- Mon, 2011-05-23 17:25
Well-known and popular in their homeland of Denmark, four-piece When Saints Go Machine are relatively unknown elsewhere. A recent EP, Fail Forever, served to raise their profile to a degree, but it is their forthcoming debut album Konkylie that seems destined to bring them to wider attention.
Signed to the predominantly dance-oriented label !k7, When Saints Go Machine meld characteristics of that world with a range of elements from mainstream indie and pop, as well as more avant-garde musical forms. These disparate musical building blocks come together to form a unique sound that is rich in texture and capable of being in turns both obscure and accessible while remaining constantly pleasing to the ear.
At its most straightforward the album recalls both the current trend of house-inflected indie and the eighties electro-pop that informs some of that movement. Parix, for example, recalls the work of artists like Memory Tapes and Caribou, its hand-claps, bass synths and chiming chorus creating a relaxed but compelling groove over which lead-singer Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild sings an irresistible hook in his quavering, Anthony Hegarty-esque vocals. Kelly, on the other hand is a jaunty, falsetto-vocalled slice of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark-style synth-pop.
These two tracks are by far the most direct of a predominantly unconventional bunch. Almost half of the duration of opening track Konkylie features nothing more than Vonsild singing in a bizarre quasi-yodel, before an oriental-sounding melody arrives and ushers in a dramatic mini-symphony composed of fluttering backing vocals and a subtle organ, both doused in reverb. Closing track Add Ends is a similarly adventurous piece, equally symphonic in terms of its metamorphic structure, but much fuller in its instrumentation. Heavily influenced by Arthur Russell – and with a hint of Venetian Snares’ Rossz Csillag Alatt Szultett – it makes bold use of sharply-bowed cellos and pizzicato strings, mirroring their melodies in synthesized chimes that dance around Vonsild’s expressive vocals. The results are utterly unique and starkly beautiful.
Elsewhere the brush-strokes are less broad. The Same Scissors brings the shuffling electronica of Air to mind, filtered through the dreamy, down-tempo dance of bands like Keep Shelley In Athens, while the gently drifting On The Move handles its eighties references in a similar manner to Twin Shadow. Whoever Made You Still is similarly low-key, and uses the same range of sounds as those tunes just mentioned alongside the strings that appear elsewhere on the album to create a strangely surreal musical story that even has hints of Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf to it.
Few albums can provoke such a broad range of comparisons as Konkylie, and even less can call to mind such disparate sources and yet maintain both a sonic thread and a distinct character of their own. When Saints Go Machine, however, achieve just this. In drawing on so diverse a collection of sounds, and with such a masterful ability to make of them something new and original, they have created an album that is utterly unique and endlessly rewarding.