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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Johan Agebjörn Subtracted Soundscapes (2023)

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

There may be no rhythm, but damn the music is beautiful

1 Four Hours to Karhumäki 5:27

2 Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon 5:07

3 Ambient Computer Dance 5:30

4 As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing 7:42

5 Sleep in my Arms 5:40

6 Dulciter Somni 5:00

7 Siberian Train Part II 7:51

8 Zero Gravitation 9:58

(DDL/CD 52:22) (V.F.)

(Ambient Cinematic)

Oh, that I was eager to hear a new album from the Swedish musician! Artefact had literally turned me inside down with its vision of cosmic EDM/IDM. Previously, the very solid We Never Came to the White Sea had also seduced my eardrums as my ears were slowly getting used to the Electronica style of his own. So, yes, I was looking forward to SUBSTRACTED SOUNDSCAPES. But I wasn't expected that! Johan Agebjörn's latest album isn't an album of original electronic music (EM). Rather, it's a kind of compilation of tracks, from which he's removed all forms of rhythm, that he's taken from the 3 first albums he has released on the Spotted Peccary label, or its Lotuspike division. There's even a track from the Disco Romance album! An album he wrote the music for and produced for Italian singer Sally Shapiro in 2006. Showing that lively rhythms have always been part of the Gothenburg musician, composer and producer's DNA.

As much here as on We Never Came to the White Sea, the delicate electric piano chords of Four Hours to Karhumäki are tinkling over the tarmac of drones. Its brilliance casts a crystal shadow over the main piano melody, which drifts its nostalgia in repetitive loops. Other piano notes fall more heavily, giving the music a dramatic dimension. A dimension amplified by the absent humming of an angelic choir and by those reverberating textures that now flow in jerks. Instead of embracing the rhythm that begins to pulse at around the 70-second mark, this subtracted version of Four Hours to Karhumäki pursues a minimalist procession woven in nostalgia. I'm thinking of Philip Glass here. The same can be said of As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing, the second and final track from this album, produced with Mikael Ögren in 2017. In a dark panorama with buzzing winds, Anneli Andersson's highly ethereal voice still whispers those always more or less suggestive moans. The track's almost 8 minutes unfold in an ever minimalist vision. The shadow of the bass layer in the background is enveloping, and the breaths of the female singer's jerky voice lead us to dream, as much as the harmonies blown by a synth whose slightly fluty timbre reminds us of Tangerine Dream. Boneless up like this, the track breathes the tonalities of Private Music's early years. It's beautiful, by the way! I get the same feeling with Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon, whose keyboard sounds like some good Patrick O'Hearn melodious lines, and whose jerky vocal reflections take us back to the inspirations of As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing. The bass is very good, and its chords add a shadow of melancholy to this track from the 2011's album The Mountain Lake, which gets a completely new sound lift here, except for the melody. Another, and final, track from this album is the long Zero Gravitation. And here, the transformation is total! There are no voices in the opening, and without the rhythm, the music just isn't the same. Of course, there are always those synth layers woven into dark, into droning orchestrations. They're more powerful, more enveloping here. They drift along, signing off long linear acts that give it that texture of cosmic austerity. We're in the most atonic moments of Synergy's repertoire, but with an essence of sensitivity that hooks our ears at the gates of the immense possibilities of awakening dreams. The bass layer extends a delicate effect of continuous reverberations flowing in jerks or drowning in more intense orchestral phases. It's like being in an unpowered space shuttle drifting through space. Sometimes cold and distant, sometimes luminous and comforting, the music transports us between two worlds. Quietly, voices are added. At first discreet and flowing in thin threads, they become more enveloping and distinctly more seraphic in the second half of Zero Gravitation. An excellent track that Vangelis could have written!

The version of Sleep in my Arms, the track from the Disco Romance album, plunges us into a film noir soundtrack. A kind of crime thriller à la L.A. Confidential or Crime of Passion. The musical texture is reverberant, with slow shadows shivering under the gentle bite of a synth whose dreamy, distant tunes have a vague saxophone tone. Sally Shapiro's voice can be heard whispering in a dimension that becomes cinematic. The only beats here excite with static fizz. The synth and Shapiro's voice are the strength of this track, which also melts well into a night in search of sleep. The Mossebo album, which I've never heard by the way, is best represented with 3 tracks on SUBSTRACTED SOUNDSCAPES. Arguably the most beautiful track on this compilation of subtracted soundscapes, Ambient Computer Dance starts things off with a very different, a very atmospheric-cosmic version. The synth strings are woven into a contrast of tones that combine darkness and chiaroscuro. The waltz of these layers is very touching and gave me my daily ration of goosebumps. What a lovely track, reminiscent of Michael Stearns' Chronos universe, but with more sensitivity in the soaring, sleep-inducing synth strings. Dulciter Somni highlights Lisa Barra's voice. It crumbles in slices of ahhh... that melt into a mass of controlled reverberations. Not too droning and not too jerky. It's tranquil, with moments that are a little more intense in terms of the electronic arrangements and additional vocal effects grafted onto the female Swedish singer's humming. The synthesizer imitates the singing of the stars on this track, with beautiful reflections of musical radiance. Mossebo's other track is the dark and gloomy Siberian Train Part II. We're into Dark Ambient here, with a few sound effects adding a dimension of nocturnal terror to the music. The rolling of the train in the opening, the only element that makes ears twitch in search of tranquility, is not entirely unfamiliar to this sensation. More translucent filaments of sound are playing on the lyrical depth of this ode to darkness.

There may be no rhythm, but damn is the music beautiful in the watered-down world of SUBSTRACTED SOUNDSCAPES! There's not a false note here, nor a track unfairly stripped of its rhythmic substance. Johan Agebjörn's gamble was an audacious one, and he has met it with panache. As long as the new dimensions of the 8 tracks reach a level of beauty that is sometimes superior to the versions fed with catchy rhythms. Ben Cox's mastering is breathtaking in this production which is a beautiful album of meditation and a prelude to finding the path to a benevolent dodo.

Sylvain Lupari (August 15th, 2023) ****½*

Available on Spotted Peccary Music Bandcamp

(NB: Texts in blue are links you can click on)

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