Efterklang - Magic Chairs

Chris Tapley 04/03/2010

Rating: 3.5/5

Efterklang's first album for 4AD sees them take a step away from the orchestral avant- pop which made up their previous albums. Not a massive step mind you, but this album is by their own standards very much more 'pop' than it is 'avant'. Of course I wouldn't want to equate experimentation to quality, but certainly one of the most enticing aspects of the Scandinavian collective has always been their sense of other worldliness which those experimental tendencies created. Parades was a sparkling alternate world full of magical turns, unidentifiable instrumentation and breathy intonations of mythological content. The latter perhaps being the thing which strips away much of the wonder from this follow up, gone are the opaque lyrical themes to be replaced with distinctly relatable earth bound allusions to 'whores' and the like. It just isn't as wondrous.

That said though there are many more positives than there are negatives. 'Modern Drift' is an exquisite opener, glistening piano and soft strings really captures the bands essence and is wonderfully condensed down in to a pop song. The real beauty of Magic Chairs is the interlocking components; the way in which the harmonies wrap around one another whilst the strings provide a bed for the songs to be built over, piano and brass scattered on top. Moments of real vocal tenderness combine with glitchy melodies and reverberating bass on new single 'I Was Playing Drums'. 'Harmonics' is a lush swell of overlapping harmonies, looping brass and whistled melodies. It's hard to understand exactly how but it fills me with a warmth which few bands can achieve with such apparent ease; everything about their songs seems like a joyous expression of simple pleasures. The perfect exhibition of this is on penultimate track 'Mirror Mirror', a wonderfully vast palette of organ, frantic strings, falsetto vocals and a climax so gradual and natural that it's impossible not to be swept up in it's euphoria.

There are moments which don't really work, generally the more upbeat and percussive experiments such as 'Raincoats'. Though it sounds like a weak track here it's still streets ahead of most of their contemporaries. The same can't really be said for 'Scandinavian Love', which is frustratingly vacuous despite it's grandiose posture, the engineered chorus sounding like a band desperate to break out of their niche and in to the mainstream. I think that may be slightly cynical of me but there are moments of the album where it seems as though the band are striving for mass acceptance, which is in itself no bad thing but you get the feeling this could come with the cost of killing what makes them so special.

Magic Chairs is a difficult record to rate, it lacks the cohesion and overall narrative experience that occurred when listening to Tripper or Parades, but it is still a wonderfully playful album full of memorable songs. By almost anyone else's standards this would be a career defining piece of work, Efterklang are currently in a league of their own though and this does feel like a slight regress following Parades (and it's exuberant live counterpart). If they can take the tricks learned here though and slot them back in to the bigger picture on the next album then that may well be the one that is remembered for years to come.