The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

When Saints Go Machine
Konkylie Charlie Frame , July 14th, 2011 12:27

"Konkylie" means 'conch shell' in Danish, but When Saints Go Machine don't remind me of the sea. Instead, it's the band's own moniker that most aptly describes this album's vision of hymnal chant and motorik monasteries. As any GCSE Lit student will tell you, the conch was used as a symbol of order and democracy in William Golding's Lord Of The Flies. Only the holder of the conch shell was allowed to speak at meetings, ensuring the undivided attention of all those present.

Which is fitting really, because Konkylie makes the perfect case for order in this time of chaos. I'm talking about the ol' MP3 Web2.0 re-vo-lution here. It seems all this information highway malarkey's turned us into craven media-gannets who can't read past 140 characters without groaning "BRAINS!" and clumsily hitting skip on the iPhone. These days chances are you've only heard the first 15 seconds of any track off your favourite album. Technology has won and now even the simple thrill of a handcart ride to hell is met with bored cries of "Refresh!".

When Saints Go Machine (hereby known as WSGM as their name is frankly a meal to pronounce) don't sit well in this Frankensteinian hubbub. On shuffle, they fade among the throngs of other Knife-influenced synth-pop bands jostling around our 1TB hard drives. Konkylie is constructed in such a way that it demands good old-fashioned attention from the listener, like in the olden days. The whole 42 minutes from beginning to end. You may press repeat, as I did. Five times in a row in fact, something I honestly don't think has happened willingly since 2002.

Konkylie you see, is very much an album to sink into. Tear yourself away from the shuffle button and it's an enigmatic, strange and beautiful record that merits from its careful unfurling over eleven tracks. The opener, also called 'Konkylie', is a gothic-draped ambient piece accompanied only by singer Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild's weird palatal falsetto. His voice garners many a comparison with the likes of Antony Hegarty or Arthur Russell, which isn't wrong. However the soft corolla of synth pads and medieval backing-chants got me imagining something that doesn't entirely make sense - a monk-habited Chubby Checker crooning to the stars in a twilit cloister. If that sounds hard to parse, I agree entirely. But it's WSGM's implacable aesthetic that makes them so compelling. Fathoming out Konkylie's often contrasting imagery is like trying to decipher some ancient code by way of space-age folk-science. Just when you think you've got a handle on it, it chucks out yet another beautifully confusing non sequitur to ponder and imagine over.

Thankfully, it's easy to shelve the bafflement and appreciate this record's artisanship for its own sake. The first five and a half minutes are entirely beatless, with drums kicking in a good chunk of the way through second track 'Church & Law'. This creates a hallowed sense of space, and when a beat does play it's never harsh or grinding despite WSGM's minor industrial tendencies. Each track builds upon the last with tremendous delicacy, the band never quite pulling out all stops until well into the second half. This wouldn't necessarily be a boon in other cases, but when you've got the minimal house duo behind Kenton Slash Demon moonlighting as your producers it's the subtle touches that count. The distant vocal loop flowing through 'Church & Law' sounds like a nightbird's call. A teetering sawtooth synth permeates the air every few bars. These light touches go a long way to enforce WSGM's Dark Age futurism - a trick they pull off time and again throughout the album.

'Vonsild''s laryngeal soul melting into the mechanoid precision and organic textural production makes it hard to pick one highlight over another as there's very little filler here. But after a succession of gently building quasi-ambience, it's good to hear tracks like 'Kelly' and 'Terminal One' upping the pop-ante – songs mid-period Depeche Mode would've been proud of.

This really is music for darkened rooms, headphones and candles. Wear a cowl. Draw a pentangle. And do the twist.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.