On Efterklang: A Change Is Better Than Laying To Rest

Thoughts on the Danes’ ‘split’…
Efterklang

When news broke that Danish outfit Efterklang were to play a ‘final’ show on February 26th, in Sønderborg, the Internet immediately feared the worst. No more Efterklang, basically.

Yet, a substantial spread of the not-so-small print was overlooked by a great many expressing their sorrow that the four-albums-in trio – more recently relocated from Copenhagen to Berlin – was to call time on a career yielding greater creative rewards than commercial ones (a clutch of television syncs aside, few could call Efterklang a breakthrough proposition).

“It will be the last concert with Efterklang as you and we know it,” read the band’s message (Clash news). “It is time to reflect and move forward. We want to change what it means to be Efterklang and how we operate, create and perform.”

So, why the panic? Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen bands announce a period of re-evaluation, a temporary hiatus even, plenty of times before – and then they’ve never returned. NME’s report on the final show was headlined with the suggestion that the band might split, even though nothing of the sort is mentioned by the band itself.

But Efterklang – Casper Clausen, Mads Christian Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg – have form when it comes to reinvention, evolution, having emerged like the proverbial butterfly from the cocoon with each of their four LPs proper (not to mention a series of between-LPs EPs). Not one has dwelled upon the successes of the last to detrimental effect. Each has orbited its own new world of influences and ambitions. This is clear enough from just dipping an ear into highlights from their album catalogue to date.

When the band’s debut album, ‘Tripper’, came out on the Leaf Label in late 2004, its icy electronics chimed perfectly with the seasonal shift to long nights and chilled air. But if the record seemed a little impersonal, perhaps, compared to what was to come, it’s not like the band’s intentions were not telegraphed: “tripper” has a meaning in Danish that suggests the shuffling of one’s feet in anticipation of something good. And that something proved to be the stunning ‘Parades’.

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‘Prey & Predator’, from ‘Tripper’ (2004)

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‘Caravan’, from ‘Parades’ (2007)

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Listen to ‘Prey & Predator’ from ‘Tripper’ and then ‘Caravan’ from the following ‘Parades’ (issued in 2007, again through the Leaf Label), and the progression from a band compiling elements drawn from other acts to one operating in a more singularly expressive fashion is palpable. What Efterklang learned in the three years between LPs is clearly a confidence in their own abilities. And the effect on their audience was a better appreciation of this band’s potential to deliver music quite unlike any might-be peers. The music of ‘Parades’ is beautiful: orchestral, electronic, organic and soulful. It’s an elegiac summation of its makers’ collective musical intelligence. But even this high wasn’t to be repeated come album three.  

Which is not to say that ‘Magic Chairs’, released in 2010 on 4AD, was a disappointment after such an affecting collection. Far from it – but it was very different. Efterklang’s third long-player proved a luxurious set unlike anything they’d realised previously, sumptuous songs like ‘Modern Drift’ – popularised via an advert for Audi – connecting the band with nature, the world beyond their studio, prominently removing from the electronic world. Its accessibility might have brought Efterklang closer to achieving mainstream recognition, but their next move was to be one of retreat. Or, rather, escape in order to advance.

‘Piramida’ (4AD, 2012), named after the abandoned Russian settlement on Svalbard (Norway) that the band visited for inspiration and found-sound recordings, charted higher than any of Efterklang’s preceding LPs in Denmark, and was another critical success for them. Built around a series of samples made in the remote setting of Piramida – or Pyramiden (Wikipedia is your friend) – it’s an album of processes, of sonic sculpting. What’s taken from isolation is brought to the most populated parts of the world through the filter of musicians keen to translate emotions felt in such a harsh environment to listeners so many miles from it.

And it works: listen to ‘Hollow Mountain’ the once and you mightn’t notice how its percussive elements are drawn directly from the leftover detritus of Piramida’s once-bustling landscape. Read into the genesis of the album, though, and one can unpick this material to reveal its most-wonderfully unique DNA (and appreciate how it is stitched together). I should know: I was proud indeed to write the band’s biography to accompany ‘Piramida’ (available online), and duly learned plenty about how this band goes about its business. From album to album, the slate is cleansed. This is Efterklang’s working pattern, its practice, as it’s been since their formation in 2001.

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‘Modern Drift’, from ‘Magic Chairs’ (2010)

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‘Hollow Mountain’, from ‘Piramida’ (2012)

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“We are not sure what happens after this concert.” Cue panic. But why should we be fretting? Every time a new Efterklang album happens, something fresh is felt in the air. At the close of each cycle, the band assesses what their goals for the next project are from a starting position of absolute zero. They build from the ground up, working to designs naturally coloured by the past but far from bound to its architecture. 

So why not next? Whatever the future holds for Efterklang, the precedent to this point implies a continuation, and certainly not in the exact vein of anything to have come before. Be that as Efterklang or an entirely new ensemble, in the current formation or somehow altered, the chances of these musicians making more amazing music are high indeed. So, please, don’t lament the potential passing of this amazing band – celebrate the wide-open spaces that remain for its members to explore. A man’s horizons are only ever as wide as his vision – and Efterklang has always looked beyond constraints, convention and copyist characteristics to deliver music of lasting meaning.

“Operate, create, perform”: a cycle that spins into possibility spaces anew.

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