Belgium‚Äôs Aguirre Records seems to have quite a talent for digging up some singularly obscure, weird, and surprising releases lately. ¬†The latest one to knock me sideways is this one, a free-folk project that seemingly involves most of the Swedish underground. Ostensibly formed to reignite and continue the tradition of communal psych genius of heavyweights like P√§rson Sound, Enhet F√∂r Fri Muzik made a rather intriguing detour along the way and wound up deep in idiosyncratic and otherworldly "outsider folk" territory instead. ¬†Even that is a bit of an oversimplification though, as Sofie Herner's alternately fragile, distracted, ritualistic, and trance-like vocals are unpredictably accompanied with everything from saxophones to field recordings of birds and streams. ¬†Admittedly, tight songcraft was clearly not a big priority during these sessions, but Inom Dig casts an absorbing spell of timeless unreality that transcends mere melodies and hooks.
As befits a deeply strange folk album featuring folks like Sewer Election's Dan Johansson and Release The Bats founder Matthias Andersson, Inom Dig, Inom Mig (roughly "Within You, Within Me") has some rather kaleidoscopic and unusual sequencing. ¬†For example, the first side is composed of four sketchlike pieces of varying lengths, while the second side is consumed entirely by the epic 18-minute "Det Ordnar Sig Ska Du Se" ("That's What You'll See"). ¬†Only a few pieces feel like actual songs, which both adds to the feeling of spontaneity and generally makes me feel like I am listening to a mysterious jumble of field recordings of an arcane forest ritual (at least sometimes, anyway). ¬†That said, the whole experience opens in comparatively contemporary and straightforward fashion with a brief introduction of trebly strummed electric guitar chords until the following "Se Dig Om" ("See You On") quickly leaves conventional music far behind. ¬†I suppose it still technically counts as a "song" though, as Herner is clearly singing actual words and sticks to a melody, even if she sounds like she is deep in a trance and emanating from a scratchy, hissing old recording. ¬†Despite all that, Herner's vocals are still the closest thing to normalcy in the piece, as the underlying music is a brooding miasma of crackling field recordings, tape hiss, detuned and murky drones, and reverberating string noises‚Äìessentially the least likely possible place for a quietly melodic saxophone solo to erupt. ¬†That is exactly what happens though, as the second half of the piece is devoted to a soulful, jazz-inflected, and reasonably competent duet with some sparse nature sounds.
The following "Droppar P√• Din Hud" ("Drops on Your Skin") takes a similarly aberrant and surprising path, as its central motif is an insistent chord played on an out-of-tune-sounding string instrument over a bed of strange scrapes. ¬†If I had to guess, I would say that it sounds like the source material is culled entirely from the rusting innards of a long-forgotten piano. ¬†Unexpectedly, however, that theme segues into a simple acoustic guitar ballad. ¬†To their credit, Enhet F√∂r Fri Muzik even manage to make a simple acoustic guitar melody seem fresh and strange, as it sounds very trebly and close-mic‚Äôd and the occasional flubbed notes and string buzz feel like a textural component every bit as important as the melody. ¬†"Stilla Vatten" takes yet another hard detour, resembling a snippet of a mildly distressed old recording of an improv-prone church organist.
As strange and enjoyable as it is, however, the first side of the album is merely a series of appetizers leading up to the main course of "Det Ordnar Sig Ska Du Se." ¬†Structurally, it could not possibly be simpler, as it is essentially just Herner singing a bittersweet melody over an insistently repeating and somewhat broken/out-of-tune sounding arpeggio. ¬†That arpeggio weaves quite an evocative hypnotic spell though, as do the underlying field recordings of what sounds like a windswept field. ¬†Eventually, the arpeggio abruptly stops and the player seems to fumble with a few dissonant chords as the wind swirls around him or her. ¬†Once it starts up again, the field recordings (featuring some birds and mysterious footsteps now) have crept a bit further into the foreground, as has the occasional disruptive wash of static. ¬†While the music itself is weirdly beautiful, the real magic lies in its unreal sense of time and place, as it feels like the band managed to channel the spirit of an ancient Druidic priestess through a secret pagan ceremony in a moonlit grotto.
If I were of a less amenable mindset, it would be easy to dismiss this ensemble as disingenuously childlike in their musicianship or lament the band‚Äôs seemingly indifferent approach to songcraft, but that would be completely missing the point. ¬†Though the line is admittedly a blurry one, Enhet F√∂r Frei Muzik are not self-consciously dabbling in faux-naivet√© so much as trying to use natural, organic sounds in compelling new ways. ¬†In that realm, they succeed admirably and they are smart enough to realize that they need Sofie Harner‚Äôs half-pretty/half-ghostly vocals as a coherent thread to ground their more outr√© impulses. ¬†Escaping conventional tunings and chords while remaining listenable is an impressive feat (especially on an acoustic guitar or piano). ¬†That said, the band's other cunning move was the decision to rely heavily on trance-like repetition, making a virtue of simplicity and wrong-sounding notes. ¬†This album inhabits quite a unique space, as it is deeply psychedelic without any effects and much more tuneful, spontaneous, and direct than most psych-folk (and considerably less self-indulgent or plagued by whimsy). ¬†It also differs significantly from otherwise like-minded artists such as Christina Carter in its raw, found-sound aesthetic. ¬†It is a fine niche to stake out. ¬†Curiously, Inom Dig is the band's debut album (it is a reissue of 2015 cassette) and they have been entirely silent since a flurry of follow-up releases that same year on various small European labels. ¬†I sincerely hope that they are still active, as their otherworldly vision is quite a wonderfully timeless and immersive one. ¬†If not, this remains both a beguilingly strange album and a welcome gateway into quite a rich underground scene that I may have otherwise missed completely.