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Simon Steensland - 2015 - "A Farewell to Brains"

(52:28, Altrock Records)


1.  Schrondinger's Cat 16:51
2.  Elephant 2:16
3.  One 13:04
4.  Fader Var 3:00
5.  The Idiot 17:17

Simon Steensland  strings; keyboards; mallets; pipes; vocals
Guy Segers (Univers Zero, Present)  bass; vocals
Morgan Aagren (Mats/Morgan Band)  drums 
Robert Elovsson  clarinet; keyboards
Frida Spaang  violin; vocals
Gustav Raadstrom  clarinet 
Yann Le Nestour  clarinet 
Einar Baldursson  guitars 
Bertil Falt  clarinet 
Goran Antonsson  V8 
Peter Morlin  bagpipe 
Arvid Pettersson  piano 
Sara Kihlman Wibe  violin 
Magnus Andersson  trombone 
10 additional vocalists

Prolusion. Swedish composer and musician Simon STEENSLAND is a veteran creator of music in the progressive circuit. He released his debut album back in 1993, and has released new albums on a fairly regular basis in the years that have passed since then. "A Farewell to Brains" is his seventh studio production, and was issued through Altrock Records in 2015.

Analysis. The journey through this album is a ride through landscapes, unexpected and not all that often visited by others. Steensland's approach to the art of music is an intriguing one from the get go and way until the final frail remnants of music fade out into silence. Just how to categorize it is quite the good question, but that the material resides rather safely within the avant-garde sphere of progressive rock is undeniable. Steensland does touch base with both jazz and chamber music, perhaps with more of the former than the latter, and then in particular, the distinct, compelling bass and drum arrangements that are a frequent occurrence throughout are high-quality, transfixing and hypnotic details in the overall context. Liberal use of keyboards in various forms and shapes also makes up quite a lot of the material explored, from delicate wandering piano patterns to majestic cascades of layered sounds, frequently supported by the clarinet, occasionally with the violin and even a trombone adding depth to the arrangements. When that is said, there's hardly any conventional details at hand here. Steensland appears to be more fond of harmony-based constructions than he is of elements like dissonance and noise, although the latter does appear in full force on concluding creation The Idiot and then in a manner that gave me distinct associations to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. This fairly brief interlude is an exception however, both in terms of intensity, dramatic effect and construction. Steensland is much more at home in crafting passages of eerie-sounding music though. Cold keyboard details, a liberal amount of, mainly, non-verbal vocal effects, eerie sounding layered arrangements of various instruments with an alien, sickly sound to them, as well as playful effects of the kind that might arguably point towards toy music as a possible inspiration. Material of that nature is more often than not at the heart of the music explored on this album. Even his rendition of The Lord's Prayer is executed with an unnerving quality to it, and, unless I'm much mistaken, the prayer has been ever so slightly expanded in this take as well. As the added words came in a sequence where the vocals were kind of hard to grasp, I can't tell if these additions will be approved by those with a belief or not, although that aspect isn't all that important either, of course. I should probably add that the compositions generally aren't all that dramatic either. They to tend to ebb and flow between the delicate and the more intense, the opening passages tending to represent some of the most dramatic sequences here, while the concluding phases of these journeys have a stronger tendency to wind things down a bit. An additional detail is that, at least to my ears, some slight details, reminding me of folk music, appear to be a fairly recurring feature.

Conclusion. A stellar cast of musicians sees to it that Steensland's visions, that at least from a musical point of view are firmly placed on the dark and gloomy side of things, are brought to full life in a mesmerizing manner on "A Farewell to Brains". A visionary production with material rather unlike much else you'll encounter, most certainly residing within the more challenging corners of the avant-garde progressive rock universe, a transfixing journey into realms rarely explored by others. Highly recommended, especially to those with a taste for music firmly placed on the dark and eerie side of life.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: September 21, 2015
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Altrock Records
Simon Steensland


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