The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Ephemeralds Antonio Poscic , February 15th, 2023 09:50

The first release on a new Stockholm-based label proves a strange and compelling listen for Antonio Poscic

Edition (“a festival for other music”) is an annual event in Stockholm organised by Australian-born, Sweden-based musician John Chantler. As its tagline suggests, the festival’s programme is devoted to promoting liminal music, which manifests on the edge of dense electronics, drone, transmogrified jazz, free improvisation, and other elusive styles. It’s fitting, then, that the first record released on the festival’s accompanying label Fönstret (“the window” in Swedish) should be the debut by Finn Loxbo’s quartet Kommun, an album haunted by an overwhelming sense of otherness.

As a guitarist, Loxbo has featured in a variety of genres and forms, from experimenting with solo steel guitar on 2018’s Eter to shredding as part of free jazz big band Fire! Orchestra. On Ephemeralds, he surrounds himself with a cast of fellow polyglots. Lisa Ullén’s approach to piano playing and her compositional affinity build a bridge between free improv’s explosiveness and the hermetic sophistication of contemporary classical, as evidenced by her works with Anna Högberg Attack and last year’s excellent Space with Elsa Bergman and Anna Lund. Similarly, Vilhelm Bromander (double bass) and Ryan Packard (percussion) have participated, either as leaders or sidemen, in a number of inspired projects over the past years, including Packard’s contributions to Chicago guitarist Daniel Wyche’s raucous Our Severed Sleep (2016) and Bromander’s stunning chamber ambient record Aurora (2022). Yet even when considered in the context of these disparate discographies, Ephemeralds is still a disorienting affair.

The album’s single, eponymous track breaks the silence with a muted eruption. Terse piano phrases, double bass plucks, chime hits, and curiously percussive guitar licks all enter stage as one. At first, this might sound like your average improvising group finding its bearing and gearing up for the real deal that follows. But instead of a crescendo or progression, the stab dies down, emerges in a slightly different shape, then disappears again. In and out, here and gone. The pattern of alternating silences and instrumental bursts laid down by the ensemble becomes night metronomic, as if they were playing a high-stakes game of grandma’s footsteps.

Turn your back to them, and the four players urgently reconfigure and shuffle through percussive expressions, uniting their short individual movements in a vaguely textural concoction akin to a minimal version of gamelan. But look at them directly, and suddenly everything stops. While you might catch a glimpse of a chime’s final soundwave or the lingering reverberation of a bass string, the music appears in stasis. Superficially, at least, because even during these moments of hushed expectation, you can almost hear the cogs turning and the next moves being planned.

This up-and-down motion repeats throughout the track’s thirty-five minutes, with each new cycle introducing subtle changes in dynamics and motifs. Bass plucks become hastily-bowed drones. Solitary piano hits link together in bolder phrases. There’s even a proper, albeit fragmented guitar chord hidden in the midst of it all. By its end, the album’s initial structure is completely replaced like parts of Theseus’s ship. Ultimately, Ephemeralds appears as a conundrum, a static yet constantly changing piece of compelling, strangely hypnotic music.