Elephant by Loke Rahbek & Frederik Valentin
Gentle, testing, uplifting, contemplative, everything an Ambient album should be
Some may argue that categorising electronic music is pointless these days (everything's a mash-up innit) however context aids appreciation. Previously (as Croation Amor and half of Damien Dubrovnik) Loke Rahbek has made experimental music fusing Drone, Industrial and Ambient noise. Around the same time (going back ten years) Frederik Valentin played in guitar bands, Complicated Universal Cum and Rock Hard Power Spray, making catchy, left-field Pop. By 2015, on Amager Strand, Valentin's focus had veered to blissed-out Ambient guitar experiences, not unlike a cool version of M83, before 2016's KYO album Potentiel Musik saw the introduction of piano and electronics into his workflow. Gradually their paths were converging and a meeting of minds in 2017 resulted in a debut album (released by Editions Mego) called Buy Corals Online. The collaboration expectedly drew from their individual experiences and the music bubbled with a fizz of fresh feels, experimental, wistful and introspective.
Elephant, to a certain extent, is more of the same; music made by the same hands but with a different face, reassuringly recognisable but lived-in and wiser.
The full gamut of their repertoire can be identified across the eight tracks. Guitars, synths, strings, vocal snippets, field recordings and piano combine but this is no hodgepodge of ideas. Tracks may be complex but they are compelling, each drenched in melody, deeply moving at times, with no shortage of scope for contemplation. This is music for thinking and not forgetting.
Barring the stuttering drum pattern on Scarlett, the eight tracks are primarily Ambient in nature (there, I categorised it!). And as all Ambient albums begin quietly so Solina eases in with haunting synths, dampened piano chords and other processed sounds. Touch and Vision, which follows, repeats this arrangement with different sounds. The experimental nature of their previous work (white noise, feedback) is still heard throughout, often juxtaposed with melody, resulting in a contrast providing fine balance. For example, In Waves ft. CTM opens with layers of static and drone before the cleansing notes of a viola wash over. Cut-up vocals combined with a resonating bass guitar on Call Me By My True Names generates a vibrating yet pleasant sense of distortion.
On The Heart of Things, shrouded in a tangible sadness, the gently uplifting piano chords working in tandem with the softly strummed guitar epitomises their sound perfectly. And while the rhythm on Scarlett could be replaced with a bass guitar, à la Barker, it isn't quite kick-less Techno. In saying that, the dreamy, synth, top-line and eight minute playing time certainly elevates the track. Closing proceedings with the heft and clout of an Abul Mogard track, Elephant, uses a wonky melody with an evolving noise that strikes directly at the heart - a beautiful and painful conclusion.
From a label that once released quite challenging music, Elephant is a perfect reflection on where the label is today.