Full disclosure: I love Efterklang. Partly that stems from Parades, their perfect 2007 second album. It’s a lot to do with their immaculate live shows, joyous and life-affirming and everything a performance should be. But mostly I suspect it links to their singer, Casper Claus, and the sheer infectiousness of his obvious, obvious love of music, his wide brocading smile a salve for every ill.
It’s a source of great pain and ongoing confusion that the band aren’t bigger – that it’s the Vaccines that take the NME front covers and not them, that it’s Muse that sell out almost instantly and not Efterklang’s breathtaking shows at the Barbican with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, that Adele squats at the top of every chart for fucking ever and not these people. For anyone looking for signs of imminent end-times, that’s a clutch right there.
Although it’s unlikely that the band themselves are particularly bothered by this: for twelve years they’ve been quietly furrowing their own way forward, meshing horns with glitches, choirs with beats, seemingly indifferent to whatever trends might be wearing their way through more mainstream fare at the time. Efterklang’s music has never been apt for easy classification, for lazy pigeonholing next to Sigur Rós and Múm: its defining features have never been massive choruses or fist-pumping solos but experiment and ambition and an air of quiet wonder.
This is darker territory for the band, however, the tone of Piramida often overcast and lonely like the landscape that inspired it. The album’s roots – and its name – lie in the abandoned Russian mining settlement Pyramiden, a ghost town on the Svalbard archipelago that houses, amidst the rock and ice and crumbling statues of Lenin, the world’s northernmost grand piano. As June’s launch trailer shows, the band decamped to the town to forage sounds for the album, with rusting industrial chambers, loosening boardwalks and howling skies amongst the instruments that make up Piramida’s ten tracks.
It’s not just a gimmick: there’s a palpable sense of desolation threaded through these songs, of foreboding and loss, claustrophobia and regret, Claus’ vocals frequently wracked with weariness and self-doubt. “I wonder, I wonder I wonder/What I am…” he sings on opener ‘Hollow Mountain’, the restless build of the music behind him a mirror for his dark night of the soul anxieties. Shadows frame the edges of every note, glaciers and jagged peaks a presence throughout, awing yet indifferent. These aren’t tales of urban dysfunction or material wants, of what happened in the club that time or who’s wearing a Rolex watch: Piramida shows us another world, wild and windswept and almost elemental.
But like the landscape there’s beauty too, immense swells of orchestral strings and choral backings, flourishes of ivory and brass leavening the bleaker moments. ‘Dreams Today’ builds from a solitary footfall and the cawing of gulls into a thaw of layered harmonies and Nils Frahm’s twinkling piano, joyous and ebullient and over far too soon. The album’s highlight, the penultimate ‘Between The Walls’, welds falsetto soul to Blade Runner synths, the scattered electronics and trumpet squalls leading a dance of light and shade.
But let’s be honest: Piramida is not going to unseat Adele. The Vaccines will continue to blight our public space and our private nightmares with their spectacular brand of concentrated meh, a bleach corrosive to the soul. And Muse? Muse, like evil itself, will endure, the screaming of their acolytes rising in pitch and fervour until indistinguishable from the sounds of torture, of vultures picking at the flesh of carrion under burning skies. Against that backdrop Piramida seems a haven, frozen and expansive but ceaselessly alluring, and deserving of far, far more than just a visit.