Ólafur Josephsson: electric guitars, drones, piano, bass, organ, banjo, drum programming, synth.
Lárus Siguðsson: acoustic guitars, bells, glockenspiel, piano, organ, ukulele, banjo, harp, mandolin.
Sarah Oaks: violin on Vessel & Tuft.
Þórður Hermannson: cello on Vessel.
Songs recorded by Ólafur & Lárus off and on between 2005-2008.
Mixed & mastered by Ólafur Josephsson August 2008.
Original artwork by Edda K.
When the words “Iceland” and “post-rock” and “ambient” are put together in the same phrase, the names Olafur Josephsson (Stafrænn Hákon) and Lárus Sigurðsson do not usually spring to mind. However, together as Calder, this group is poised to woo listeners around the world with their gentle brand of acoustic and classical-tinged electronic ambient music, as displayed on their new full-length release Lower. The 10 track sophomore full-length from this band, three years in the making, portrays a group that patiently crafts delicate and gentle layers of melodies. The music is soothing, and sparkles with sophistication while employing the use of piano, guitars, drones, keyboards, subtle electronics, and other sounds. In fact, it almost is inaccurate to call the intelligent structures and thought-provoking melodies of Calder’s compositions mere “instrumental ambient” music. The attention to detail that the group uses in their spacious music sets it apart from any run of the mill ambient group, and the definite structure to the music elevates it from the category of mere mood music to something that is more refined.
That being said, much of the music on Lower conveys a similar mood of relaxed intelligence, supported by light electronic beats and varied instrumentation. Due to their similar sound, the songs on Lower seem to blend together, but given the intertwining melodies and generous use of sounds, this blending is not a bad thing. Rather than picking out individual tracks as favourites, the listener instead sits with the entire album, and is taken on often whimsical journeys through Calder’s music. Lower ends on the gorgeous high note of “Rowd”, possibly the highlight of the whole disc. “Rowd” features a heartbreaking melody over a hint of almost abrasive noise and busy electronic percussion. The end result, as the song builds to perhaps the biggest dynamic change on the whole CD, is a beautifully complex unification of noise and melody.
Overall, Lower is a sparkling release of music that is sure to please listeners looking for something that doesn’t fit in to the general ambient scene, but that informs ambient music with a sense of adventure and thoughtfulness. Calder marries ambient, classical and acoustic music with depth and maturity. As such, Lower showcases a band with precision leading listeners into a journey of how refined music can be.
Along with the Library Tapes and label sampler CD's out on the label this week, Make Mine Music have teamed up with Vogor Recordings also released an album by Calder AKA Lárus Sigurðsson and Ólafur Josephsson who is the man behind Stafrænn Hákon. The duo had a release on Unlabel a while back. This is more of their lovely mixture of electronics and acoustic instruments which include guitar and piano, harp mandolin, bells, piano, ukulele, mandolin and glockenspiel. The album is packed with heartwarming tones, weeping strings and melancholy melody. Like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, 'Lower' album possesses the quality and fragile beauty we associate with the work of many icelandic artists. 8/10
Restraint is a word known to few musicians. Here it is shown in the extreme delicacy of every glistening note. As Jon Kealy pointed out in his Astral Social Club review, some artists feel the need to release everything they have ever bothered to make. Calder, for their second more widely available release, chose to take their sweet time. Their efforts are evident in the care that is shown on these ten tracks; the result of a three-year distillation process.
It is hard to pick out a single track for analysis. When I listen, I get caught up in the slow modulated drones, the handsomely plucked melodies, and perfectly syncopated but never overbearing beats. Before I know it all the songs have blurred together into a seamless whole. I have to play the disc over again, something I’ve done quite often since the first time I popped it into my player.
“Calc” is one of the many gems on this album. A plaintive guitar riff is laid out over the top of a fuzz of icy ambience. Snare hits add a bit of punch to the static hum. The slide effect on “Vast” gives the song a melancholic tinge, as backward flutters ripple and glide underneath. A piano’s notes are sustained over a low volume feedback effect, paired with precise glockenspiel accentuations, on “Tone.”
If I had to pick a favorite out of the many exemplary pieces, it would be “Semi.” All of the aspects that make this record great are here in fine form. A twittering hand rattles the strings of a mandolin while haunting measures are coaxed out of the piano. The bells and strings are there as accompaniment, floating around each other in complete sonorous harmony before fading into the next song on the heels of a long drone.
The accomplishment of many great albums, the beauty present on “Lower” continues to resonate in my mind for long after it has been played. As I’m happy with the result of their patience in making a second album, I hope my own patience will hold long enough for them to make a third.