Bandjo, the largely instrumental debut album from the Swedish duo of the same name, is a spacious and understated collection of expansive epics to which the term ‘progressive’ is to be used as a compliment rather than a criticism. The length of the tracks generally allows Bandjo‘s work the opportunity to breathe and build, often resembling a series of edited jams, rising and falling like the best electronic music.
A Krautrock influence is evident at various points during Bandjo – Can being the quickest comparison to spring to mind, particularly in the manner that the tracks run on for at least twice the length of an average pop song but rarely outstay their welcome, as one section replaces another and so on, repetition becomes an irrelevant concern. Great care has evidently gone into the feel of the album, with uncluttered but rich production, luxurious textures and the recurring appearance of the flute, a much-undervalued instrument in rock music. Live drumming also adds to the variation of mood and energy on display here, and the addition of melodic fretwork on the bass raises comparisions to New Order, particularly in their low-key embryonic period between Joy Division and ‘Blue Monday’.
The choppy, low-end synths at the helm of the early minutes of opener ‘Sensu II’ are pure Kraftwerk, with chiming acoustic arpeggios affording the piece a pleasing balance between live instrumentation and electronica. ‘Metropolis’ opens with a bass-driven mystical Eastern soundscape before evolving into a pulsating stomp complete with sparse, baritone chant-like vocals before subsequently stripping itself back to flute-led ambience. When finding themselves locked into a compelling groove, the duo seem eager to move things on rather than letting repetition kick in, challenging (or maybe even frustrating) the listener, but at the same time daringly eschewing accepted structures, formulas and predictability.
Bandjo’s progressive spacerock is largely saved from accusations of cliché by the recurring themes of both scratchy post-punk and the contemporary electronic influence apparent, with trance-like synth motifs used sparingly but effectively at a handful of well-chosen points. ‘There Is Time’ halves the pace of proceedings, a casually-paced dub piece which lingers around unobtrusively before kicking into a colossal rhythm five minutes in and withdrawing into an ocean of pads, tuneful bass, harmonica and acoustic guitars.
If Bandjo has a flaw, it’s that its subtle experimentation and lack of structure allow it to fade into the background with some ease. The absence of cemented hooks with which to identify each track adds to the idea that the album is more than the sum of its parts, and an emphasis on individual tracks isn’t appropriate. A trippy proposition, perhaps best appreciated in the same circumstances associated with most psychedelic music, Bandjo is hugely adventurous. However, at times it also seems to prioritise texture and mood over memorability, with its more engaging moments not being capitalised on enough. The ambition and attention to detail is to be commended however, and even simply on a production level it’s a minor triumph. A potential slow-burner.