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Andreas Brandal, "The Thursday Curses"

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cover imageOn one hand, it is kind of astonishing that Andreas Brandal has not been covered on this site before, as the shape-shifting/multi-guised Norwegian experimentalist has been on the scene for more than two decades and has made plenty of excellent music covering an impressive amount of stylistic territory.  On the other hand, it makes absolutely perfect sense, as Brandal’s career is not unlike that of Machinefabriek: a seemingly constant and unrelenting stream of new projects, limited editions, and collaborations that no hapless fan (much less a casual listener) could possibly hope to keep up with.  I believe I personally have at least 8 Andreas Brandal albums at this point and I am certain that I do not have even the most tentatively grasp of the depth and scope of his discography: I have not just missed key album–I have missed entire genres.  I do know that I like him though and his newest release is an absolutely stellar one, occupying the unique nexus where heavy drone, languorous strings, and oversaturated Tim Hecker-esque textures wonderfully collide.

Sacred Phrases

As much as I enjoy Brandal’s work (what little I have heard, anyway), I have to admit that I was instantly predisposed towards loving this tape because the opening "From the Bed to the Fire" awakened memories of a long-forgotten Fetisch Park album (Trost) that I played to death in the mid-‘90s.  The two albums have almost nothing in common aside from a talent for deep, warmly crackling, and seismic-sounding subterranean swells, but it was enough to get my "fond nostalgia" synapses happily firing.  Unintended memory-triggers aside, however, "From the Bed" is an absolutely gorgeous piece of music, especially coming from someone with such a long history of blackened and malevolent noise.  Brandal is the rare artist who excels both as a composer and as a sound designer, though he is probably most accomplished at the latter, as nearly everything he does winds up sounding richly textured, vibrant, and immediate.  While a somewhat minimal piece musically, Brandal makes "Bed" sound massive, haunting, and eerily distant, shrouding his lushly shimmering and bell-like chords and spectral melodies with plenty of hiss and grit to wonderfully otherworldly effect.  It feels a lot like hearing a distant and beautiful classical music performance during a minor earthquake on an impenetrably foggy day.

The following "A Moment Passed and All was Changed" takes quite a different path, as its buzzing synthesizer drone erupts out of the speakers and quickly blossoms into something akin to blurting, panning, and snarling electrical storm.   The lengthier "A Murmured Name" returns to the beauty of the opener, augmenting a gently undulating thrum with a beautifully melancholy and reverb-swathed violin or cello theme before unexpected being consumed by a host of wonderfully crisp field recordings of grinding and scraping metal.  Curiously, the longest piece on the album (and title piece) is not nearly as distinctive as the rest of the album, as it is basically just ten minutes of deep, quavering synth drones.  It still has some character though, albeit much more subtly presented than elsewhere.  In fact, it is kind of a tour de force of understated nuance, as Brandal spends the entire duration unleashing an arsenal of throbs, shudders, rumbles, flutters, and quivering feedback swells that alternately hang in the air or bubble through the dense bed of drone.  The similarly lengthy "No Symbols Where None Intended" closes the album as a far more clear-cut highlight, as a muted, elegiac organ progression is slowly consumed by deep bell tones, throbbing synthesizer, and mysterious field recordings (owls?).  Ultimately, the entire piece is consumed by a densely throbbing electronic buzz, which nicely illustrates my high opinion of Brandal as a sound designer: musically, there is very little happening, but what little is happening is so frequency-saturated and psychoactive that it is just as compelling as Brandal more eventful side.

Curiously, it is the weakest piece ("The Thursday Curses") that best illustrates the high level of Brandal’s artistry: there is very little that excites me less than ten minutes of straight-forward minimal synth drone, but "Curses" easily held my attention due its many buried layers and vibrant microcosmic dynamic variations.  Conversely, it is very easy to imagine a great piece like "A Murmured Name" completely falling flat in the hands of a different artist, as the central theme is wonderful and elegant, yet very simple.  So much of Brandal's spell is rooted in intuitive and intangible things that go much deeper than mere melody or harmony.  If he did not have such a seemingly effortless knack for space, texture, frequency manipulation, and contrast, these pieces would not have nearly the beguiling and forceful presence that they currently possess.  The details are everything.  Consequently, The Thursday Curses at its worst still sounds like a much better than average drone album.  At its best, however, it sounds like a heavenly organ mass heard through a heavy fog of hallucinogens or a goddamn dimensional rift.  Or both.  Which is, of course, great.  I am totally the target demographic for that sort of thing.  Lamentably, I have absolutely no idea if The Thursday Curses is one of Brandal’s best albums or not, but I do know that it is definitely the best one that I have heard. Anyone curious about Brandal's work would be well-served by starting here.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 February 2016 15:26  


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