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Published: 2009/09/28
by Fady Khalil

Slaraffenland
We're On Your Side

Slaraffenland’s name is weird, but that’s okay, because their music is too. That is to say, their music is different, because there’s always some aspect of it slightly amiss, as though sonic elements have been gently rocked from their traditional fittings, forcing sounds to enter your ear at funny angles. But the five piece from Denmark doesn’t shy away from the curious aspects of their music. No, they thrive on it, all the while further shaping the genre of experimental rock, of which Animal Collective and Radiohead are distinguished alums.

At first listen through their latest album, We’re On Your Side, it’s immediately apparent that this isn’t your standard pop formula. The focus here is on creating something different by introducing a series of pensive, downcast elements which work counter to the harmony of a song. Opener, “Long Gone,” is barely 30 seconds in before what at first seems like a bright thematic guitar riff, is suddenly forced into a spiraling descent, laced with minor chords and warped even further by haunting vocal harmonies which include twins and band founders, Christian and Mike Taagehøj. Hushed brass instruments bend the music at a disparate angle, closing the song with what amounts to an indie-jazz outro.

On “Stars and Smiles,” a guitar melody so perpendicular to the sound of the music surrounding it will likely force some to question the ability of the band. However, like eyes suddenly open to a bright sun, the confusion dissipates when through the dense cacophony instruments bend to sync with the once abnormal guitar riff, pushing sounds (and listeners) to soaring heights. Again this blueprint is utilized in “Hunting” and “Postcard,” with results too peculiar to be labeled gimmick. Their wow-factor lies in a skilled manipulation of song dynamic reminiscent of Broken Social Scene. It compels you to listen even when you don’t quite get it, which is quite often.

All ten songs on the album are saturated in unusual, unexpected sounds, necessitating parts which satisfy the tensions introduced by this deliberate dissonance. But these tensions are far less the product of the overt noise pop and industrial clang pervasive on previous release Private Cinema. Here, it’s much more a function of the subtle interplay of song structure. In “Meet and Greet,” a simple bass line subtly wears thin a listener’s patience with its insistent – to the point of aggravating – thump. In turn, there’s a palpable release in the gorgeous final moments of the song, where a heavenly backing elevates a mantra of “your side” to ethereal heights. Vocals on this song typify much of the album, behaving more as an additional layer of sound rather then a central focal point.

The sum total of all these orchestrated experiments is an album with emotional turns more akin to a symphony rather then a pop act. To be clear, the music is not immediately accessible, and for some it never will be. But, for most, the puzzles of sound will demystify themselves with time and patience, leaving the album’s once sepia tone picture to reveal itself with the intensely vivid colors of ideas and musical directions rarely taken. Just don’t expect to like it on the first listen. In fact, don’t expect to like it until you do like it, then you’ll like it a lot. Like their name which translates to, “The land of milk and honey,” their music too has an intense splendor in seeming oddity.

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