There seems to be quite a wave of atmospherically ambient, sonic wash artists emerging from Scandinavia these days. Ashes is one of the latest, the Stockholm-based Albert Af Ekenstam citing Bon Iver, Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky as influences shaping his quiet, melancholic music.
Signed to Kning Disk, fleshed out by guitarist Sumie Nagano, Max Lindahl on trumpet and drummer/keyboardist Filip Leyman, his debut album draws on his experience of he and his sister having to largely bring themselves up after their mother died when he was 12, touching on themes of loneliness, self-reliance and being true to who you are.
The album opens with 1996, titled for the year his mother passed, an airy instrumental with its guitar and keys conjuring images of rippling streams (a similarly styled companion piece, 2006, appears towards the end of the album), before the title track’s, softly rumbling drums underpin his heartfelt, tremulous and hushed multi-tracked vocals, the lyrics steeped in thoughts of death, reflection and yearning as he sings “please make up your mind. Otherwise, I will die” over fuzzy post-rock guitars.
It never rises much above this sparse musical mood, casting an atmosphere of brooding, contemplative intensity across tracks such as the echoey sung loss-laden Angel Liz (“I hope you will rest in peace”), the mournful Devil Bird with its brief chiming intro, background ticking and the line “You’re the killer of hopes and dreams we lost,” before it builds to a swelling swirl of keys and guitars over a marching beat or the piano-accompanied Made Of Gold with its funereal pace and percussive clicks.
Although the density of the arrangements ebbs and flows from quiet to loud, from restraint to swell (as strikingly evidenced on Falling), the overall dynamic of the widescreen soundscape presents little change, which, on the one hand, creates a consistency of emotional tone, but equally presents little musical variation between the tracks. As such, it’s probably best experienced at a single sitting as opposed to dipping in and out, eventually ending on The Avenue’s bare bones of musing distorted guitar and vocals, a note of release and redemption after the journey through doubt and darkness.
Ashes is out now, order it here: www.albertafekenstam.com/music