The new offering from Denmark's Efterklang, Moving Chairs, joins the slew of top-notch recordings released this year. On this, the quartet's first studio recording since their stunning 2007 offering, Parades, Efterklang uses contemporary pop influences as starting points, creating an engaging spectrum of songs while providing the band's most accessible record to date.
Led by main vocalist and instrumentalist, Casper Clausen, Efterklang's tipping-of-the-hat to contemporaries such as Arcade Fire (as in the opener, "Modern Drift"), Animal Collective ("Alike") and Dirty Projectors ("Harmonics") serve both as an homage and a take-off point for the talented Danish group.
What makes Efterklang unique is its orchestration. Collectively, the band strips back the essentials of the traditional pop song. The guitar, keyboards/synths/electronics, bass and drums are used minimally, usually to reinforce the percussion or add color. Instead, strings, horns and vocals are integrated into the song structure, a pop framework, replacing the traditional arrangement and creating an unusual and impressive effect.
Touring with a 30-piece orchestra, captured in the excellent 2009 release, Performing Parades, has given the band an opportunity to hone in on creating an organic sound. And this is what sets Efterklang apart from their closest musical kin, Iceland's Sigur Rós and UK's Radiohead. For the most part, Moving Chairs sounds as if it was recorded live; it feels like a true ensemble effort that moves beyond its four principle members.
The vocals in "Scandinavian Love" carry the song, its melody, with horns, strings and percussion providing a counterpoint and texture. It sails past the listener, but at closer inspection, it moves past expectations (such as a heavy guitar chord). World music influences infused with various electronics and vocal parts give "Raincoats" a warm, yet edgy rhythm. A dragging electric guitar introduces "The Soft Beating" until the pulse builds into a crescendo, accented by bright and meticulous backing vocal parts. "Over the top," Clausen sings, but the song never really goes there -- the emotional aspect to the song never feels forced.
Veteran British engineer/producer Gareth Jones, whose most recent work was with Grizzly Bear's critically lauded Veckatimest, allows each instrument to be clearly distinct, while allowing space to exist within each song (a major difference from Grizzly Bear's latest recording).
Efterklang's inventiveness -- the use of organic instrumentation, unique orchestration and deceptively complex vocal structures -- may have placed them ahead of contemporaries that, in a subtle way, they give tribute to. Moving Chairs may be only one step for this gifted Danish band toward further exploration and musical possibilities, yet those possibilities seem endless. With this new release, Efterklang makes that "one step" feel like a huge leap.