By Russell Warfield
About the time that I started listening to Piramida, I happened to hear previous album highlight ‘Modern Drift’ pumping through a cinema theatre backing some self important advert or other, and it struck me how – in spite of their apparent understatement – Efterklang have always been writing for the big screen. And so it’s ironic that while Piramida manages to be the most ambitiously expansive and cinematic of their works so far, it’s probably the least likely to end up soundtracking the promotion of luxury goods, being as it is their most sparse and restrained offering to date as well. Taking its genesis from foraging for found sounds and ambience in a derelict town near the North Pole, its pulses of silence, sense of space and restraint are unsurprising. But Piramida retains all the power and uplift which Efterklang have come to be known for – the thinly populated bedrocks of arrangement making the stabs of colour shine all the brighter, rendering it perhaps the strongest and most engrossing of their LPs yet.
As fantastic as Magic Charis frequently was in its tightly layered textures and overlapping bustle of musical ideas, it did mean that the songs’ compositional nuances often got lost in its own swell, and while this translated into gloriously uplifting music, appreciation of its craft was harder to come by. By contrast, the components of Piramida are given plenty of space in the mix to showcase themselves fully, and be admired for their pitch perfect placement within the whole.
The comparatively underpopulated textures mean that the introduction of each new sound is far more keenly felt – meaning that the second-long stabs of female choir in the expanse of ‘Black Summer’, the rich swell of brass soaring out of the rhythmical bedrock of ‘Ghosts’, or the regal introduction of strident drum to ‘Sedna’ all have devastating impact, in spite of their modesty. The almost paradoxical result is that the more serene Piramida becomes, the more powerful it ultimately sounds.
To the record’s slight detriment, there are more than echoes of more successful contemporaries resonating across Piramida, leaving Efterklang sounding a little bit like they’re playing copy cat or catch up with bands they clearly influenced and often preceded, yet have since been left behind by. Taken in isolation, the falsetto passage of ‘Sedna’ could easily be mistaken for a full band Bon Iver off-cut, while the vocal line of ‘Told To Be Fine’ sharply evokes the rich, strident tones of Grizzly Bear. Even the record’s new appreciation for minimalism speaks to recent trends championed by youthful upstarts like the XX and James Blake.
These and other examples undoubtedly dent Efterklang’s reputation as aural pioneers, but when the results are as crystalline and majestically serene as this, it’s easy to forgive the band for playing Pitchfork magpie. The sound many not be wholly unfamiliar, but the level of craftsmanship makes it wholly original, and so while the long shadows of more successful contemporaries and the understatement of their arrangements might turn passages of Piramida into a deceptively icy expanse for the casual listener, a full immersion into the record is rewarded with a thousand moments of intense beauty, meticulously executed.