Review Summary: Tor Lundvall transfers his style of painting into his music, giving a great overall effect while still entering in the minute details that give the album replay value. His song lengths and varied styles make Empty City an extremely accessible album.
Tor Lundvall is a painter, and I am not trying to be metaphorical. His paintings show up on many album covers, including his own. Since 1992, exhibitions have showcased Lundvall’s paintings. He paints much in the expressionist style, attempting to convey an emotion through his details. But unlike the pioneers of expressionism like Van Gogh, Lundvall has an added touch of realism to his pictures, giving exquisite details with no distortion in the image quality. To understand Empty City, one needs to examine the album jacket and the CD. The front cover shows the most realistic picture of the set. It envisions a city skyline from an empty countryside on the other side of the river. The sky is the real focal point of the painting, a picturesque sunset of orange and purple clouds. Take a look on the inside of the jacket. Here, a more blurred version of the city, masked by smog and underbrush appears. The contrast of an intimately detailed picture and a blurred vision shows how Lundvall has the ability to create two contrasting pictures on the same subject and draw them together.
Tor Lundvall as a musician is really no different. He is an ambient artist, using keyboards and other electronic equipment to do the same as expressionist art, convey an emotion throughout the music. His sense of realism and attention to detail also comes into play in his music. The contrast gives the listener two ways to listen to the album. The first is to listen to it as an album, as if it were just one flowing song. Laying down and envisioning walking through a deserted city at night just after sunset puts this album in its perfect place. Musically, it (misleadingly) sounds all the same, with luscious chords going through fairly complex chord progressions. With beautiful suspensions and moving lines, the complexity is that of a symphonic band ballad. What keeps the album from droning on and getting boring are the drum beats that sit in the background throughout. They keep a pulse to the song and, although never anything rhythmically special, they add even more to the lonesome and empty atmosphere of the album. The atmosphere is clearly distinct throughout the album, although varying in either its sense of hope or sense of reflective depression. On the first few listens, this sense of the album is most likely to come across.
However, after hearing the album a few times, the details start to appear, and each track shows its special qualities. There is much more to the album hidden underneath the melting layers of electronic chords. There are even vocals, although there are no lyrics. The quality of a human voice is used simply for more atmosphere, ahhing the melodies. Empty City begins rather slowly, with the lazy Scrap Yard
. Lazy is not a derogatory adjective, it sounds like waking up in the morning only to find everything around empty. There is an element of mystique and surprise in the song, mostly a result of the production style. But a sense of foreboding clicks in on Running Late
as the music begins to move a bit more. Voices make their first appearance as well in an almost tribal manner. The mood continues to change, with a sense of relaxation in the slow grooves of Early Hours and the pure beauty of Grey Water
. Grey Water
is the typical ambient song, full of lush electronic swells. It is relaxing in the way that the more popular Treefingers
from Radiohead’s Kid A was, simply a trance song to get lost in. The rest of the album shows many different production styles, such as the futuristic, slightly distorted Wires
and the extremely tribal and mystical Empty City
. Clearing Sky
ends the album in the same way that Scrap Yard
began. It is calm, yet it has a slight sense of mystique.
Empty City has two fantastic aspects- its accessibility and its consistency. Only one song, Grey Sky
, surpasses four minutes. Lundvall never emerges himself into sprawling electronic epics, especially since his design of the album lets the full effect serve that purpose. There is never too much to focus on, yet there is never too little. The album consistently has a full sound and yet it is relaxing. Furthermore, no song on the album drops the album’s quality. Each song possesses its own special qualities and style, yet each song adds more and more to the story and atmosphere. His use of the human voice adds a tinge of reality to his otherwise outlandish music. Lundvall produces some of the most accessible electronica out there, but even the most seasoned listeners will find the beauty in his music.