I am not sure if I am very late to the party on Croatian Amor or unintentionally getting in at exactly the right time, but Loke Rahbek's latest album has sneakily become one of my favorite releases of the year. I suspect I would have missed Love Means Taking Action entirely had it not been co-released on Luke Younger's largely unerring Alter imprint, as Rahbek seems to have built a career out of being a shape-shifting enigma, leaving a large and varied discography of noise, power electronics, black metal, and dark wave behind him, most of which has surfaced on his own excellent Copenhagen-based Posh Isolation label (though he has also turned up in few Sacred Bones acts as well). Also significant: Croatian Amor releases generally tend to have some kind of half-pornographic/half-conceptual motif suggestive of more harsh quasi-industrial fare. As a result, I was quite surprised to discover that Love Means Taking Action most closely resembles the genre-fluid and dreamy Romanticism of prime This Mortal Coil. It is anything but a nostalgic pastiche though, as Rahbek manages to capture the elusive feel of those albums while still doing something quite unusual and unique.
It is probably impossible to discuss this album without mentioning that the last significant Croatian Amor release was conceptually quite a provocative one, as 2014's The Wild Palms cassette was only available in exchange for a full-frontal nude photo of yourself. Unsurprisingly, I do not have that release. I hesitate to say that Rahbek has mellowed at all since then, but the conceptual side of Love Means Taking Action is a bit more accessible (if less erotic): he is freely sharing the raw material of the album in hopes that others will transform it into something of their own (a challenge that has at least been taken up by Drew McDowall and Felicia Atkinson thus far). It is admittedly a very good idea, especially since Love Means Taking Action has a very strong, instantly recognizable, and extremely malleable theme in the opening "An Angel Gets His Winged Clipped" courtesy of an unnamed female vocalist. The same beautiful refrain explicitly appears again in more chopped and distorted form in "Like Angel," but it is entirely possible that it is unrecognizably strewn all over the whole album in various mutated incarnations, as a lot of heavy lifting is done with warped, layered, pitch-shifted, and cut-up vocals. Stylistically, Rahbek has dabbled in very similar fare on past Croatian Amor albums, but Love Means Taking Action explores that thread in a much more cohesive and sustained way. Also, Rahbek has largely jettisoned most of the recognizably contemporary synth and noise textures normally found on Croatian Amor releases to give Love a more timeless and "vintage 4AD" feel.
Much like a good This Mortal Coil album, these twelve pieces work best as a languorously flowing and gently hallucinatory whole. It is hard to pick out a strong single, but that is not for lack of strong material. Rather, Love Means Taking Action feels like beautifully lush reverie that periodically blossoms into more structured and memorable hooks. In a perverse way, this is a brilliantly crafted and darkly sensual pop album that has been collaged, blurred, and stretched into fuzzy narcotic abstraction. The closest Rahbek comes to a would-be hit is probably the understated and sexy "Any Life You Want," which marries a stark kick-drum pulse to clipped, decontextualized, and soulful female vocals and an erratically warbling and fluttering synth motif. Rahbek displays pitch-perfect instincts and impressive lightness of touch throughout the piece, maintaining a deliciously enigmatic and erotic unresolved tension that never overstays its welcome or breaks its bleary nocturnal spell. My favorite piece is a bit less immediately gratifying, however, as "Like Angel" takes a few minutes to fully catch fire. Initially, it feels like a bit of hissing and meandering drone piece with some odd symphonic flourishes, but it improbably breaks into an especially tender and striking reprise of the album’s opening vocal theme around the two-minute mark. Then, it remarkably gets even better, as Rahbek twists and layers that theme into beautiful new shapes. Admittedly, it ends far too soon for my liking, but I am happy enough that it simply exists. Elsewhere, the closing title piece is yet another wonderful surprise, unleashing a poignantly melodic synthesizer motif that feels like the climactic scene of a perfect and imaginary ‘80s John Hughes film.
This is the rare album where I have absolutely nothing to critical to say at all, as Rahbek does not make a single false move anywhere, displaying both a distinct knack for crafting great hooks and the vision to apply them to a sensuous and shadowy collage experiment that is all his own. While a few of the shorter interludes are not particularly memorable, that seems to be entirely by design, as Love Means Taking Action is a masterfully sequenced whole that sustains a precariously dreamlike illusion for its duration while still finding seductive new shades of mood for each fresh piece. I like every single goddamn song here–I think that only happens once a year, at best. Love Means Taking Action is everything I could want in an album seamlessly blurred together into a sexy, sad, flickering, experimental, and warmly hallucinatory tour de force.
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