Copenhagen strikes again. However, Indians founder and sole permanent member, Søren Løkke Juul, seems far removed from the cathartic punk tendencies of a band like Iceage or the post-rock surge of fellow countrymen Efterklang—though there are some base similarities in some of the latter band’s quieter moments. Displaying a love for all things indie rock, whether it’s the laid-back electronic touches, minimalist folk arrangements, or Juul’s wisp-ish vocals, his debut record as Indians feels like a distant cousin to 2011’s Bon Iver record, though far less obsessed with its own identity. It does however sound like a record that is irrevocably tied to a tangible place. In this instance, Somewhere Else feels indicative of the Danish countryside where it was written. Just like the varied landscape that surrounded him, Juul has created an album rich in texture and radiating a warmth that feels natural and instinctive—equal parts intimate introspection and communal stargazing.
But once the record starts, any sort of critical evaluation melts away, and you become so enraptured with the music that criticism is the last thing on your mind. Borrowing liberally from bands like Wild Beasts and The Antlers, Juul seems intent on rewriting indie rock nomenclature to coincide with his own personal opinions. And when the results are this instantly engaging and consistently addictive, 4AD would be wise to leave him alone to do whatever he wants. Proof enough is opening track “New,” which promises, and delivers on its ability, to inject life into the usual indie rock tropes that seem plastered over all most notable releases lately. Thickly reverbed percussion and chiming synths mix with hushed vocals to create a startlingly imaginative take on very common indie touchstones. As the song reaches its crescendo, and the expected fanfare of crashing cymbals and pounding beats seem ready to come roaring in, the song pushes past any preconceived notion of how it should resolve, and, instead, resolves according to its own rules and in its own time. The sense of momentum that has been built up for the past 4 minutes continues to push past its breaking point, and we’re constantly on the verge of our seats, waiting for a dénouement that never comes. The song is all the more effective and compelling for it.
Thankfully “New” is not a singular expression of Juul’s influences, nor is it the lone attention-grabbing track on the album. The record is littered with interesting bits and pieces clipped and combined from various other genres into a wholly unique musical landscape. “Bird” makes prodigious use of graceful piano notes that float above delicate strings, which calmly give way to an ascending melody that is as breathtaking as it is memorable, while “Reality Sublime” incorporates synthetic arpeggios, clacking percussion, and Juul’s own honeyed vocals. Interestingly enough, he taught himself to play guitar while he was recording Somewhere Else, and you can tell he was still a bit unsure of himself in that department. There’s a distinct and prominent hesitancy on “I Am Haunted,” which pairs a shaky acoustic guitar with heavily distorted vocals, and still he manages to make it sound otherworldly–archaic even–despite its somewhat uncertain course.
“Magic Kids,” a song Juul has been working on since well before the inception of Indians, plays around with a melody that reminds me of early Simon & Garfunkel–musically it’s not all that similar, but the way Juul wraps the words around the smoothed out edges of the music reminds me of songs like “The Boxer” and “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.” Other tracks like the straight up acoustic rocker “Cakelakers” and the soaring, anthemic “Melt,” which has Juul’s vocals reaching higher and farther than on past songs, all add to the quietly devastating emotional impact that sneaks up on you before you realize what is happening.
Every note on Somewhere Else seems expressly designed to elicit as many emotions from the listener as possible. But instead of the heart-string strumming sentimentality that can be the downfall of many endearingly heartfelt indie records (of which so many people have a soft spot for, myself included), Juul understands that real emotion and connective associations must be arrived at earnestly and without any overt affectation if they are be trusted and taken to heart. The fact that he played his first show as Indians only one year ago makes this understanding that much more impressive. By endowing his demos and bedroom meditations with a sense of hopeful purpose, tempered by a resolute knowingness of the world around him, Juul has made Somewhere Else something quite special—a sometimes hesitant but ultimately warmly inviting record to cling to in this waning winter season.