March 31, 2009
US CD Killer Pimp PIMPK010
Thomas Ekelund - all music and artwork
Recorded December 2005-March 2006 in the bedroom, Kortedala. Mastered by Rashad Becker, Berlin, May 2008. I stand on the inside looking out. www.deadwords.org
Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words is the ghost by which Thomas Ekelund performs sonic exorcism, unleashing his bleak and twisted vision into the material world. Culling found sounds from his habitat, twisting in inspiration from 60's girl groups, and molding it together with the last gasps of vinyl noise, Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words gives birth to what one might name concrete drone pop.
From bleak to bleaker, grimy sounds emanate from the sewer, while rays of hope sneak through the broken glass, reflecting on the blood stained shards on the street above.
Thomas Ekelund currently resides in Gothenburg, Sweden, and is a graphic designer, musician and visual artist. He has released music under a long line of guises both solo and in constellations such as The Skull Defekts, Dead Violets, Normal Music, Teeth, Kill Kill Kill For Inner Peace and Dub Industrial Sound System.
Regarding Lost In Reflections, Ekelund says, "Eighteen months ago I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a both vile and many-faced disease that inevitably drapes every aspect of life in shadows that range from shades of grey to coal black. It causes a polarity of mind, everything is either or, never in between. It makes you feel isolated and alone even in the most crowded rooms. Slowly this imagined isolation becomes a real isolation. You do not allow anyone inside the carefully constructed walls, built stone by stone by a mind so completely preoccupied with guilt and shame that you in fact become unhuman (sic). An empty shell containing oozing, black bile and nothing else. You become the disease.
I never look into mirrors unless it's absolutely necessary. Because I don't see the reflection of man, I see a specter, a phantasm, a distorted human-like figure to which I can't relate. I never look into the eyes of anyone I talk to because I am terrified that they will see the same apparition. I try to achieve invisibility, but in lack of that I hide my true appearance behind meticulously molded masks.
At the time of diagnosis, Lost in Reflections was already half a year old. Still it deals with the aforementioned disease and some of the aspects of it. It is strange how the mind can be so aware and unaware at the same time.
Now it's two years later. And though I in some ways have a better grasp of my ailment I am nowhere near being rid of it. Most of the time I feel suspended, as if I was waiting for some great revelation of thruth, a stroke of magic that will transform me into someone like you. The person you see in the mirror. A human.
It has taken me two years to come to terms with this album. It's in many ways my most accessible work to date, but in other ways my most difficult and demanding. I can't listen to it objectively. In fact I have a hard time listening to it at all."
Swede Thomas Ekelund loves the dread of hospital waiting rooms. The people sittng there are unsure. No idea what the future holds. The relatives have left. No one seems to care. It's cold and sterile. Comfort is fleeting. The magazine articles old and unimportant. The blue walls aren't so angelic. Feet shuffle, pens scratch paper, a child cries and wheelchair wheels creak. After an eternity, an expressionless nurse says, "Mr. Ekelund. The doctor will see you now." - Chris Dick, Decibel
Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words is one Thomas Ekelund who created Lost In Reflections after being diagnosed with a "near crippling mental disease." How long after I don't know. All I know is that this was recorded in 05/06 and there have been many Dead Letters releases since then. Not that I think that context is necessary to fully appreciate Lost In Reflections. It helps, but it's not going to make or break the album. Listening to Lost In Reflections is a strange journey of dynamic drone. However you don't realize just how strange until it's over. The first song, "The Room Seems Empty Without You," is a real slow burner. Something from way out west, like you've been dragging your feet through Death Valley for days on end with no water. It could be the foundation for some Godspeed song except here there's no grandiose climax (not yet). It's just you, the heat, and the endless horizon of sand and sky. "Lost & Losing" goes from desert to ocean as you're floating face up, being dazzled by the sun beams shimmering through the water, listening to all the pops and cracks of the crustaceans scurrying along the sandy floor. Then "What I Wouldn't Give To Feel Alive" keeps you underwater, although now you're closer to death, hearing every little detail. Each guitar pluck echoes through the sea as if glimpsing a whale's heartbeat from miles away. After you've made your way through the water, you become detached from Earth and drift through space. The stars buzz with their solar signals and the dust of the universe flows through your ears. And all of this up until now, going from land to sea to air, was the quest for "Himmelschreibenden Herzen." And the monumental 19 minute closer is absolutely worth that voyage. It's like traveling through a black sun, getting closer and closer to the core. Deafening bliss. Terrifying monstrous shrieking dark drone. Beautiful heavenly sunshine euphoria. Completely fucking amazing. Lost In Reflections is something I couldn't even begin to imagine making. It's a record so deep and beautiful that I can hardly wrap my brain around it. This is of such high caliber, I'm surprised it's not exploding all over the place. Dead Letters should be a name up there with Fennesz and Eno. If Reflections wasn't the record to do it, I can't wait to hear the one that will. - Anti-Gravity Bunny
Record of the Week 3/28/09 - Aquarius Records
For years now, the cryptically (and coolly) monickered Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words has been quietly and consistently releasing some of the most haunting and beautiful minimal dronemusic we've heard, a blend of soft skittery glitch, brooding guitar loops, deeeeeep drone, dreamy drift, and experimental post-everything soundscaping, that is as good if not better than anything produced by the legion of overhyped sound makers constantly fawned over by the public and press alike. We've only managed to review two DLSODW releases so far, both sadly out of print now, but the release of this new one, quite possibly his best, seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally throw our weight behind Dead Letters, and hopefully open some ears to these mysterious and wondrous sounds, and reveal to the hordes of dronelords and free music freeks just what they've been missing. Dead Letters is the work of Swedish musician Thomas Ekelund, and over the years, his music has drifted from extreme near silent ultra minimalism, to warm whirring dronescapes to muted crunch and clatter to shimmering underwater ambience, but on Lost In Reflections, all of those elements are present, in lesser amounts, the perfect distillation of a lifetime of sounds, here presented more as background then the main event, that main event here being the guitar. Each of the six tracks, however distorted or refracted or fragmented or obfuscated, seems to be borne of the guitar, with Ekelund working his mysterious alchemy and transforming those buzzing steel strings into wholly new shapes. The opener, "This Room Seems Empty Without You" held us spellbound from the very first few seconds, a bit of reverby guitar, moody and minor key, very post rock, slow core and abstract, the notes hovering in a dark expanse of overtones and deep low end shimmer, the guitar unfurling gradually, subtly processed, peppered with a strange percussive glitch, that gives the music a sort of downtempo vibe, still droney and abstract and free, but with a little Portishead or Bowery Electric mixed in. The glitches coalesce into an almost-rhythm, the end result is some strange minimal instrumental downtuned Galaxie 500 mixed with the brooding barely there drift of Bohren, and a sort of late night lugubrious skitter. The next track, "Lost & Losing", takes a whole 'nother tack, beginning with bits of scrape and creak, amp buzz, muted harmonics, a subtly percussive textural soundscape, quietly and slowly surrounded by a gorgeously hazy sea of sun spots and solar flares, taking the shoegaze-y shimmer of Nadja and Jesu and dialing it way back, until it's a glimmering sheet of prismatic buzz, all the while those strange sounds from the song's beginning continuing to weave a buried barely there rhythm, everything locked into deep woozy bleary eyed swells. We have the tendency to go song by song, describing the sound of each, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but often it's not just the sound, it's the mood and the vibe and the feel and the deft and delicate arrangement of those sounds. And Ekelund is a master, taking simple strummed guitars, and wrapping them in a gauzy patina of blur buzz, locking the original riff into a loop, and then gently adding bit of melody, bits of texture, turning something simple into something complex and gorgeous, there are hints of Earth all over Lost In Reflections as well, a particularly abstract bit of fuzzy drift, will suddenly part to reveal a dark elegiac guitar line, slowed way down, creating some sort of underwater blues, while elsewhere, the twang and pluck of the guitar strings is wreathed in sonic sunlight, the sounds allowed to overlap and tangle up, the notes and melodies all wound up, spinning slowly and spitting out sparks, bits of glitch and high end tones, streaks of feedback, until those sounds are smeared into one long undulating stretch, and over the top a string of chiming notes are hung like Christmas lights on a tree, the, guitar often disappearing completely, leaving just a bit of twang to hover and then fade away. The final track is a monster, nearly 20 minutes, imagine Nadja, Merzbow and Tim Hecker covering Arvo Part, and you might be close. This is some sort of soft noise, blindingly effulgent upper register ur-drone chorale, the streaks and shards of guitars sound like voices, the distortion thick, the effects crumbling and swirling, a glancing listen reveals a wall of sound, but headphones are like a diving bell, allowing us to sink into this roiling sonic sea, that seems to stretch out forever, bottomless and endless, part way through, the song changes shape, that which constituted the whole of the sound up until that point is relegated to a background for these new sounds, a sweeping, loping epic bit of post rock, still washed out and woozy, but with a simple propulsive rhythm, and a gorgeously melodic chiming central riff, darkly fervent and slightly ominous and hauntingly epic, the swirling sounds around those new elements growing more frenetic, thickening, while the song just grows and grows, sprawls and expands, as if any second the heavens will open and the song will become the sonic manifestation of the rapture. So totally intense and powerful and moving and majestic, and simply breathtaking.
"Lost in Reflections" is the fourth main album from Swedish artist Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words (Thomas Ekelund), packaged as a limited edition 7-inch/LP combination. Two years in the making, its creation spans a period in the artist's life marked by pivotal struggle, a time in which a debilitating psychiatric diagnosis must have both explained everything and shattered the world. "Lost in Reflections" is a mirror of that realm, a lens through which the listener can discover being set adrift in a sea of introspection, otherness and isolation. Ekelund here reveals the mechanisms underlying his work, in so doing giving a sure glimpse of the very humanity present in that terrifying vessel he inhabits: himself. From the first resonant note, repeating in sinister sincerity, "Lost in Reflections" uncoils with the utmost patience and care. "This Room Seems Empty Without You" continues from that note's deep recurrence, blossoming into spatiality with a rhythmic, three-part beat, joyless guitar plucking and anesthetic background chatter. On the 7-inch's reverse, "Lost & Losing" then deconstructs the peaceful enclosure from without, interior succumbing to exterior pressures of a vast, windblown expanse, fed by guitar drones and discomfiting, surging noise. "On Empty Streets, In Crowded Rooms" reminds of factory innards, chemical swamp gurgling, as machine whirring embattles forlorn guitar notes. "What Stays & What Fades Away" lends a subterranean atmosphere with directionless rumbling and unseen mewling creatures. Later, an insistent strumming seems just out of reach, as if behind opaque glass. The final nineteen-minute epic, "Himmelschreibende Herzen", begins with rippling drone swells, among which soft bass hits rise, and finally, orchestral notes gape and breathe. It is a somber, protracted march, yet ends with these notes hanging poignantly in the air. Whether this symbolizes daybreak, escape, absolution, or something else, it is doubtless hopeful. Unlike most drone acts utilizing guitar to construct sounds, Ekelund's is furnished with an undeniable tangibility, present as a distinct role in his soundscapes. Guitar provides melody where there otherwise would be none, emotive prickling in an environment of shifting black and white. It is the key to communicating a disorder's solitude, the lifeline stretching between parallel worlds. "Lost in Reflections" is not all void and darkness, shrouded apparitions and pervasive melancholy. Full of warmer tones, richer hues and softer timbres, we can accept that ensconced somewhere among the meticulous layering is a mind at odds with its environs, and by no choice of its own. - Dutton Hauhart, Connexion Bizarre
The cover art of Lost in Reflections depicts a sort of bizarre, surrealistic roundtable of clones in business suits, sitting with their arms folded and staring at each other as if they had all just swindled one another in the most heinous way possible. The rest is black. It's truly a strange scene, one undoubtedly meant to be a reflection of the album's vaguely spectral title. Thomas Ekelund (the man behind Dead Letters...) writes of the album that it is, to a large extent, an outgrowth of his diagnosis and subsequent battle with borderline personality disorder, and the attendant feelings of alienation, isolation, and the perturbation of the sense of self. He describes his personal degeneration as having gotten to the point where his image of himself was of "An empty shell containing oozing, black bile and nothing else." For all this marked doom and gloom, it's interesting that the most salient feature of the album is its approachability. A listener going into this album would be right to expect a plunging, pit-of-despair excursion through black fields draped with mist, the moaning intestines of glacial caverns and abandoned, decaying toy factories, and at points, we do get those sorts of typical dark ambient tropes. However, much more often we are submerged in a more subtle, profound, and strangely comforting seclusion. Set adrift on a sturdy but pliable raft of electronic snaps, crackles, and pops, we are borne gently to and fro by layered currents of iridescent guitar melodies and rolling swells of delicate fuzz. There is no doubt a strain of loneliness and pain suffered in solitude that runs through each of these songs, but it's the kind of neurosis that you can bring home to mom. As hard as this album tries to be tortured and inaccessible, it can't shake the fact that it's actually a very beautiful and generally pleasant experience. This is not to say that we've got an I'm From Barcelona album on our hands here. There are a couple tracks ("Lost and Losing," "In Crowded Rooms, On Empty Streets") that at least break ground on that pit of despair, alerting us to the darker side to Ekelund's project; but even these moments end up resolving themselves into graceful phantasms of melodies. I suppose that these subtle swayings of emotion are just another manifestation of the album's theme, but as illustrations of an ailment that Ekelund says "inevitably drapes every aspect of life in shadows that range from shades of gray to coal black," I can't help but feel that some of that terror and despair has not been fully transcribed. If this album is meant to be a declaration and relation of feelings of anguish, existential anxiety, and sequestration, I must say that it has failed. However, there is a type of invitation here, a form of calling into loneliness. We are not asked to empathize with this album, and we are not dragged screaming by its tendrils into the heart of darkness. Instead we are nudged, led quietly by our hands to a place where someone has found something of value, and then we are left there. A child's fortress inside a giant rotting stump deep in the forest, a dock with no boat or house on the shore of a lake long since turned to swamp — we are left alone, sure, but we are also left with the hope of coming to terms with that fact and of finding something worth being alone for." - Gabriel Keehn, Tiny Mix Tapes
Often one can ignore the background details for a given recording without handicapping the listening experience too greatly. There's no question, however, that one's appreciation of Lost in Reflections by Thomas Ekelund, the man behind Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, is enhanced by an awareness of the extremely challenging hand the Gothenburg-based composer has been dealt. Almost two years ago, he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a disease that permeates one's entire being and coats every moment in darkness. By his own admission, Ekelund's been reduced to a mirror-shunning spectre who can't bear to look into the eyes of others. Now fully aware of his condition and attempting to cope with it, he admits that he not only can't listen to Lost in Reflections objectively but has "a hard time listening to it at all." The severity of the affliction can't help but have affected the character of the album (more precisely the first two songs are paired on a 7-inch while the other four are on LP), and the material is as relentless as one would expect. Though the album apparently was recorded prior to the formal diagnosis (specifically, Lost in Reflections was recorded between December 2005 and March 2006), its gloom-laden spirit is clearly audible; consider as evidence the multi-layered dronescape "Lost & Losing" where electric guitars scream amidst the merciless howl of sweeping winds and lurching noise swells. Much of the fifty-minute recording sounds as if it was recorded outdoors by the seashore during a stormy night; hear, for example, the faint traces of string scrapes and guitar strums that struggle to penetrate the vaporous haze consuming "What Stays And What Fades Away." Surprisingly, the release isn't wholly downcast: "What I Wouldn't Give To Feel Alive" exudes a placid and peaceful spirit that's not bereft of hope, and pealing guitars and chirping electronic squeals bob to the surface of "Crowded Rooms, In Empty Streets" too. Nevertheless, a zenith of sorts is clearly reached in the closing piece, "Himmelschreibenden Herzen," when it unspools for a psychotropic nineteen minutes in a manner that suggests some inward plunge into madness. If one ever wondered what form a sonic portrait of Hades might assume, one need look no further than this grinding colossus. But be patient: while the deranged wail of a thousand tormented souls holds the first half hostage, epic melodies played by what sounds like strings, mellotron, and bells gradually rise to the fore during the second half. "Himmelschreibenden Herzen" hardly provides an easy exeunt to the album but it's definitely an incredible one. - Ron Schepper, Textura
Lost in Reflections takes, as its physical manifestation, the form of an LP with a seven-inch which is intended to be heard in the correct sequence as a single musical statement. Plangent studio-based guitar and effects recordings, in multiple overdubs, produce some of the most intensive and incredible slow drone sounds you've ever heard. Read the insert for a startling confessional text from its creator, Thomas Ekelund, but no matter what he tells you about his psychological condition nothing will prepare you for the ever-changing slew of emotional experiences that this work dares to unleash — veering from the ecstatic to the suicidally miserable, with a range of new and unknown emotions in between. Ekelund's painful personality dilemma is also expressed via the stark monochrome cover image, itself a pastiche of a well-known surrealist image. The sensitive listener had best be prepared for a record of relentless passion and power, yet its music is unspooled in a deliberative and contemplative manner. Chillingly beautiful! No wonder it took four record labels to release it. - Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector