Review Summary: A chore to endure.
The growing popularity of ambient and post-rock over the last five years is astounding. There is a huge grab bag of artists expanding across the Internet frontier on sites such as Bandcamp, FaceBook, and SoundCloud. Due to this instant accessibility, people can very well make whatever music they so choose to. Many post-rock and/or ambient projects have come into the public eye through this electronic medium. What exactly is so appealing about it? Well, it is most likely agreeable to say that listeners enjoy finding beauty in simplicity. That is exactly what the nature of post-rock genre presents. Artists make something out of simple chords, arpeggios, and methodical synthesized rhythm tracks. It is by no means easy to create a post-rock or ambient composition (if you want to do it right), but it really requires more of a meticulously crafted musical sense than extensive musical skill. With that being said, there are definitely some better at the craft than others.
Alfheimr, a one-man project from American multi-instrumentalist Madison Asche, is quite the project to behold. The sounds Asche creates fall gently upon the mind and create beautiful imagery. It's undeniable. However, his sense of control and musicality get lost within his ambitions more often than not. His music is flat and unadventurous. All of the moves that the album takes become predictable, giving the whole listening experience a dead feel. Even when a signature post-rock climax is coming, it is rendered ineffective from the listless wandering that precedes it. Ambient and post-rock elements are paired messily here, as the ambient elements sound more like just a backing track than something to set a mood.
There are little to no vocals on the album, and the vocals that do exist are carbon copies of the singing styles of Jon Por Birgisson of Sigur Ros. Asche musters up his softest falsetto and croons unintelligible lyrics. They add new dimensions to the songs, but they feel more like copy-catting than anything else.
Individual tracks possess interesting attributes, but nothing comes together as a whole. "A Song for Loss and Inheritance," for example, introduces the use of electric guitar and the drums pound louder than ever in an Echelon Effect-esque manner. "A Song for Distance and Circumstance," a real standout track, has a moving string composition in its midsection and end, but the song fades out before the strings can sink in to their full potential. The album comes to a much-needed close with "A Song for You and I," which is not far from a child's lullaby. It's sad, honestly, how the emotion waits until the very end. The song conjures up thoughts of a gentle reunion between two friends or two lovers, or maybe just an emotional epiphany. Its sleepy bells and piano lilt on and on, until they slow to an ending. It falls into place here, but only briefly, being the shortest song on the album.
On "What Allows Us to Endure", Asche attempts to cut to the soul with intense emotion, judging by the album title and track names. In fact, "What Allows Us to Endure" may even be a concept album! The beautiful album cover, painted by Asche himself, implies that the album will bring about emotions of entering a better place, finding meaning, or simply just discovering solace in the midst of a chaotic life. Instead, the album is a dry and calculated experience. The emotions are intact, just confused within the mess. The beauty in this album is quickly covered up by its numerous missteps and overambitious tendencies to strive to be more than it really is. Asche does not prove here that he can compete well with the growing mass of other ambient and post-rock artists and come out on top. He has made an uneventful post-rock album that is far from memorable, despite its slight glimpses of greatness. Do not be deceived by the short flashes of beauty. They don't amount to much of anything in the end.