, he can only monotonously drone at speaking level (a malady that only vanishes during the seventh song, “Black Summer”).
The band finds a primitive map carved into the cave’s walls that guides them out with a brief treatise on “Melody as Foreground in Pop Music.” The band eats their yellowed clippings of Nigel Godrich interviews for sustenance. They sleep outside, all dreaming about a spy thriller set inside of a K-Mart in the 1980s. They all wake up and simultaneously utter the word “Apples” (the second track).
The band plods along methodically across the wasteland pleading for reverb where there is none. Magically a spirit guide in a faded ’90s-issued Portishead shirt appears to grant them their one wish, and suddenly even the tiniest of sounds is washed out in “Cathedral-Preset” glory. The band celebrates by chanting “oooooooooh” while kicking a series of buckets down a concrete stairwell. This lasts for the length of approximately three songs. No exclamation points are needed in describing anything here, literally or figuratively.
“Remember,” says the spirit guide, “Background is Foreground, and vice-versa. Remember the Joshua Trees in those U2 Corbijn photos? That’s your rhythm section..ooooo I’m aaaah ghoooost.”
“The Ghost” fades back into the ether, and suddenly the sky isn’t stuck on midnight anymore. The sun comes up, briefly, and suddenly it’s “Black Summer.” A brass band’s wail dislodges the coal from Clausen’s throat. The drummer taps on a crockpot with a spoon reminding all that they’ve got to “sing for their supper” to get the kind of budget it takes to go on this adventure. A song forms. Its edges are visible and it is distinctly noticeable through the growing fog that envelopes the land. The band fears this kind of distinction, wishing to not be noticed, and they run back into the fog.
Sighing and deflating.
Just another part of the landscape.