Since 2001 Efterklang has sought to create beautiful music by constantly testing the possibilities in sound, never content to re-tread old paths. The results the Danes have produced so far – most notably across three acclaimed albums, 2004’s Tripper, 2007’s Parades and 2010’s Magic Chairs – have each explored different directions, each an end product of remarkably studied songcraft and emotional resonance. Piramida sees Efterklang exploring completely new territory – literally – on a truly grand scale.
The roots of their fourth album were first laid in 2010, when the band first saw photographs of a forgotten settlement called Pyramiden, slowly dying, on Spitsbergen, an island midway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. This former Russian mining facility was once home to a thousand people, and was abandoned in January 1998, almost overnight. Intrigued by this ghost town, the trio of Casper Clausen, Mads Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg visited Pyramiden in August 2011 (drummer Thomas Husmer left before the album’s commencement). With no pre-conceived ideas of what to expect, and not a single note written, it’s quite poetic that the album really began life the moment the trio stepped foot in Pyramiden. Over nine days, Efterklang accumulated over a thousand field recordings from the many and varied environments they encountered. Between the empty oil drums and fuel tanks, glass bottles and lampshades – and polar bears – the band discovered the world’s northernmost grand piano in a concert hall. Its notes can be heard on Piramida track ‘Apples’, perhaps for the first time anywhere in over a decade.
With Pyramiden as their inspiration, Efterklang returned to their studio in Berlin, Germany (the band relocated from their native Copenhagen in 2011). Fashioning these collected sounds into a unified album was no easy task and like alchemists, the band carefully extracted selected noises and used them to construct traditional musical scales of rhythms and melodies, like a working instrument. For example, the organ sounds on ‘Sedna’ are actually a combination of synthesized recordings from an empty fuel tank and the aforementioned grand piano. Ornate glass lamps provide the tones in ‘Told To Be Fine’, whilst the very first refrain of album opener ‘Hollow Mountain’ are the sounds of protruding metal spikes being struck from an oil tank (nicknamed ‘Miss Piggy’). With these manipulated sounds serving as the tools and framework to work within, the band began writing the songs, adding and layering them with more traditional sonic components, with contributions from Peter Broderick (violin), Earl Harvin (drums), Nils Frahm (piano), brass from the Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, and a 70-piece girls’ choir.
The alien sounds of Pyramiden provide the backbone of the album, whereas the lyrics are the heart of Piramida. Things take a darker turn compared to the infectious optimism of Magic Chairs. Clausen’s vocals are even clearer in the mix than before, as he sings of personal isolation and abandonment, of two souls parting ways. The results are more heartfelt and mournful, but there’s a real sense of immediacy to this body of work. Piramida is a rare example of a conceptually strong project that never forgets to let the concept serve the song rather than the other way around.
Travelling to Australia for the first time in May 2012, the band launched Piramida to a sold- out audience at the Sydney Opera House (designed by fellow Dane Jørn Utzon) with the Sydney Symphony. A unique way of introducing a new body of work perhaps, but this is an act that refuses to toe the party line, and for that reason they should be cherished.