Switched On – Casper Clausen: Better Way (City Slang)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Casper Clausen is the frontman of celebrated Danish band Efterklang, renowned for their versatility in writing moving leftfield pop music with orchestral craft. Clausen shows a good deal of those qualities in his first solo album, released on his birthday on 9th January.

What’s the music like?

Refreshingly varied and inventive. Clausen appears to have started Better Way with a clean sheet of paper, for its musical twists and turns are many – but are carefully structured to make an excellent album that only improves with repeated listening.

The first and last tracks are the most substantial. Used To Think sets expectations with a broad sonic canvas, its extended instrumental intro doffing a cap to Krautrock but providing an airy backing to Clausen’s easy vocal once it arrives. Ocean Wave is rather different, a reflective postlude building to an impressive climax.

In between there are intimate asides, intriguing rhythms and subtly expanded musical ambition. The rhythms are at their most imaginative on Feel It Coming, using a set of skewed and broken beats, and 8 Bit Human, which carries a Kraftwerk-style undercarriage.

Falling Apart Like You is the album’s emotional centre, its plaintive vocal taking place over a shifting backdrop. Little Words is its natural counterpart, a mottled guitar giving Clausen the chance to project his lyrics, ‘Call out to the future, do you wanna heal the world?’

Does it all work?

Better Way takes a while to reveal its secrets, but is something of a grower. By the third listen you will realise how memorable Clausen’s hooks are, and how profound his vocals – and appreciation will also have grown for his instrumental palette.

Is it recommended?

It is. Fans of Efterklang – and there are many – will need no persuasion. If you are a fan of Scandinavian pop music then this will also be for you, as it will be if you are looking for fresh faced musical inspiration at the start of the year.

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Switched On – Caribou: Suddenly (City Slang)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Suddenly may well be an ironic title, given that it marks the reappearance of Caribou as a long playing solo artist for the first time in five years. The artist – aka Dan Snaith – has bewitched us with a number of solo albums blending instrumental electronica and a warm vocal. The last two under the pseudonym of Caribou – Swim and Our Love – were also released at an interval of half a decade, suggesting Snaith has a relaxed rhythm about his music.

What’s the music like?

There is a lot going on in the twelve tracks of Suddenly. Snaith loves to write layers in to his music, so that even the vocal tracks have a collage of instrumental riffs and colours backing them up. A lot of love and care has clearly gone into them, and a good deal of soul shows through too, Snaith coming across as a warm-hearted writer generous with his riffs and hooks. There are deep personal references, too, with Snaith’s mother appearing briefly on the opening Sister.

On occasion, however, he can be too generous. Some of the tracks start to get going but get chopped up and don’t get a chance to fully flex their muscles. It is possible that Snaith has included too much from his reported 900 experimentations that led to the album, as though desperate to cram as much in as possible. There are moments of real beauty in tracks such as Sunny’s Time, with the freedom of its meandering piano, or New Jade with its dappled textures, but they prove fleeting rather than constant.

Never Come Back is a definite exception, a warm and heartening synth-driven piece of positive energy, up there with Caribou’s best tracks. Ravi is up there too, as calming as the blue cover, while there are soft, rounded vocals with a rueful edge on Like I Loved You.

Does it all work?

See above. When Caribou nails a good track it certainly stays nailed – but on occasion there is a bit too much going on. The feeling persists that some of the more driven beats –  Ravi or Never Come Back for instance are where we see some real punch to the rhythms.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Even on an album that proves a little frustrating it is impossible not to be impressed or moved with what Caribou can achieve. He is a fine producer of some very optimistic and affirming music. Fans will lap it up for sure – but newcomers might be better directed to some of the albums further back in the canon.

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You can buy Suddenly from the Bandcamp website here