[4AD; 2010]

Wikipedia informs us that the word “Efterklang” is the Danish equivalent of “remembrance,” which is somewhat ironic, given that post-rock and ambient albums can be some of the more difficult to recall. In my first year of college, I think I might have listened to Brian Eno’s Ambient I at least once per week during study sessions, and I’m not even sure I could really recreate any of the songs in my mind beyond vague details. You can hum that latest Lady GaGa single, but try to sing along to Godspeed or Tortoise.

So it should be mentioned that Magic Chairs,the latest release by a Danish rock band named Efterklang, is more melodic and pop-oriented than their earlier albums, 2004’s Tripper and 2007’s Parades. The former was essentially an ambient record with singing; indeed, some critics even complained that the singing was intrusive and the album should have been entirely instrumental. Comparatively, the latter was a decisive move towards stickier melodies, with an increased use of vocals and lush arrangements.

Magic Chairs, then, can be seen as a logical extension or evolution of the group’s impressive dynamics, recalling few of the hushed soundscapes of Tripper but welcoming a more expansive variation of chamber pop. Think Grizzly Bear meets Explosions in the Sky. Frankly, it’s rather beautiful stuff.

The band seems to have acknowledged its decision to strive for melodies with song titles such as “Harmonics” and “Natural Tune,” the second of which features a moving vocal duet, accompanied by sparse acoustics and pianos.

And call me crazy, but those warm pulsating synths on “Alike” aren’t far from Book of Love’s “Modigliani.” (I’m not sure I’d have ever listened to Book of Love if it weren’t for John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles,which I have probably seen throughout my lifetime more than any other film. I’m not sure if that says more about the film or more about me.) Nor do they avoid a rhythmic parallel to Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” which, incidentally, was also on a popular film soundtrack.

“Raincoats” opens with steady clapping before a guitar riff creeps in, and then maybe some flutes, and suddenly vocalist Casper Clausen chimes in, humming along to the melody, starting to sing: “I begin to fall apart…” And there’s something in there about “fingers falling off again,” and it’s all quite dream-like and haunting and poetic in its unique way.

Efterklang have done something remarkable here. This is maybe the first great album of 2010 – which, I suppose, isn’t saying a whole lot considering how early it is, but certainly it is a record that will be deserving of recognition – err, remembrance – at year’s end. Don’t overlook it.

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