Okay, I’m gonna come clean: I volunteered to review this record because I love the Bedroom Community label, and I’m interested in all things Icelandic. Little did I know I was signing up to spend hours staring at a blank screen as I slowly realised the depth of my ignorance on the subject of contemporary classical composition.
Sure, I’ve encountered some of the big hitters – Xenakis, Reich, Messiaen. I listen to bands that flirt with classical style if not structures; Final Fantasy, Sufjan Stevens, Simon Bookish. But the lack of words forthcoming after listening to Daníel Bjarnason’s unarguably accomplished Processions felt… a little like vertigo, to be honest.
Which is probably quite fitting, as Processions is a thoroughly uneasy affair. The Icelandic composer, who shares the Bedroom Community label with the mercurial Nico Muhly, has a knack for twisting arrangements into counter-intuitive, teetering structures that never afford the listener time to get comfortable. The sounds seem to jar against each other, creating a nervy tension that permeates the album. The opening tracks of the first movement (entitled ‘Bow To String’) could soundtrack Jack Nicholson creeping around that huge abandoned hotel in The Shining slowly losing his shit.
After a welcome lull, the second movement, ‘Processions’, starts with a grand flourish, but still maintains an awkward tension. It reels and spins, punctuated by dizzying smashes of percussion. I can only imagine the imagery going on in Mr Bjarnason’s head at this point, despite the inherently cinematic feel of his music. Moments of calm creep up but don’t last long, creating a constant sense of disorientation; danger, even. When a motif does recur it’s in fractured, twisted shapes and shadows that continue to restlessly explore – there are ever more possibilities within this utterly impressive work.
The final piece, ‘Skelja’, is based around plucked string harmonics, groaning undertones and feedback; it sounds almost like Hitchcock exercising his gift for building tension via the harp instead of the screen. Feeling both entranced and endlessly disturbed, I don’t know whether I’d rather throw this nervy album into a lake or buy it on super heavy vinyl. Maybe you’ll have more luck deciding yourself.