Review Summary: a fragment of fragments
Hardly anyone made a fuss about Gidge’s 2014 debut. By which I mean I regret not making a fuss. I remember enjoying it, but was concentrating on something else at the time and the fact I can’t remember whatever the distraction was says volumes about my inability to predict, if art is measured by longevity, how good an album is or will be. Never mind, because the Scandinavian duo have returned with an album-come-soundtrack-come-art piece to offer a chance at repentance, just for me.
It’s surprising, though. Autumn Bells
has a kind of open-air, naturalistic character to it, sure, but it set up camp in that particularly clean-cut, blog-ready corner of house (if it can still be called house) which drowns any possibility of unique atmosphere with never-ending build ups and what can only be described as an immaterial sonic varnish – the kind limitting any response to “wasn’t it lovely?”
. For Gidge to jump into a conceptual ambient piece like Lulin
so early, without so much as an attempt at a watered down sophomore follow-up or a vocal-heavy grasp at mainstream cash-drunk success, is either a sign of admirable constraint or premature resignation. It goes without saying that I respect both scenarios wholeheartedly.
is quite strange. It is somewhat directionless and hamfisted, but that’s why I like it. To make sense of how this could happen it helps to know what Lulin
actually is, which is not a soundtrack or a stand-alone release but a 42-minute compliment to a 20-or-so-minute art film about an old Swedish folk tale set in a dark wood. The film failed to grip me, but then I don’t review films for a reason and Lulin
can’t really be grasped without it. The film and album play off each other, almost vampyricly as the film gorges on the location of Autumn Bells’
field recordings and Lulin
, the album, takes its structure, purpose and reason to exist in return.
Gidge set out their two 20-minute-plus pieces much like pictorial collages. In “Hon”, Jonatan Nillson’s piano will enter with a mood and one palette of recordings, then fade, then return with another mood and palette. It is not a piece which leads to or explores anything in particular but, rather, creates a string of independent fragments heard in the same space as each other. At the end of “Hon”, these pieces collapse into our character for the Lulin project as a whole. In this way the film, or at least the memory of the film, serves as a foundation for us to experience and interpret Gidge’s sonic fragments. If I were to watch it again the experience would be improved in return by this atmospheric supplementation.
The cultivated atmosphere is familiar but still interesting, with Gidge’s fragments help to turn the standard dark but inviting/unsettling but unthreatening/nearby but unknown Swedish-folk malaise into something a bit more special. Specifically, the distorted vocal at “Hon”’s end lends it some sensitivity and “Byn” wastes no time in throwing a jarring but congruent choral spanner in the works. The listener is left with plenty of flavour to play around with, and just enough space for interpretation to be constructive but remain coherent.
Divorced from the film, Lulin
can feel a bit clunky. As “Hon” passes over to “Byn” the broad-brushstroke approach would be jarring without the visual foundation to glue it all together, but to purposely distort the album from its purpose would be cruel. Comprised of fragments, Lulin
is itself a fragment and should be understood (and enjoyed) in relation to the rest of the project.
But having seen the film, and moving along with listening and repeating the album, it would be strange to ignore that this listening takes place in a space beyond the film and it’s in this space that Lulin
fails to do too much for me. One of the best reasons to listen to soundtracks, complementary fragments or otherwise, is to take a film’s atmosphere and play it off with our immediate surroundings. I did this very recently on a trip to Birmingham, where the mixture of space-age architecture, abject poverty and Vangelis’ Bladerunner OST
turned an otherwise miserable afternoon into a cosy daydream. Lulin would no doubt sound fantastic were we all to run off to a dark Swedish forest, but in all the places I have tried and can feasibly be expected to try – Somerset woodland, late-night Bristol, Oxfordshire countryside and “inside” – nothing clicks.
This gives Lulin
a pretty tight shelf-life. As mentioned, I am not in a place to be telling anyone how long an album will remain “good”, but my enjoyment of Lulin
spikes considerably when thinking about the film and soon after watching it. Once I am out of Lulin’s world, the album doesn’t possess the force to drag me back in and it doesn’t meld well with other atmospheres either. However, while its reliance on the film holds it back, it is also what makes Lulin
so interesting to listen to. This means it is quite high effort even for an ambient piece, because listening also requires watching and thinking and deliberately immersing, but then again this is unlikely to turn off anyone who willingly read beyond the first mention of “ambient”.