Review Summary: Bobby Krlic and the arduous task of matching pieces from three puzzles at once.
The soundtrack to the popular 2019 horror film Midsommar
is only the latest addition to the wide-ranging series of Bobby Krlic’s musical accomplishments. The man’s decade-long resume includes collaborations as producer and musician with renowned artists such as Father John Misty, Goldfrapp, or Björk, on top of multiple movie scores and his personal discography as The Haxan Cloak – a degree of exposure few in the world of modern ambient have attained. Yet in this abundance of releases, The Men Parted the Sea to Devour the Water
stands tall and strong as one of Krlic’s most unique and interesting records to date, despite only receiving modest levels of attention.
While it is a studio recording, the piece closely mimics the feel of a live performance. With a single track clocking in at nearly half an hour of uninterrupted music, it contrasts with Krlic’s other works where individual segments scarcely pass the 10-minute mark. This brings freshness to instrumentation that is essentially identical to that of the first Haxan records, as it forces Krlic to strive for coherence and build continuity between rather disparate atmospheres, whereas in his prior and future output this aspect is quite painfully absent. The Men Parted the Sea
is indeed a rather incongruous but ever-flowing triptych which finds its prime value in its surprising progressions; slowly bringing us from fear to bliss, then to terror again. Despite a few half-successes in this delicate exercise, the effort certainly ought to be commended.
The opening act starts with a macabre multi-layered choral piece which echoes the works of György Ligeti et al. with its spectral tritones and ghostly atmosphere. One can almost feel the cold air as though agitated by processions of wraiths as Krlic builds layers upon layers of ghastly voices, practically unaccompanied save for a threatening, snarly bass drone that gradually uncovers its teeth. While in any other Haxan record the music would probably have stopped there, The Men Parted the Sea
eventually graces us with the sudden addition of unusual percussive elements, which to this reviewer evoke the rattling of bones used for some pagan ritual. The result is a truly unique and compelling atmosphere where the eerie dissonance of modernist chorales clashes beautifully with the tribal drumming of songs of old, showcasing that the man was destined to soundtrack films like Midsommar
As the music progresses it becomes quite evident that this is an atmosphere the artist will abandon for good. More drums come in, the rhythm changes, the chorale becomes sidechained much like a house pad and eventually disappears into oblivion. With these gradual alterations, Krlic takes us to a mostly percussive second act with little in the way of instrumentation besides percussions and the odd synth line. This rather underwhelming development to the ominous introduction is followed by a well executed yet somewhat generic ambient final third that eventually descends into distorted chaos – a questionable but fittingly incoherent conclusion to this patchwork of a piece.
As the track ends, it becomes apparent that, while Krlic is quite successful at making incongruous puzzle pieces feel continuous, the overall progression that emanates from the complete record struggles to paint a compelling musical picture and to tell a story that makes much sense at all. Neither of the latter two chapters manage to reach the heights of the first, where time stands still and witches dance with skeletons. Instead, they come off as foreign limbs sown unto a grotesque musical chimera which may breathe and live to a degree, but would not fit in any worthwhile mythology. The Men Parted the Sea to Devour the Water
is a unique piece that should attract any appreciator of experimental electronic music, but its excessively multifaceted depths also make it rather unviable as a whole.